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Community and Q&A

References for best practices for green building?

ranson | Posted in Green Building Techniques on

What best practices manuals for would people recommend incorporating by reference into a building spec? Rather than reinventing the wheel, where possible I would like to refer to existing documents.

For example, I don’t think I can put together something half as good as The Hammer and Hand Best Practices Manual for rainscreen details.


For reference, I’m building a slab-on-grade with double walls and a trussed roof in zone 5 near Rochester, NY.

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    The term "green building" is nebulous.

    For some people, it means compliance with the requirements of a green building certification program.

    For some people, it means using natural materials like mud, straw, and sticks.

    For some people, it means building with energy efficiency in mind.

    So the first question we need to ask is, "What are your goals? What does green building mean to you?"

    When it comes to plans and specifications, there are no shortcuts. You need a designer or architect who thinks things through and who is good at drawing details.

    If I had to choose just one target to include in your building specifications, it would probably be an airtightness target -- for example, 1 ach50 or (if you want to hit the Passivhaus specification) 0.6 ach50.

    For more information on this issue, see Green Building for Beginners.

    -- Martin Holladay

  2. SwitchgrassFarmer | | #2

    Martin, I wonder if John isn't looking for something like Joe Lstiburek's "Builder's Guide: Cold Climates..." as a reference. Based on his other inquires on GBA, those appear to be the type details that he is fully running down.

    I have a very dog-eared copy of Dr. Lstiburek's "Builder's Guide for Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)". That book, coupled with other white papers from Building Science Corporation (Joe et al), were essentially the bible(s) we used for our home.

    BTW, John's question made me curious to see what energy saving details might appear in the "Journal of Light Construction Field Guides to Residential Construction" (Best Practices). Unfortunately my copy has a published date of 2008, so it's pretty thin in that category. Perhaps JLC has updated this reference or has published a new book on this topic?

  3. JC72 | | #3

    I would start with this and then perhaps one of BSC's books.

    "Musings of an Energy Nerd" by Martin Holladay

  4. ranson | | #4


    Here is what I mean. When you're writing a building spec, you don't want to rewrite everything where a manual or standard exists. For concrete, you reference the ACI standards. For engineered lumber, you reference Weyerhaeuser TJ-9000. For tile installation, you reference the TCNA Handbook. Certainly, you need to provide additional specs, but these provide baseline instructions and standards. They're not code nor a certification program, they're just good building practices. (Though, they may be referenced by code.)

    I'm looking for standards and best practices that apply to building a house like I mentioned. I'm asking here for those that fit in the wheelhouse of GBA: air sealing, insulation, water management, etc.


  5. Expert Member

    When I used to do construction drawings for large commercial and residential projects we developed our documents from master specifications that are found in most architect's offices.

    I don't think I've ever seen a set of drawings for a small residential project that does more than refer in the general notes to "applicable standards of workmanship and practice". The detailed specifications are largely to deal with after the fact disputes and litigation.

    Much more useful is to call out the unusual or important aspects of any work and materials. The trades involved in small scale residential work do their jobs largely the way they always have. If you want to alter that you need to draw attention to it - and providing a lengthy spec isn't generally going to be the most effective way.

    i would spend more time on detailed drawings highlighting the areas you want to be emphasized. The air-sealing, flashing and other water management issues, etc. - and putting into place people you can trust with responsibility for carrying them through.

    Just my two cents from observing how trades function on small jobs. I'd be interested to hear from others who have completed high performance houses as to what their drawings included.

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