Do I Need A Specialist to Build A Green House?

Anyone can build green, but better builders find the transition easier

In theory, any contractor could build a green house because the step-by-step process isn’t dramatically different from the ones used for building any other kind of house. It’s not like asking a lawyer to dig clams.

But in practice, there is a learning curve. Builders need an appreciation for at least the basics of building science—the role of air and moisture barriers, for example, or why there should be an effective drainage planePath that water would take over the building envelope. Concealed drainage-plane materials, such as building paper or housewrap, are designed to shed water that penetrates the building’s cladding. Drainage planes are installed to overlap in shingle fashion (weatherlap) so that water flows downward and away from the building envelope. behind the siding. Builders well schooled in traditional techniques may not have spent any time thinking about those things, or understand green house theories incompletely.

Construction is not an industry that changes quickly. Many builders do things a certain way because that’s what they were taught and that’s what they know. It takes time and effort to learn new approaches, and some builders may not think they can afford either.

As time passes, though, builders will have to learn more sustainable design or they’ll be out of business. Consumers know more than they did about the subject even a few years ago, and they will increase pressure on the construction industry to produce houses that are more durable and energy efficient.

In the meantime, it would be smart to hire someone with experience. At the least, look for an architect or designer who knows about sustainable building and is willing to coach a builder along.

More Info:

To learn more, read Getting Started in Green
Also see the Job Sites section of our Green Building Encyclopedia

May 3, 2010 1:24 PM ET

2 cents
by Robert Swinburne

As an architect, most of the other architects I know have at least some building experience, some have many years working on a crew as a carpenter - myself included. However, being a decade removed from that except for my own little projects I rely heavily on builders to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about green building and building in general. They know what things cost, etc. I find builders separating into two groups; Those who refuse to learn anything beyond what their mentors taught them and those who are exited by all that is going on the residential construction arena. A big part of my job as an architect is to spend ridiculous amounts of un-billable time trying to keep up using such tools as this website. I know that many architects don't make the effort. Perhaps architects are separating into two groups as well.

Apr 29, 2010 9:58 AM ET

Agreed and architects are not really at fault
by Anonymous

Good builders will always know more about the actual construction than most architects possibly can. A builder is immersed in the details including pricing, installation, availability, customer service, lead time and the innumerable other practical aspects to using a particular technique in a specific market.
They also get to see how things hold up.
Architects are great at what they do (working with clients to design spaces and the aesthetic of a building), and it's unreasonable to expect them to also be in-depth experts on every aspect of building. Particularly in the green field, where rapid change is the norm, only people who work with the new stuff all the time have excellent knowledge.
So, I agree fully that a good builder is an essential part of a design team. I don't hold it against architects if they don't know stuff it's not reasonable for them to know.
If you are planning to build there will be no substitute for a team that includes a savvy builder.

Apr 26, 2010 9:06 AM ET

Finding a good builder
by Martin Holladay

Great comment, Anonymous!

It often happens that knowledgeable builders are required to patiently explain building science principles to ignorant architects — it happens at least as often as the reverse situation.

Apr 24, 2010 9:04 AM ET

Building green
by Anonymous

I would turn the last sentence around and advise looking for a builder with sustainable building experience to help coach the architect/designer along.

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