The client is responsible for forming the best possible team to achieve the green building goals they, the client, sets for the project. In selecting your architect and contractor you must sort through the green washing that has become very prevalent in the construction industry. Your architect should have a proven understanding of building science as shown through past successful projects and appropriate certifications (Registered Architect, Construction Document Technologist, Certified Aging in Place Specialist, LEED Accredited Professional, and EarthCraft trained). Your contractor should have past experience building high performance homes, understand the team approach means all parties are involved through the entire project, and have an openness to innovative solutions.
A green home is one whose construction and lifetime operation assure the healthiest possible environment while representing the most efficient and least disruptive use of land, water, energy, and resources. Green building pays dividends to the home owner through lower monthly utility bills, healthy indoor air quality, low maintenance, and knowledge that you are having the minimal negative impact on future generations’ ability to achieve the same.
There are many definitions of what green building is or does. Definitions range from a building that is “less bad” than the average building in terms of its impact on the environment to a building that is “high performance.” My definition is a home / building that meets the budget, is adaptable, durable, preserves or restores habitat, reduces energy and water use, and provides healthy indoor air quality.
It is critical to make the decision to “go green” early in the construction process. The first step is to create a team that understands building science, works well together, and are experts at green design and construction. A balanced team for home design includes an architect, contractor, and a client. All parties have to work together to design and build the project in order to achieve the best solution. Eliminating any team member from any part of the process will result in a building that is not as green as possible.
Building a home is a major investment of time, energy, emotions, and money. You have to make some hard decisions and put value vs cost to the test. One of the most expensive rooms in a home is the kitchen. You have to get it right to make it efficient, functional, and beautiful. There are so many decisions to make in this one area of the home that you can spend many hours dwelling on which options are required and which can be given up. The kitchen is almost always seen as the social center of the home from after school homework to the dinner parties. Having an understanding of how to put the pieces together is not something that you simply stumble upon through building. There is an art to the pieces and it is hard to quantify until you have worked in a well proportioned kitchen that has been designed. The finishes of the cabinets, their placement, and there sizes all play into the functionality of the space. The countertop surface not only provides an aesthetic statement, but also could be the source of major headaches in the long run if the wrong option is selected. The hardware, door closers, lighting, appliances, and flooring options are endless and all have a real impact on the durability and functionality of the space. It is worth the time to hire someone who has gone through the process with others to help you make decisions. While most cabinet suppliers offer an in-house design service, I tend to not want them to do the design (they may carry a bias as they make money on the choices you make). Look for a CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) interior designer that not only understands kitchen design, but also can help you make a functional kitchen that lasts a lifetime.
Green Building is not expensive, it is not unusual, and it should not be considered a unique approach. Green Building should be done by all builders, demanded by all clients, standard for all neighborhoods. It is though unfortunately not the typical in Harrisonburg. It is taking hold, it is growing stronger, and you can now see it being built, but for every green home, there are many others that are not focused on energy efficiency, durability, and health.
In Crossroads Farm, we have a home under construction. The builder came to the project already familiar with ‘green’ building so change was not needed. It was refreshing to have a team that was already on the same page. My client wanted to work with us because we understand energy-efficient, durable, healthy design and a selected builder that can deliver it.
We designed this high performance home for a client that has been a friend for several years. It has been a fun project to work on and now that it is taking shape, fun to see the results of all our design work. This is not the first green home I have designed, after all, I have been doing this since getting out of graduate school in 2003. However, this is the first green home I have done in Harrisonburg and with this builder. Some of the things that are standards in other markets are brand new here. They are tested and I know they work, but being new here, there is always discussion. So working with the builder already familiar with green building has been great, I have learned some new things and I think he has learned some new things. The project is well on its way to being one of the most efficient homes in Crossroads Farm. It will not stand out as different when it is done. In fact, it is designed to work with the site as much as possible and blend into the vegetated background, so literally will not stand out on the site. The home owners will see the difference in their electric bills, in the durability of the home, and in the indoor air quality. Visitors probably will not notice, but the clean air inside the home will revive them and give them energy. It will reduce allergy season for my clients. It will be an oasis for them to rest and relax. Green Building is not only about conservation, it is about healthy design. Working with a contractor that understands that there are ‘other’ ways of doing things makes this possible.
So let me know what you think about our work. If you want a tour of the home, just let me know, I am certainly proud of what we are creating. If you have questions about ‘green’ construction, feel free to send me your questions.
Christopher G. Hill is lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP. Mr. Hill has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions as well as to Virginia Super Lawyers Rising Stars for 2011. He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals. Mr. Hill authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. Additionally, Mr. Hill is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and a member of the Board of Governors for the Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.
First of all, thanks to Charles for inviting me to guest post at his blog. (aside: This request came long ago and I have been remiss in not getting to this sooner, but life as a solo construction attorney sometimes gets a bit busy).
Now, for the topic of the day: cooperation from the beginning of a project. As the title of this post suggests, a team approach at the beginning of a project will go a long way toward heading off potential issues on any project, but in particular a “green” one. Not only does the LEED System (a leading sustainable building rating system) give a point and almost require a team approach, but it just makes sense. While I have posted relating to the purely contractual reasons for assuring expectations are set correctly at the beginning of a project, a team approach also assures that the practical aspects of the project are ironed out and those expectations are properly set.
As a construction attorney I spend a lot of my time dealing with situations where expectations were not met for various reasons (from poor documentation of change orders to unforeseen issues with routing of HVAC equipment). On a “regular” project these types of issues can be a major burden to a project, financially and otherwise; on a “green” project failing to set expectations can lead to total disaster. Tax credits, LEED Certification, and even basic contractual damages can be enormous and result in long term litigation and possibly unsafe buildings. As an advocate for sustainable building, I sincerely want the great trend toward green building and a more sustainable building stock to continue. However for this to work out, the usual semi-adversarial stance among building professionals and the top down structure needs to be revised.
In my opinion, many issues that have arisen in sustainable building could have and should have been avoided. With new computer modeling tools (BIM and the like) and a commitment to get together at the beginning of the construction job to discuss the owner’s expectations and how they can be met (or not) in the real world scenario, we can create an environment where fewer surprises (and thus fewer claims) will occur. While “Murphy was an optimist” and bumps will inevitably arise in the road, these will be more easily dealt with should they not reach the core of the parties’ expectations for the finished product. And yes, this may cause less litigation related work for we attorneys, but in my mind the best work by attorneys is done on the counseling side keeping these issues at bay while working with clients.
In short (if it isn’t too late for that), a team approach early in the construction process will make a project run more smoothly and keep us headed in a sustainable direction.
LEED (Green design) and construction does not cost more, quality costs more. When weighing cost vs value in green design it is important to evaluate quality requirements.
LEED provides some quality standards
In a meeting yesterday it was pointed out that LEED certification would cost more because it is very difficult. The conversation revolved around getting the sub-contractors to do the things that the LEED program requires. For instance, they are not allowed to stack / store all the HVAC ducts within the construction space. They have to bring a trailer to the site to store the materials to be in compliance with LEED standards. The result, the material is not “lost”, abused, dirty, and beat up upon installation. You could save money by allowing the material to become “lost”, abused, dirty, and beat up prior to installation, but do you want a lower quality product?
It costs more to do it right. It costs more if the contractor takes pride in their work. “Because that is the way we always do it” is not a valid answer. The lowest price is often lower, because of less skill, care, or quality. LEED does cost more in some cases, but typically, it adds value to the project. Yes LEED has major flaws that need to be overcome. LEED 2009 is beginning to address those issues. However, we need a standard to measure quality, and LEED is a good start.