What is Green Building?

You may hear people talk a lot about “green building”, especially if you are getting ready to build or renovate your home. Sometimes you may hear of green upgrades that sound out of your budget. Well, let me inform you about what exactly it means to “build green”, and some of the cost benefits to being earth conscious. 

California prides itself on being one of the leaders in planet conservation for the US. Sometimes this can put a limit on what you can do to building a home, especially if you live in places like Marin, Oakland, San Francisco, Sonoma, or anywhere else in the Bay Area, as these places are extra earth conscious. However, the good news is there are plenty of builders, contractors, and architects that can help you get the job done with a low carbon footprint. Hiring a project manager or owner’s representative will ensure that you will be connected with the right people to help you build the home of your dreams while adhering to Bay Area standards. Let’s talk more about what it means to “build green”.

Building Green is about the entire process of building a structure from architectural design, construction, renovation, home design, landscaping, demolition, and maintenance. These practices are more friendly to the planet but the ways in which these practices make for sustainable living and building are many. For example: when demoing a home you can donate your lumber to be reused for other home building projects. There are many companies and non-profits that will accept your used lumber like this one and this one. Not only will you be recycling but you can also write it off as a donation! Which, let’s face it, if you’re building a home you need all of the monetary breaks you can get. 

There are also switching to LED lighting. LED lights use up way less electricity, and they have come a very long way from the bright bluish hued headlights that run us off the road at night. Seoul is a company that makes LED lighting that mimics the sunlight in various stages of the day. There are also companies like this one, and this one that make everything from skylights that mimic the sun, to sun lights for seasonal depression. Not only to you get the feel of natural sunlight during any time of year but you are using less energy.

CoeLux

Yes, that is an LED CoeLux skylight

There are big ways you can lower your carbon footprint while building a home using recycled or sustainably sourced building materials, and installing solar panels. There are also small ways you can conserve like installing a shower head that you can control so that the pressure goes down when you don’t need the high pressure in the shower, or sealing your doors and windows to trap in heat. 

The design of a home is important too. Window and skylight locations, when to use wood or concrete. These can all affect your carbon footprint while living in your new home. Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) has a set of standards that can help you and your building/design team build a modern house, that is also sustainable. 

Gone are the days of building a home purely based on comfort and standing the test of time. Todays modern, and minimalist designs can provide comfort that will stand the test of time, but will also be gentler on the environment. 

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Where to build your dream home

Are you looking to buy property to build your ultimate dream home on? There are many things to consider other than location, location, location. There are many people that choose the country, and are fine living way out in the middle of nowhere in Anytown, America. But for many, not only do we enjoy the cultural melting pot that many large cities provide, we also must live nearby due to our line of work. This is something that many of us in the Bay Area spend a lot of time thinking about, and wondering how to get the most bang for our buck while living close enough to commute.

Before you decide to purchase an empty lot consult with a builder or project manager. If you were to build a school or a library the first thing you would do is hire an owner’s representative to make sure your build went smoothly. Having a good owner’s rep can save you in the long run, especially in places where building costs and cost of living are high, like San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Marin and anywhere else near the Bay Area. They can also tell you how realistic your project is. For example, you may have lofty Batman cave ideas for a piece of property with a steep slope on the side of a hill or mountain. A good project manager will be able to help you asses if your property is at risk of a landslide, how many stories your home could be, and placement of things like the front door and garage. Unfortunately many builders will try to cater to your dream home even if it is not the most practical and may not last.

Consider traffic. How many miles is your lot from the freeway? Have you driven around the lot during rush hour? How many ways to get to the freeway are there? Some people with flexible work hours may not mind a cramped, longer commute, but perhaps you want to spend as much time as possible enjoying your new home. If that’s the case, you don’t want to be stuck in traffic four hours during your day.

I dream of a home with a view

Building resources. This is important if you want to build a great home that lasts. You need to make sure there are quality builders and designers available to work in the area your are buying property. You don’t want your only option to be your neighbor’s uncle Jim, who you are pretty sure never had any formal training on how to build homes. Having people that not only know what they’re doing, but know the law, and can navigate through permits is crucial. You don’t want to get halfway through your project and have an inspector tell you the whole thing needs to come down and you need to start over. With a good design team comes access to good building materials. Paying more for a good building and design team will save you in the long run because they know what things you can and shouldn’t live without.

Neighborhood aesthetics. This may seem trite, but the last thing you want is to start out with bad blood with your neighbors. Let’s say you picked a plot in the middle of a residential neighborhood with nothing but wood houses, mostly single story carpenter style. You are probably not going to make a good impression by building a three story, modern, concrete home, and worse, you could be constantly fighting your neighbors in town hall meetings and even in court. 

