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Energy Use: It's More than

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Greenhouse for Heat &

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Construction

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Recycling Construction
     
Waste ...Zero Waste

Septic Systems ... Nothing
     
Very Green Here

Solar Electric System

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Water Proofing the Walls
      
Mold Discussion

Plumbing & Saving Water

 

Series of Pictures of How the House/Site Looks During Construction

 

One of the basic principles in Green Buildings is that a team/holistic approach is best.  In other words, get the key people together before you finalize your plans and materials.  The traditional approach is to create a set of plans and hand them off to a builder who bids on the contract. 

The design team should include the architect, builder, landscape designer, interior designer, plumbing and electrical professional(s), and heating and cooling contractor.  In reality we found that the general contractor will have a team of people he/she has a close relationahip with, so the key team is architect, builder, interior and landscape designers.

Thus, once we found an architect, we immediately started our quest for a builder/general contractor.  Again, we followed a similar process or exploration.  Because our intention was to find a custom home builder, knowledgeable about energy efficient green construction, our initial selection was easier. Currently, there are not many builders who actually 'get it'.  Only a couple of local builder are working to meet environmental standards, such as the use of  Structurally Insulated Panels. A good guide to finding a builder is to check for membership with the local BuiltGreen program of the Master Builders Association.  (Scott Homes, from Olympia, and Apple Homes, from Yelm/Rainier, are a couple solid builder who will do a terrific job for you.)

Our initial group included 5 builders.  Again, we did an initial visit and asked a lot of questions, and selected 2 builders, including Scott Homes, with whom we were comfortable as to their quality, commitment to green construction, and that we liked as people.

We had a set of drawings, we had two builders with good reputations both of whom would do a great job.  How to make a decision?  You cannot ask them to bid the job because there are hundreds of decisions left to be made.  You also want the builder to work with the architect to tweak the plan so that it can be built within your budget ... but we had no final plans.

We asked for a nonbinding estimate based upon plans completed by the architect.  We gave each a set of drawings, a written and verbal brief, and held a meeting to discuss the project.  We even gave the 2 contractors $500 for their time, assuming that one would win and this payment was a mere down payment.  We asked them to quote on the construction of the envelope to bare interior walls ... site preparation, foundation, frame, roof, roughed in plumbing and electrical, and drywall.

We selected Barrett Burr (pictured) and Polar Bear Construction, and we are glad we did.  Barrett is a first rate custom home builder who has worked closely with us to get the details right.  Our little exercise flushed out the fact that Barrett wanted the job and challenge of building the greenest house in the area.  He produced the most complete estimates for the project ... estimates we could use to start trimming back costs to fit our budget.  He did what we asked, and he got the contract.

As with the architect, it is important that you like the people who will build your house ... they will be a central part of your life for the next 6-12 months ... longer if they are part of the design process.  Also, you will rely upon the general contractor to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of your, or the bank's, money. 

In theory, basic green construction should not cost more than conventional construction.  But to identify possible savings, it is important to put together a team where changes can be made on paper. There are countless tradeoffs that can be made to arrive at the most economical set of plans. Changes on paper are quick and cheap.  Changes with a construction crew on site are slow and costly.

In the final analysis, can you build the house of your dreams for the money you've budgeted?  Probably not ... it always costs more or the project is reduced to fit.  In our case, we had a budget, several of the architectural firms we interviewed gave us a price per square foot estimate of $200 per ft2, which was well above our budget. One of the finalist builders also ball parked it at the same level.

Tracking all houses sold in the Seattle area, the cost of new homes averaged $156 per ft2 while sales of existing homes sold for an average of $186 per ft2.  If we discount the land premium for the view, the solar system, waterfall, and the higher heating system cost discussed elsewhere, we will be around 200/ft2.  In other words, as of this writing we are a bit higher than conventional construction, but the additions will have a pay back which will be addressed as we get closer to completion, and we will not be living in a conventional home ... we will be in a work of art.

 


We welcome your comments on this site.
You can email Christine Garst at
cbgarst@aol.com
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