Tuesday, May 6, 2008

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 GreenBuildingAdvisor.com

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