Thursday, May 29, 2008

Michael Chandler's Green Story

I come from a long line of engineers and people who work with their hands.
Collectively, my Grandfathers and Great Grandfathers invented a way to explode dynamite under water, worked on the Panama Canal, figured out how to mount naval artillery on flat beds leading a cadre of iron workers into battle during WWI, engineered earthquake resistant buildings after the San Francisco earthquake founded MIT, and climbed up the towers and out the cables of suspension bridges to test them for metal fatigue. My father sailed to the Galapagos Islands at 13, and got into computers when they ran on tape drives and took up entire rooms. He was constantly inventing stuff in the basement that became part of our lives: intercoms, burglar alarms, and a heating system for our house that still amazes me.

I still own and use his tools and tools from both grandfathers.

I didn’t have much choice in my direction: the family videos show my Dad and me (two years old) walking on the second floor joists while our house was being built. We did two additions to the house while I was growing up, designed by a family friend. When I was 16, I spent an afternoon with R. Buckminster Fuller. He was 87 at the time, I sought him out then because I was interested in affordable homes, elegant design, and excited about the future.

I still have the drawing (at right) he used to illustrate our conversation dated June 9th 1972.

In college I interned with Moore-Weinrich Architects in Rumford, Maine -- riding my bike to work each day. They were working on an architectural contest (which they won); the founder, Steven Moore, is now a green architect teaching at UT Austin. From there I went on to intern at Design Works in Carrboro NC and to co-found Space Builders which as now celebrating its thirtieth year as an employee owned business. As part of that start-up process I took a workshop with the New School for Democratic Management which was one of those little nudges that pushed me in just the right direction at just the right time.

Before that nudge, I saw the business end of building and designing as a necessary evil; afterwards, I saw business as an important part of the craft. I was enjoying the great game of business long before Jack Stack wrote the book.

I left Space Builders when I realized that consensus decision-making made me crazy. Traveling around North America in a ‘65 Dodge van, working in California and Maine helped me to build my carpentry skills and people skills. Somewhere in there I learned about the work with Thermal Photography and the air tight drywall approach that Joe Lstiburek was doing in the Canadian R-2000 program. The idea that Building Science could be a legitimate field of study made me happy.

We look back on those days now with bemusement and regret. The double envelope houses, underground air pipes for cooling, trombe walls, and solar salt boxes that were way too tight and just plain ugly.

My business thrived and faltered, but my marriage failed. I focused on the business and joined an NAHB builder 20 club. Along the way I instituted profit sharing and an employee centered way of doing business and in 2002 and 2003 our company was named one of the top 50 builders to work for in America. We went on to win the 2005 NAHB seniors housing council Best Aging in Place Design for New Custom Homes and to pick up second place at the National Green Building Awards in 2006 and 2007 for Best Green Custom Home and to win a Pacesetter Award at the 2006 NAHB Custom Builder Symposium for "sustainable business management". Somewhere in there I fell in love with a client, got married, and she is now my designer and business partner (she drew all the award winning houses). Nowadays I get to spend a lot of time writing and teaching about green building in addition to running the business with a really great crew.

In the next five years we're splitting the design and building business and giving the building business to our employees using an incentivized stock-option plan. They'll get a debt-free company, but will pay a portion of their profits over the first five years during which time I'll be their employee and mentor. The great game of business is pretty fun, if you play it right.

So how did I get into home building?
I received a degree from Dartmouth in sculpture only because they didn't have an architecture degree. Once I graduated it seemed more likely that I would draw a regular paycheck as a builder than as a sculptor.

How did I get into Green Building?
I was always drawn to architects that were pushing the envelope with passive solar design and innovative engineering. It just seemed a whole lot more fun than just throwing up boxes, and I had done some of that working in government subsidized housing for the elderly. I also come with a strong preference for egalitarian workplaces and the people who were building solar were more ideologically aligned with me.

I’m a bit of mad scientist; green building best-practices and their refinement is interesting and fun for me.

What does Green Building mean to me?
To me it's all about refining the definition of what is best practice in building homes for people to optimize comfort and health and minimize the impact on the environment. I like to also optimize value because that's a fun part of the game. It's also easier to make a profit if you can provide great value.

And I like the homes to be beautiful because life is to short to waste time building ugly homes.

--Michael Chandler owns Chandler Design/Build near Chapel Hill, North Carolina

We are Everywhere!

