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How would homeowners find a truly green contractor?

user-6130502 | Posted in GBA Pro Help on

Where or how would a homeowner be able to find a licensed contractor knowledgeable in the practices and topics discussed on this site, or even green building and healthier building materials in general? Had hoped to be moved in before the holidays and I’m told there is roughly only one month or less of work remaining to be done… but I can’t even find a contractor or subcontractors to do it. Maybe I’m searching in all the wrong places? Any advice or help would be immensely appreciated.

Need to get our older house move-in ready (Climate 3b, about 30-45 minutes outside of Los Angeles) but I am having an extremely challenging time finding a general contractor and/or trade contractors willing to finish it in a green and health-minded way. Indoor air quality is a priority, especially given sensitivities to formaldehyde and multiple VOCs, but so is preventing energy loss and making sure everything left on the to-do list is done right (ex. Insulation is only as good as its installation). Lots of different tasks on the to-do list, several requiring city permits, and I’m betting there is plenty potential for things to go awry if not planned or installed properly. However, given the luck I’ve had finding the right contractor or subcontractors, it’s not hard for me to imagine why so many homeowners either settle or throw in the towel on their goals if, like me, they’re unable to do it themselves.

After speaking with several contractors that felt building materials in the walls, finish sealers, insulators, paints, etc. weren’t a concern once installed, I moved on to meeting with companies claiming to be ‘green,’ only to be disappointed when I learned it was a bunch of greenwashed advertising. Two weeks ago, I found a company that advertised their commitment to indoor air quality and green practices, and I thought my search was finally over, but when I asked about what products they planned to use, the contractor clammed up, couldn’t even describe what material the insulation was, or if it was batt or blown, nor were they able to give me the name of a single brand of any product they planned on using throughout the house. When I asked about the drywall materials and the wood finishes to be installed, they said those didn’t matter, but that I could use a sealer to prevent any offgassing after if I was still worried. I told them I want to avoid materials that have to be sealed like that when there are healthy materials and alternatives readily available, inquiring then of certainteed and airkrete, and NSF/CSF wood, in vain. And when I told them I would be providing the paint, some pre-existing zero VOC Behr already on hand and several AFM safecoat paints for the rest of the house, they tried to talk me out of my safecoat paints. Thought maybe they just had a set of preferred suppliers and materials, so I waited patiently to be told what they’d like to use, but I have since come to realize that I need to move on after the contractor relayed that clients don’t usually ask them for this information and they’ve stalled in these aspects of planning our job ever since. So, at this point, I have no idea where to search next or who to call, but clearly I must be doing something wrong. Even if I settled on materials and slathered some AFM safecoat everywhere to seal everything up from off-gassing, which I do not want to have to resort to, someone knowledgeable would still have to properly take care of the wall repairs, shear wall, insulation, ductwork, windows, etc.

Thank you for taking the time to read all this, didn’t intend for it to end up being so long, and I hope you might be able to steer me in the right direction.

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Perhaps a GBA reader will have a suggestion.

    If you contact local home energy raters (that is, professionals certified by RESNET or BPI -- you can search on the two web sites to find professionals in your area), you can ask raters to recommend local contractors who are familiar with building science concepts and energy efficiency issues.

    When it comes to finding a contractor familiar with chemical sensitivity issues, the problem gets trickier. I'm not sure I have any suggestions in that department.

  2. user-6130502 | | #2

    Thank you, I will check out the two sites right now. Hoping other readers may know of additional resources or referrals in the area as well, as every bit of information helps. And no worries in the chemical sensitivities department; while it varies from individual to individual, I am thankfully well aware of exactly which sensitivities I'm dealing with, thanks to some tests my physician had run awhile back. I won't need a contractor to show me the right products for me sensitivity-wise, as I can check them out and test them on my own in that regard. Its more about finding someone who can explain the benefits or drawbacks of each green material/product available with regard to our house itself and the tasks at hand, and simply being willing to work with healthier building materials period. Most of the products I've been reading up on for the house have been recommended on this site already, and I've ordered already ordered a few from green building supply and other like minded companies. Just haven't found someone willing to use them. The ones that have arrived so far aren't causing me any issues, and I'll be fine with products in general as long as I stick with the lowest VOC levels possible and, when possible, avoid added formaldehyde, chemical flame retardants, urethanes, and benzenes. Any of those I can't avoid will be coated with some AFM and I'll be using air filtration as my back-up plan for what little offgassing I may still end up with despite our best efforts.

  3. user-6130502 | | #3

    Thank you, Norman. Waiting to hear back from a few of the RESNET and BPI certified individuals to see if they have local referrals, but struck out on earthcraft and energy star. Earthcraft doesn't have any west coast offices to refer me to, and the energy star contractor referrals I called stated that they only participate in new construction or in-house development projects only, not pre-existing structures or retrofits. Thank you for the information, I'll post when the HERS raters get back to me today.

  4. NormanWB | | #4

    Check out EarthCraft and EnergyStar. The first has a bent towards the environmental side in the SE US and the second list professionals who are certified in energy efficiency and a subset who are Indoor Air Quality focused as well.

  5. user-6184358 | | #5

    Check out the California Straw Building Association Website they have a resource list of professionals & contractors that build green. ( I am a member.)

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