Monday, February 23, 2009

What is Green Building? Resource Conservation is a Key Element

One of the most important aspects of Green Building is the careful use of natural resources that become construction materials. Starting with concrete for the foundation, lumber for framing and trim, structural panels for subfloor and sheathing, right on through insulation, cabinets and finish flooring, there are important choices that can be made to minimize pollution, waste, and environmental degradation. I have more than 15 years experience in this kind of building.

I want to focus on a couple of Sonoma County family-owned businesses that are not only suppliers of Greener products, but also leaders in pointing the way toward a Greener future in the construction industry.

With respect to concrete, the production of Portland Cement is perhaps the most heavy carbon footprint of any building material. The aggregates (sand & gravel) have to be mined from the earth and processed to be of any use. Austin Creek Materials in Cazadero operates a quarry, extracts gravel from a creek, and processes and sells aggregates and concrete. Several years ago, this company received national recognition for its careful environmental practices regarding the fish habitat in Austin Creek. More recently, it is working with some local entrepreneurs to make ecologically safer concrete available to the industry and the public. This new product will contain much less Portland Cement (substituting flyash and other substances), and much less natural aggregates (substituting crushed recycled old concrete). It costs more to produce and purchase than standard concrete, but its environmental impact is much lower.

Looking at forest products, the old-style logging practices resulted in clear-cutting, erosion, and loss of animal habitat. While these methods are on the decline, the real change is happening in forests that are managed and harvested in ways that are environmentally responsible. The Forest Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organization that sets standards for these new approaches and certifies specific companies that are marketing their products as having been harvested in a sustainable way. Trees are individually selected for cutting and are replanted in a biodiverse manner. Each log is tracked in a "chain of custody"--from the forest, to the mill and finally to the retail supplier--to certify its authenticity. In Sonoma County, the principals in Mead Clark Lumber Co. have created a wholesale business--Natural Forest Distribution--that specializes in making FSC certified products available for the West Coast. Again, they cost more to produce and purchase, but the long-term benefits for the forests--which absorb CO2 and provide animal habitat--are incalculable.

Contact me and let me help you plan your new home, addition/remodel project or repair job utilizing these locally-available Green products and materials. We can build a first-quality project that helps improve the health of the local economy and the planet.

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