Thinking about building a new home? Thinking about building a green, energy-efficient home? Just dreaming about it but don’t know what to dream? Let me tell you why I like the new book Green Home Building: Money Savings Strategies for an Affordable, Healthy, High-Performance Home, and why you need it on your bookshelf.
I mentioned this book in a recent newsletter, but let's drill down.
How do you know what you need to know?
Let me frame this for you:
In my first career, I was a technical and business communicator in high-tech product development. Over three decades, I designed and wrote tons of information. My job was to get a grasp on what we were selling, who was going to use it, and what they needed to know. Then I had to figure out how to deliver the right information to the right customers at the right time. Research and writing involved strapping on hip boots and wading into a sea of subject matter experts (engineers, software architects, and product managers), using Vulcan mind-meld methods to extract information from their brains, and kneading it into tasty, digestible morsels I could feed my customers.
It’s all about the transfer of knowledge -- from those who have it, to those who need it. Those who need it often don’t know what they’re missing until you lay out a mental map in front of them. Ooh, look, a roadmap. Ah, now I see where I’m going. I’ll follow these steps to get there.
You can probably guess that I have a keen appreciation for useful information that's done well, which brings me to Miki Cook and Doug Garrett’s hot-off-the-press Green Home Building book.
Chances are you’re pretty good at what you do, but have you built a house before? Have you planned an energy-efficient, green home before? There are lots of moving parts and layers of considerations. And golly, you might not even know the first questions to ask. Sure, you know there are plenty of subject matter experts out there – experienced green builders and architects, knowledgeable building science guys, and purveyors of products -- who are all chockablock with facts, figures, techniques, and suggestions. Hey, if you have the time, go wade into that sea of subject matter experts and do your own research.
Or, start with this book.
About the authors
These authors have creds. Miki Cook and Doug Garrett are both green building consultants with years of residential construction and building science background.
Miki spent her career in residential construction, working in construction materials supply, interior design, design/build, estimating and purchasing, and actively involved in green building homes since 1997. She has certified homes for Energy Star, U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Homes, ICC-700 National Green Building Standard, and currently Austin Energy Green Building, the oldest green building program in the U.S. Since 2006, Miki has dedicated her career to helping the building industry transition to more sustainable practices. She spends much of her time teaching and hosting eduction programs on green building techniques for building professionals and home owners.
Doug is a Certified Energy Manager and has studied building science, indoor air quality, moisture management, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning best practices throughout this career. He founded Austin Energy's residential and multifamily energy conservation programs before setting out in 1996 to establish the first building science consulting business in Texas. He has taught hundreds of seminars and served on numerous advisory councils and task forces for high-performance industry standards, energy codes, health concerns, and housing affordability. He currently provides consulting services to builders across the US.
The crux of the book
There’s no single path to a green, energy-efficient home. You have to consider your goals, the locale, your budget, and dozens of other factors. It’s not just about materials.
The book has several goals. One is to be a road map to achieving a truly green home within any budget. Another is to bring affordable green methods mainstream. Overall, the book “is about making informed, educated decisions in order to achieve your long-term goals, and about understanding the synergy of how each decision affects everything else.”
Here, let me get out of the way and quote directly from the introduction:
A key concept employed throughout this book comes from a relatively new field of housing research called building science. Building science studies and views the house and all of its components as parts of an interactive, integrated, holistic system. The mantra of building science is: “the house is a system” Building science recognizes that changing one aspect of how a home is built changes the entire system, and often other aspects of the home must be changed in response. The big value added is that this can be done while improving your comfort, reducing maintenance headaches and costs and at the same time putting a lot of monthly utility dollars back into your pocket. It also recognizes that the right way to build is what is right for your particular climate zone, not some one-size-fits-all approach.
What the book does well
The authors do four things really well.
They don’t just rush to the facts. They take the time to walk through a thoughtful discussion about lifestyle, personal, and community considerations that influence the overall goals for your home.
They bring news, findings, and recommendations from building science without drowning the reader in gory details. Ah, knowledge transfer! You get enough context and terminology so that you can better understand why your builder and designer make certain recommendations. You're better equipped to ask credible questions and have knowledgeable discussions with your own green building and design team.
Each time the book introduces a new topic, they circle back as necessary to explain how the different layers and aspects of your home affect each other. For example, how proper design affects everything. How the roof both provides shelter and contributes to the building’s thermal performance. How the products and materials you choose affect indoor air quality. How to reduce construction waste and save money.
They talk about money and cost. Really! They suggest trade-offs and show how you can save money in one area of construction and then use those savings to improve another area, at little or no net cost. They explain strategies that can save you money either in initial construction, lifetime operations, or both. Certain topics are marked with icons that point out “no cost green” strategies and “key” strategies that help you achieve major savings in your construction budget.
How the book is organized
Part One offers ten steps to an affordable, healthy, high-performance home. They discuss in detail: location, size, design, building products and materials, construction waste, equipment and systems, health and environment, outdoor living, green bling, and maintenance. You will emerge from these chapters as a much more informed home owner.
Part Two tackles how to get to net zero – net-zero energy, water, waste, and carbon footprint. (What is net zero? A net zero energy home is one that operates efficiently enough that, over the course of a calendar year, it produce as much energy as it uses.) These discussions include details and models of building design, materials, and construction specifications, addressing how to achieve these net zero goals affordably.
Dollars and sense
While the authors have written this book to help home owners understand the total cost of home ownership and how to use specific strategies to achieve a high-performance green home for no additional life cycle cost, they do point out that “. . . it is difficult to put actual dollar values on each of those recommendations, as cost can vary depending on market conditions and local availability of materials and skilled trades.”
Nevertheless, in the final chapter of Part Two, the book dives into dollars and cents. The authors do this by creating a model that compares the total cost of a traditionally built house to a theoretical home based on strategies recommended throughout the book.
I won’t try to walk through the model. You’ll have to read it, whip out your calculator, crunch the numbers yourself, and reassess your own goals.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but this final chapter pulls all the pieces together and will certainly give you something meaty to chew on while you plan your new green home.
At Solluna Builders, we like this book so much we’ve decided to give a copy to new clients who want to plan and build a new home with us. But happy surprise: one new home owner showed up last week with the book already in hand.
Go here to order your own copy.