Except the northwest and mid west. The map shows who is where. I made the map unlisted, so other folks shouldn't stumble accross it, and it should be editable by any of us, so if you want to fill in stuff to your bubble or move your push pin to a different location (like your home or office, for example) go for it.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Eric Doub's Green Story

I grew up with a father who studied Taoist texts in the original Chinese while waiting in foxholes in the Army in Germany in the 1950s. He protested the H-bomb in that same decade. As a Girl Scout leader in the 1970s in Boulder, Colorado, my mother retrieved a road kill deer and had her charges skin the animal, tan the hide by traditional methods, and make moccasins and drums. She also studied outdoor survival skills and spent 10 days in the Idaho back country with only a pocket knife. When it came to suburban survival, however, she drove the car my father claimed to have no ownership of (“It's Nancy's car!”). My father rode his bike, took buses and trains and walked, and never used the word car that I can recall: He would always say “Pollution-Waste Machine” or “Stinking Metal Box.” Car drivers were “Oil Spill Lovers” or "Emphysema Lovers."

With parents like that...
I could have either run the other direction, or followed in their worldview footsteps. I did the latter. In Junior High, I would get angry at seeing lawn sprinklers over spraying onto the sidewalks and streets and wasting water. I made up a flyer and put one on every car parked at the local recreation center: “Did you have to drive here to get exercise?” As a teenager I believed I would never own a car. Lo and behold, it started with a motorcycle...and our family now has the average American number of “Pollution-Waste Machines.”

In my college application essay in 1980, I started off with approximately this:
“It's something to consider. The Swedes are not freezing in the dark, and their
per capita energy consumption is about half of Americans’.” The rest of the
essay went about as follows: “…studying nuclear energy for a school paper “has
been an initiation into energy research, and a synthesis of goals – of self
preservation and academics – that may be the most important thing that’s
happened to me yet.
Current events make it desperately clear: We’re in
transition to a post-petroleum civilization. War in the Middle East, the arms
race, revolution in Third World countries all point to a reorganization of the
planet’s resources. And American lifestyles and consumption are at the center of
the crisis. When good, obedient, middle-class Americans – those who guard the
system – cannot buy gas or pay the heating bill or get enough to eat, our
society will turn upside down. Historian Howard Zinn calls this the Revolt of
the Guards. When this happens I want to be a citizen who knows, who has
researched, who has hope: for a sane, decentralized, democratic energy system
where the power is in the hands of the people and in biomass, efficiency, hydro,
wind, solar, and co-generation.”
When I did get into Stanford, I took all the energy-related courses I could: “Small Scale Energy Systems.” “Soft Energy Paths and Non-Nuclear Futures…” My undergrad degree? I called it “Sustainable U.S. Resource and Security Policies.”

Just another run of the mill bachelor’s degree.

--Eric Doub is president of EcoFutures Building Inc., Boulder, Colorado's leading Zero Energy Home builder.

Peter Yost's Green Story

They say it's better to be lucky than smart. I got into home building out of dumb luck, but it turned out to be the smartest thing I ever did. Teaching high school in my early 20’s, I needed a summer job. My two oldest brothers had a busy construction business, so I was a hired hand— staining clapboards, hauling drywall, getting coffee. I had no idea that I would actually like the work or make a career out of it. Something about working with both my head and my hands, and particularly working with wood, struck a chord.

Green building just came naturally. I’m from a family of thirteen, raised on a minister’s salary. My Mother grew up a fisherman’s daughter in a house several feet below sea level with a rooftop rainwater catchment system. She knew more about resource efficiency than any Nobel Laureate in economics. And she taught the thirteen of us all about it.

I distinctly remember the day I started to think differently as a builder. They closed the local dump in one of the towns where we built in Seacoast New Hampshire with no warning. Just one day we were dumping demolition debris close by and for free, and the next we were off to a
regional landfill 35 miles away paying $65 a ton. The first time I drove into that landfill I drove a half a mile from the tipping scale DOWN in elevation to the "active cell" where I could dump my load.

But that wasn’t the actual day that I began thinking differently as a builder, because for the next few months we worked in towns that still had a local dump. The next time I went to that landfill with a load of job waste, I drove a quarter mile more past that first “cell” and drove UP what seemed like 50 feet to the next "active cell." That was the actual day I began thinking seriously about a different way of building, a way that several years later would come to be called green building.