Buying a plot of land is exciting, and you can spend hours dreaming of its potential. Make the most out of your home build by carefully considering where you are buying, and talk to a project manager or owner’s representative for some sound advice. 

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American Institute of Architects moves towards bigger, greener, modern homes

The AIA made a big move by embracing the realities of climate change by affirming that great designs are sustainable designs. They have even nicknamed this step as “the Big Move Towards Environmental Stewardship”. Gone are the days where building a custom, modern home equals practices and supplies that are damaging to the planet. Modern designs call for minimalists looks and open spaces, and these homeowners want to make minimal impact on the planet while building their home.

Find out more details about this bold move through this article.

Building Green

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Things you didn’t know about embedded carbon

There has become an increased awareness of the embodied carbon and the products we use in construction. A knowledgeable Owner’s representative or Project manager if part of the team can consult to benefit the project in reducing the quantity or volume of products with high embodied carbon.The amount of concrete consumed in new foundations with the increased structural requirements has a huge amount of embodied carbon due to the high temperatures required to create portland cement. Similarly, fenestrations in new buildings and homes have huge amounts of aluminum framed windows. These also have a high embodied carbon due the requirements for extracting, processing and fabricating aluminum. Below is a couple of databases that can be accessed online for free to help you measure the carbon embedded in your building.

Quartz

Accessed online for free, Quartz is a “common product” database—meaning it represents the typical impacts of about 100 generic products. Profiles include not only embodied carbon numbers but also other embodied impacts (like smog-formation potential) as well as material health data (like whether the product includes carcinogens during its life cycle).

Compared with ICE, which looks at broad groups of materials like aluminum and concrete, Quartz is much more specific. Rather than aluminum, for example, it has profiles for anodized aluminum curtainwall extrusions and PVDF-coated aluminum curtainwall extrusions.

The Quartz database is rich in product information, but, like ICE, it reports data by weight rather than by functional unit. It does this, according to the website, because the “exact function, quantity, duration, and quality of the product within the building are unknown, and the installation and use phases of the life cycle are omitted.” This means you can only compare insulation products, for instance, by weight instead of by thermal performance. In order to really make comparisons, the latter is needed, and that requires WBLCA.

Carbon Designer

An add-on to One Click LCA , Carbon Designer is a sophisticated early-phase tool that allows for quick side-by-side comparisons of a baseline building (chosen by the user based on region, building dimensions, and other parameters) and a design building (produced by making changes to the baseline assumptions). It’s very much a “what if” tool: what if I altered my concrete mix, or what if I changed the type of slab I’m using? Charts show what the proposed changes would do to the embodied carbon footprint of different building assemblies.

A barrier to more widespread use of this software is that it can only be purchased as part of a package with a WBLCA tool.

As an Owner’s Representative and Project Manager I counsel the design team to try and minimize the amount of embedded carbon. I do these types of consultations in my work in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa county.

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Building Resilience

The climate of the planet is changing. The heat causes more intense weather conditions such as hurricanes, storms, fires and other anomalies. The political divide is astounding regarding climate change. But while people are arguing over weather or not it is happening, or what is causing it I start to wonder, is there anything we are doing to adapt to these new planetary conditions? Building Resilience is an initiation that started in New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. City planners got together to figure out how they could prepare New York City for sea level rises and heavy storms. This idea has spread across the globe from Barcelona to Colorado.

Building Green California Fires

Combating Fire is difficult in a drought.

Building Resilience is affecting large cities from things like flooding but how does that translate to home building? Are there steps you can take to protect your home against the growing intensity of Earth’s weather conditions? On July 8, 2019, Building Green posted an article that you can read here describing the importance of building resilience and what home owners can do to prepare their homes for the coming changes.

The Building Green article states that San Francisco was the first city to appoint a chief resiliency officer. The resiliency strategy here in The Bay Area is focused on combating increased drought, fire, sea level rise, and of course, the ever impending earthquake. There are large scale issues that a city like San Francisco faces like people living in buildings that are too close to each other or in need of repair. This could lead to collapse during an earthquake or fires to spread more quickly.

 

Building Green Protect the Planet

We have to take care of the planet we have.

 

One city initiative in Marin County enlisted the help of a heard of goats to eat dry, dead grass to help protect against wildfire. I was fortunate to see this gigantic herd of goats while walking my dog. It was quite amusing watching the herd of goats graze as a group of confused dogs at the dog park looked up the hill with perked ears and heads cocked to the side at the sound of the Billy Goats “Baaaah”. Perhaps you do not have the property or the patience to enlist a herd of goats to help protect your home, fortunately there are some things you can consider when building your home.

