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Materials Index

hughsdb | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

Below is something that I posted to a remodelers’ Facebook group. In that, I cited GBA it may have been wiser to start here. There I found interest but no answers.

How much do you think about materials? As designers and builders, we hardly have to think about it. Just grab what’s on the shelf. “Oh, wait, that one is cheaper. Let’s get that one.” Probably most of us would agree that is not a good approach. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that even within that narrow criterion of “cheaper”, things get complicated with the slightest of curiosity. I mean, Masonite siding was cheaper, right?
But our industry, especially if we include home building as part of our industry, encourages, some would say demands, that we take the “cheapest now” approach to think about materials. Price per square foot is a perfect equation for poor quality in every respect, materials are no exception. I could rant long on the abdication of professionalism in our industry, but for now, let’s stay focused on materials.
A lot of the motivation of many families embarking on a remodeling project is to rid themselves of cheap builder-grade stuff.
It is not hard to take a more mindful approach to materials specification than is typical in our industry. In fact, it is hard not to in remodeling because our clients know they don’t like that stuff… to the degree they realize it. It is not uncommon for me to have a client tell me how great their builder was pointing to the crown molding and then list a litany of things they hate.
So the bar is low. But are we doing enough to raise it? Speaking only for myself, I have to say, “no, I am not.” But I aim to improve. Can you help me?
As I have thought about this, it occurs to me that the first task is to categorize what constitutes good materials. And by materials, I am speaking of anything we buy to put into a project. So, for example, a faucet is a material, even though it is composed of multiple materials.
Here is a shortlist of criteria that might be considered:
Cost (we usually cannot ignore this)
Durability
Function
Energy efficiency
Sustainability
It is that last one where things really get complicated: carbon footprint, life cycle, off-gassing,
distance shipped, resource depletion, habitat destruction, considerations of exploitative labor practices.
Thank god the bar is so low. Do we really need to think about all of this? The answer for me, and I hope some of you, is yes, yes we do. I hope that some of you are doing a better job than I am and can provide some guidance. This is an ongoing effort so maybe there is some team building that can be or has been, done around this issue.
My go-to resource for much of this is Green Building Advisor. What resources do you use? Is anyone using software like Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (Bees) software? Do you have a system for assessing materials?

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