To me, green building is all about process; it's a mix of thinking and building that continually evolves better ways to design and build. I have come to think of green building as the way that quality, resource-efficiency, and durability fit together in a home with the smallest environmental footprint possible.

But stay tuned—I think we still have a lot to learn.

--Peter Yost is Director of Residential Services at BuildingGreen and technical director of

Lynn Underwood's Green Story

I grew up on a farm and ranch and learned to conserve materials, avoid waste, and to respect the soil that sustained our family’s livelihood. While these concepts weren't rooted in environmentalism (they were rooted in conservation) they went along with a respect for nature. We avoided over-taxing the land. We were cautious about garbage and waste. We knew it was the right thing to do.

During a tour of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps in Viet Nam, I saw the results of a poverty-stricken country embroiled in war. Waste was unheard of there. South Vietnamese citizens scraped their Earth for simple survival. After three years, I left the Marine Corps, returned home to New Mexico. and started college. That's where I met a young woman who suffered from an ailment caused by air pollution. Together we organized the first ever anti-pollution effort with consciousness-raising. I even got the local mayor in Las Cruces, New Mexico to sign a proclamation declaring it to be Clean Air Week in 1972. Within a few years, my friend passed away because of that ailment, but she left me with a zeal for environmental health.

In 2000, as a Senior Plans Examiner in Pima County, Arizona I had been asked by the Building Official to coordinate a training event that would facilitate a dialogue between promoters of sustainable design and building safety professionals. I started by recruiting David Eisenberg, Director of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology in Tucson, Arizona. Together we sponsored the first-ever Alternative Building Materials/Technology Exhibition in Tucson, Arizona. With a little over a month of planning we attracted over 1000 attendees who were able to learn about sustainable design and green building materials from nearly 40 vendors. There were over a dozen separate classes for the public with topics that ranged from how to install adobe blocks to installation of insulated concrete forms to green roofs to photovoltaic technology. This got my juices going. I wrote an article describing what we did and it was printed in the Building Standards Magazine published by the International Conference of Building Officials (July-August, 2000).

To me, green building means leaving a small environmental footprint while providing a safe, durable building that will endure natural forces such as wind, seismic and flooding. Green building means beginning at the design stage with thoughtful consideration for the all of the elements that provide a safe, comfortable home. It means making use of renewable natural resources. It's smart site selection and proper orientation. It's selecting the materials that provide the most durability while bringing the least harm to the environment. While there are many shades of green, all green homes are better homes. Green homes consume fewer natural resources and deliver high energy efficiency while avoiding unnecessary damage to the site. They last longer and live better because they're designed to meet your needs, instead of being designed to be large.

The building code can halp you build green. There is a long history for my profession of accepting and embracing the movement toward green building and environmental sustainability. It appears to be a well-kept secrtet, but it's there nonetheless. You can see it in black and white on page 2 of the 2006 International Residential Code:
R104.11 Alternative materials, design and methods of construction and
The provisions of this code are not intended to prevent the
installation of any material or to prohibit any design or method of construction
not specifically prescribed by this code, provided that any such alternative
has been approved. An alternative material, design or method of construction
shall be approved where the building official finds that the proposed design
is satisfactory and complies with the intent of the provisions of this code,
and that the material, method or work offered is, for the purpose intended,
at least the equivalent of that prescribed in this code. Compliance with the
specific performance-based provisions of the International Codes in lieu of
specific requirements of this code shall also be permitted as an
Because I'm so interested in helping people build their house the way they want and with the materials they desire, this section is like music to my ears.

As building safety professional, I believe it is my duty to embrace green building and support acceptance of these principles into the Code itself. Building Officials have always known that innovations and improvements move faster than the Building Code, so section 104.11 is a great tool for helping us to accept new methods and materials. This is the part of my job that I love; helping people getting what they want as long as they’re safe doing it!

--Lynn Underwood is Chief Building Official for the City of Norfolk, Virginia

Bruce King's Green Story

For as long as I can remember I've had this edgy, powerful dislike of waste, and so as a little boy was the butt of many jokes in my family for pulling things out of the trash because “they were still useful.” As it turned out, I also had an aptitude for science and math, and so like Dilbert was probably fated to be an engineer. I found that in engineering, as in math, the equation must always balance — nothing is thrown away. This is no trivial abstraction, as it turns out that Nature also works that way. My odd childhood obsession was thus vindicated and articulated by biology and ecology. Nothing is thrown away because there is no “away.”

