Common Sense Conservation

For years now I have been bothered by the whole “Green Building” movement; not because the cause is an unworthy one, but because those in the building industry have not really changed anything, other than their marketing campaigns. Instead of making real changes in the way they construct their homes, most builders have simply figured out a way to put an environmentally sensitive face on what they have been doing for years.

Rather than looking long and hard at the costs and benefits of adopting new methods, they have simply chosen to extract any small spin they can on an ordinary product to make it look like they chose it because of it’s contribution to the overall good of society. Marketing companies would call this ingenuity. I call it hypocrisy. If your not going to embrace a philosophy don’t tell your buyers otherwise. Next time you walk into a model home and see placards everywhere espousing the “green” benefits of certain products and practices, ask the salesperson to tell you what they were using before they “saw the light.”

I prefer to practice what I call “Common Sense Conservation.” In short, it means weighing the costs of new products and practices relative to the benefits derived. What is the payback period involved and am I doing this because I think it’s the right thing to do or simply because I am being made to feel guilty if I don’t do it?

Some products make a lot of sense because they provide reasonable benefits at reasonable costs. Foil-faced radiant barrier OSB, for example, usually only costs a couple dollars a sheet more than regular OSB. When used for roof sheathing it can significantly cut down on the temperature in your attic during the summer. A 4,000 SF home might use 200 sheets on the roof, meaning a total upcharge of $400. I don’t have scientific numbers on this, but if it keeps your attic an average of 5 degrees cooler, that means your A/C runs less frequently and you same money. The payback period for this product is likely to be much faster than it would be for a spray foam attic, which costs 10 times that amount and may only reduce the temperature 2 to 3 times as much.

I am not criticizing spray foam insulation. It looks to be one of the products most likely to become entrenched in our industry. However, it is expensive and not everyone can afford it. The radiant barrier plywood is a great alternative.  Some other cost effective improvements are additional caulking and insulation,  using closed crawl spaces (not “conditioned” crawls), simple rain water collection systems and landscaping with plantings that require minimal irrigation. Most of these items require more thought than money. There are other products that can make sense for certain situations but not all. These include on-demand water heaters, upgraded HVAC systems, spray foam insulation (combined with fiberglass or cellulose), hot water return plumbing systems, upgraded windows, etc. I can elaborate on any of these if you have aparticular interest. Just e-mail me.

Recycling building materials should make sense for everyone, but the actual cost of trying to do so is prohibitive, believe it or not. This is unfortunate, as well as revealing. We should all make our decisions based on a thorough analysis of the facts, not the advertisements popping up in front of us.