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The Challenges of a “Green” Renovation

jenniferz5 | Posted in General Questions on

A couple of serious questions built around a bit of a rant…  Is it possible to build “green”?  Here in NW CT, I have run into roadblock after roadblock trying to renovate a modest home that is healthy for my family and my environment, a home that I intentionally purchased that is half the size of my former home, on a much larger piece of land, in order to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

A very well-known “green” builder I contacted (pre-Covid) to help me renovate my 1400 sq ft, 1953 ranch home would not even come to my home unless I signed a contract hiring his company to do the job – no quotes, no face-time, no “let’s get to know each other” (his secretary passed this along – he wouldn’t even talk to me).  Other green builders I have spoken with have turned me down as soon as they hear the size of my home. Who will help me with my green renovation if not someone trained to do so?

And building materials?  No company will provide FSC-certified trim boards unless I buy in huge quantities.  Neither my local hardware stores nor Ring’s End will carry them.  What do I do with the trim that I need to replace – that I would prefer to replace with FSC-certified cedar, as I did for my siding?

Has anyone navigated this?  Green Building Supply is wonderful for supplying sealants, paints, flooring, etc, but they don’t sell lumber.  Is there a Green Building Supply that will sell trim for a dozen windows?

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  1. plumb_bob | | #1

    Certifications like FSC are great but do not capture the reality of every situation. Can you source wood that was locally grown on a small scale wood lot and then sawn by a local mill? This type of wood may not come with the FSC cert but it checks many of the "green" boxes while supporting the local economy.

    1. jenniferz5 | | #2

      This would be ideal! I will look around. Thank you.

      1. charlie_sullivan | | #4

        Up here in VT/NH, I been successful in buying from small mills and getting incredible bargains as well as quality materials that I feel good about.

  2. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #3

    What is your goal regarding "greeness"? I always say to consider the big picture, the entire system, but there can still be different goals. Is your goal to be as energy efficient as possible (this is usually my goal), which would mean extra insulation, careful detailing, attention to efficiency for HVAC and the like? Is your goal to use as many locally sourced materials as possible? Are you trying to only use "natural" products (I don't really like this particular "goal", since I think it leads to issues down the road that will cancel out any near-term benefits)?

    I suppose you could try to meet all of those goals, but some of them are mutually exclusive. My guess is your home is too small to interst a high-end builder since they don't think there is enough money in the project. That is unfortunate, but builders today are VERY busy, so they're going to be careful how they allocate their resources. There are also a lot of screwy supply chain issues, so some of the materials availability problems you're seeing may be due to that, and not just places not wanting to sell to you.

    I would look to see if there are any reclamation places near you. You can sometimes save money reusing materials, but those places are also likely to have contacts that might help you with small quanity orders. If a supplier is putting in a big order for something you need, they might be able to add on a little more for your project at the same time.


  3. plumb_bob | | #5

    I built a log house with naturally killed (beetle kill) pine logs and all of the supporting post and beam, t&g, structural joists, trim etc was locally sourced and milled.

    I never applied for any certifications but in my mind it was about as "green" as you can get.

    The garbage pile at the end of the project was just a big pile of wood. Yes there was some GWB, insulation etc but quite minimal.

    Heat source was wood stove, the fuel is always naturally killed spruce or pine. Carbon neutral as this wood would fall and rot if not burned.

    The is another monstrous house built down the street that received leed platinum, but the size alone disqualifies it in my mind. All of the "sustainable" clear cedar siding was shipped up from down south. And don't even mention that the lady that lives there is alone...

    What does green building mean? There are so many subtleties that it is hard to come up with a good definition.

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