A quarter of a century ago I started my business as a structural engineer, and found myself part of an industry that is not merely wasteful, but often seems to systematically destroy as much as possible. Energy, water, and materials are routinely squandered in construction. Less obvious, but far more widespread and destructive, is the waste of knowledge and common sense; we’ve learned a lot about how to build well, but don’t. Even less obvious are the effects in faraway places that our industry has: the open pit copper mines in New Guinea that displace entire cultures, the clearcut arboreal forests of Siberia that strip away species diversity, the horrible cancers that afflict workers in PVC plants around the world. We even throw ourselves away! As an engineer, I began to wonder how to bring my training and experience to the dawning “green” movement to improve on the way we build.

My big chance came in the early 1990’s when asked to engineer the Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland, California. That project was hugely successful for a number of reasons: a talented and mutually-respectful team, an ever-evolving and joyful sense of the design, careful and lovely use of reclaimed land and water, and novel (at the time) use of materials such as straw bales, sustainably-harvested lumber, recycled tile, fly ash concrete, and all sorts of “old junk” turned to good use. Most exciting was the complete energy-independence of the building, which passively keeps itself cool in summer and warm in winter, while providing more power than it needs with solar cells and wind turbines.

I remember one particular and signature moment during that project. It was a broiling hot summer day during the framing phase. We had just completed a long session working through many details for the complex, curving structure, and we were all pretty used up. The contractor—an “old boy” from the area and by no means a “greenie”—walked up beside me, put his huge arm around my shoulder, and blurted out “Wow! I had forgotten that building is fun! ”

This engineer had found his niche.We always built “green” before the Industrial Revolution in that we only used local materials, water and energy. But with the subsequent rush of fossil fuel energy we've become giddy and hurried. Climate change and peak oil will soon change the way we build, whether we like it or not, and we will once again have to rely on our smarts, local resources, and our collective experience to build well. And so to me green building means making every effort now to smooth the transition to the world our children will inherit. It’s the least we can do.

Also, green building is fun.

--Bruce King, P.E. is a structural engineer and founder of the Ecological Building Network in San Rafael, Calif.

Mike Guertin's Green Story

Without realizing it at the time, I began my 'green building career' in the mid-1960's when I was 7 years old. My parents tackled the ultimate DIY project, designing and building their own home. While most kids were building tree houses, I drove subfloor nails, spread stone for footing drains, provided general labor and tended the plumber's lead crucible (hence the brain damage). The house was simple in design, efficient in resource use and sported state-of-the-art energy features: R-11 insulation, double insulated windows and glass doors, and had a ‘compact’ / ‘hot roof’ design with asphalt impregnated fiberboard ‘insulation’.

In the late 70’s we made an active solar hot air heating system made from salvaged materials: steel roofing panels painted black, storm windows, an old furnace fan and a massive pile of stone. Soon we added a solar hot water system - again from salvaged parts. By the early 1980's we super-insulated the house to an unheard of R-45 by over-framing the exterior with local-cut 5/4 rough pine boards. The passive solar gave way to a active solar system with semi-automatic summer shades and hand-filled tubes of 'phase-change' salts. Thank goodness for those early tax credits and a penny-pinching father.

My ‘chosen’ career path was teaching. This lead to stints at an environmental education center and high school science department but neither gave me the satisfaction I got working with my hands framing, roofing and siding houses during my college summers. So I left teaching for construction.

My partner and I never set out to 'build green' we just did what made sense. Advanced framing techniques made sense, extra insulation made sense, air-tight construction made sense, better performing windows and doors made sense, better building practices made sense, minimizing site impact made sense, avoiding noxious stuff in building product choices made sense. All that stuff is stuff we did on most of our projects since the late 80's. We tried out new techniques and materials as we learned more and as better systems became available. Clients were thrilled with the results – lower energy bills, great comfort and a fresh bright indoor environment. High performance homes set us apart from other custom home builders in the doldrums of the early 90’s and we found ways to deliver them at the same price as run-of-the-mill homes. Reducing global impact has never been my primary motivation for building green; it's always come down to dollars and sense.

To me, green building is business as usual.

--Mike Guertin is a builder, remodeler, mountain climber, and contributing editor to Fine Homebuilding among other things. He lives in East Greenwich, Rhode Island