The Green Building and Remodeling book by John Barrows and Lisa Iannucci is a great resource for anyone contemplating or undertaking green construction. LoveToKnow editor Sally Painter caught up with John Barrows to discuss his journey into green building.
Interview with Green Building and Remodeling Authors
LoveToKnow (LTK): What inspired you to pursue green building for your home?
John Barrows (JB): I've always been intrigued by better ways of delivering homes and creating more durable structures. I was exposed to what are now called green building practices in the early 1980s. Over the years, I have incorporated many of the characteristics into some of our projects.
LTK: What were your biggest challenges when you first started?
JB: Getting accurate information was one of the biggest challenges I faced. It was difficult to sort through competing claims of performance and the impact on the building and its internal environment were confusing. It was after gaining a better understanding of building science and the recommended best practices evolved that I began to see the whole process more holistically.
Misconceptions about Green Building
LTK: What is the most common misconception most people have about green building?
JB: A common misconeption is the belief that "green building" is about expensive items such as photovoltaic panels, geo-thermal, solar thermal systems, green roofs, and so on. While those practices are most definitely green, there is a whole plethora of lower cost and very effective practices that can be incorporated. All of the lower cost practices will also serve to make the higher cost practices even "greener".
First Timer Mistakes
LTK: What is a typical mistake homeowners make when building green?
JB: They need to acknowledge that the "low hanging fruit" has the quickest payback. They also need to get away from equating "cost" to "green". Green practices provide for a home that performs much better than a standard code built home. That home will have more value than the code home. Green practices should be equated to increased value, not increased cost.
LTK: Are there any local, state or federal government resources available to individuals who wish to build green?
JB: Most states and the federal government provide a resource for incentives and programs. Some of the most valuable are:
- DESIRE (database for incentives from federal to local)
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
- US Dept of Energy (DOE)
- Energy Star
Cost Effective Green Building Tips
LTK: In your book you have a chapter dedicated to various types of homebuilding. Are there certain green building techniques that are easier and more affordable than others? Which ones?
JB: Not really, it depends on the style of the home, the level of interest of the homeowner, or client, and the level being sought. That said, I believe that the most cost effective aspects of green building are:
- Proper site design by using natural lighting, sunlight for passive heat gain, natural shading for cooling, natural contours for drainage, and preserving natural characteristics and resources.
- Incorporating products and processes that extend the life span of the structure such as proper flashing, drainage behind the siding and around the building, and renewable products.
- Focus on energy saving measures such as air sealing the envelope and better insulation. These reduce energy consumption first. Then look for increasing the efficiency of the equipment installed. One pays back when the furnace does come on, the second when it does.
- Use less toxic, or toxic free, materials and avoid urea-formaldehyde free and low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) products.
- Provide proper ventilation for the occupants.
- Look for ways to reduce water consumption such as low flow fixtures and native landscaping to reduce irrigation.
Green Remodeling Project Approach
LTK: If a person decides to remodel green, what's the best approach for such a project?
JB: Approach the project holistically. What can be accomplished to make the home perform better while doing the other work. For example, if new windows and siding are being installed, that is perfect time to install rigid exterior insulation below the siding; thus dramatically improving the performance of the home. The slight added cost will have a huge impact on potential energy use reduction.
Green Construction Resale Value
LTK: What are some of the resale advantages to green construction?
JB: The appraisal industry is quickly coming to see the added value found in reduced energy consumption, or the reduction of energy costs. When lived in properly, green and energy efficient homes can realize reduced energy bills and this opens up the potential for more monthly expenditures going to debt obligations. Additionally, the homes are more durable. There is a growing understanding that there is more value in green built homes than the conventional code built home.
Book Filled with Green Building Information
LTK: What can readers expect to come away with after reading your book, Green Building and Remodeling?
JB: We hope that they start to realize that green building is a process that is quite flexible and can suit many different needs. The important thing is to approach it holistically and realize that what you do in one area will impact another area and a balance needs to be found. For example, as stated above, increasing the level of performance of the building shell will impact the HVAC installation and operation. In all likelihood, the equipment will be smaller (and less expensive) and will operate more efficiently (and less expensively).
Special Thank You to John Barrows
LoveToKnow would like to thank John Barrows for taking time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview and provide greater insight to the ideas conveyed in his book.