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