The core issues to be considered when attempting to make green buildng decisions are set out below. We have devised a simple “reality check” test that can be applied to every decision when renovating. Our reality check will take the mystery out of green renovation and help you experience a smoother process in which the interrelationship between the systems in your house, and the environmental impact of your decisions, will reveal themselves to you. The reality check is a simple set of questions to guide your decision making process; ask yourself each of these questions before you make a final decision on materials, products and systems in your home, and remember you may also need to apply them to the other systems that are impacted by the decision at hand:

Energy Consumption How does it affect my energy consumption? Does it reduce energy consumption and thus the burning of fossil fuels?

Water How does it affect the consumption of potable water? Does it save potable water and/or reduce waste water from entering the sewer system?

Garbage How does it affect demolition debris? Does it keep to a minimum the addition of unwanted non-recyclable solid waste being added to our burgeoning landfills?

Energy Generation Does it create energy (electricity through solar or wind power, produce hot water)?

Indoor Air Quality How does it affect indoor air quality? Does it improve indoor air quality and healthy living?

Sustainability Does it use sustainable or recycled products and materials?

Natural Environment  How does it impact on the overall natural environment? Does it improve the environment by, for example, reducing or eliminating air pollution, add greenery and the like?

A green home is a well designed and well constructed building, built to maximize energy efficiency, healthy indoor air quality and have a low impact on the natural environment. To that end, many of the decisions that need to be made to achieve a well designed and well constructed building are not glamorous – for example increasing insulation and filling cracks and holes to prevent air seepage and radiation of heat through the walls; not over-sizing a heating system (thus saving energy) b/c the professional who designs/sizes the heating system has taken into account the heat loss savings from such non-glamorous things as additional insulation, new windows, passive solar effects and the like; planting for shade with drought-resistant trees. We need to reject the idea that, to be “green” means to be different or special; reject the idea that common, ordinary products like insulation, which clearly offer environmental benefits (but watch those VOCs, see our Article Indoor Air Quality -- Identifying Sources and Making Renovation Choices that Eliminate Contamination) are to be discounted or overlooked, because that kind of thinking furthers the erroneous view that homeowers must find sexy schemes and products, which translates into “spend more money”. One of the single most important things that you can do to save energy, and thus be very “green”, is to have your heating system maintained regularly so that it operates efficiently – that won’t earn you any “green” brownie points under any green building guidelines that I have reviewed thus far, it’s not sexy, but it is important and environmentally sound.

But be warned – there will be trade-offs.  You want to get as much “green bang for your buck” as possible and you will find yourself in a constant weighting game, for example comparing the waste factor of throwing away a working appliance against the energy and/or water savings from installing a new one, or the potential heat loss from a ventilation system versus the improvement it will render in indoor air quality, or whether to allocate finite renovation dollars to a solar hot water system or rain-water harvesting. Green building is not dogma, it is a philosophy, ever pliable based on your own set of values. Your personal priorities, and perhaps the particular micro-environmental issues at your property location, will guide your choices among varying, and sometimes competing, green options.

Being “green” is not checking off the boxes on a predetermined checklist. “Greening” ought to simply mean making the right combination of choices, in line with personal priorities and budget, that maximizes energy efficiency, saves water, improves indoor air quality and otherwise has a low or no impact on the environment. It’s an attitude and a consciousness, and with the application of a little common sense it’s easy, not expensive, and a way of life, like reading labels in the grocery store. If every consumer asks “does that carpeting contain formaldehyde” the same way we ask “does that snack contain trans fats,” we will eventually change the world.

You can experience the application of our reality check and its impact on a green renovation, through Noreen's blog chronicling the renovation of 168 Clinton St. Stay tuned.