Here, in the Bay Area we have no shortage of hills. When looking for a property consider living as high above the sea level as possible. This is an advantage in California that many do not have in other coastal cities. Routine clearing of dry grass and shrubs will create a barrier and help protect your home against fire if you live on a large property. Dirt can be an unsightly landscape design, but you can consider options such as concrete, tile or a succulent garden to separate your home from fire.

It is important to have someone knowledgeable at your side when you are building your home, to not only have a home that lasts, but to have a home that keeps you and your family safe while doing your part to protect the planet. Richard WOdehouse has 44 years of experience building custom homes and has all of the latest knowledge on building green homes.

For more information on how to consider climate change during your home building or remodeling project, visit Building Green.

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Environmental Factors in Home Building

The report below is an example of how much detail and care go into the construction of a custom home. It is not as simple as designing a home then going in to build. As we discussed in the last blog, there are many factors to consider when building a home. The location, the environmental threats, height, size, and geographic location are just a few factors that must be taken into account when building a home. It is also always important to remember that while cutting costs may save you money now, it can cost a great deal more in the long term. The damage cutting corners causes can often times lead to families having to take out a mortgage,  sell their homes or worse, go into foreclosure because the fix becomes too great a burden. The following is an (edited) report authored by Richard Wodehouse, Principal of West Coast Project Management. This home most likely had faulty stucco used at the time of the build. This coupled with the wind is starting to cause some potentially costly issues. 

Remember to consider the weather.

This residence is a three story contemporary design with large glass fenestrations facing the direction the winter storms attack this site from. It is located in such a way that it catches the full brunt of wind and rain. In the winter of 2018/2019 the San Francisco area receive unusually frequent and strong storms with record amounts of rain.  There have been an unusually high number of failures in homes resulting from the rains, landslides, and leaks.  West Coast Project Management Inc. has been called to investigate and repair other weather related problems in the area.  Roofing and waterproofing contractors are booked for the entire season.

GLAZING:

I observed that most of the north facing windows and doors had failed in that the dual glaze panels exhibited  a “rainbow effect” which is caused by the two panes of glass touching each other.  The cause of the collapsed glass is typically the result of the perimeter seals on the dual glazing failing and the gas encapsulated in the space between the two pains of glass escaping allowing the glass to bend towards each other from wind pressure.

As I will elaborate on in the discussion on stucco following, it is possible that moisture allowed to come into contact with the edge seals of the glass panels has exacerbated the rate of deterioration of the perimeter seals allowing the gas to escape.

STUCCO

I observed that the stucco on this residence was the synthetic type that was popular during the time this home was constructed.  The dominant product name at the time was Dryvit, a type of EIFS wall system that used foam insulation panels with a thin coat of an acrylic coating that mimics stucco in appearance.  

There were extensive lawsuits regarding moisture problems related to the use of this EIFS system.  If there are any areas where water can enter behind the acrylic coating it is trapped as this coating is non-breathable and therefore the moisture stays inside the wall potentially and probably causing damage to any surface it is touching.

The home showed signs of white discoloration around stucco cracks which is evidence of water  that entered elsewhere exiting at various locations on the North facing wall.

DECK WATERPROOFING FAILURE

There is evidence indicating that the deck extending out on the north elevation allowed water to penetrate the building.  I did not attempt to find the cause of this leak as the owner at the time had extensive plastic tenting covering the deck. (end of report)

It is likely that the owners of this home were not the one to have the stucco put in, but they will be the ones to pay the price. This is why it is so important to have an experienced and knowledgeable project manager or owner’s rep helping you build your home. A good project manager knows which corners are ok to cut and which ones you cannot. 

San Francisco is windy and damp year round, but the Bay Area is filled with micro climates. Marin, for example, is substantially warmer and sees a great deal more sun than San Francisco. The beach areas have the added difficulty of salt in the air which has its own set of challenges to consider. Sonoma county and Napa are considerably hotter and drier. Richard Wodehouse at West Coast Project Management Inc. has over 45 years of experience building custom homes, in many different climates. He is passionate about building custom homes and cares about homes being built to last, and built with the most recent technology in energy efficiency. 

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Differences in Architecture Across the US: Which Style is Right for You

Recently I have been traveling in the midwest. I am a Southern California native so I am always taken aback by the lovely brick homes and basements in more eastern regions. It makes me think about the differences in home architecture in the midwest vs. California and the different needs for safety and architecture styles when considering home design. 

The biggest difference between common homes in the midwest and homes on the west coast are basements (what are those? You mean they have a greater purpose than storing wine?). Many people I talk to from the midwest are surprised to learn that basements in California are not common. Brick is seen all over the Midwest because it is more likely to withstand tornadoes, but is not seen very often on the west coast because it is not suitable for earthquakes as there is not much give to it. If you live in a small town or rural area you may not need an advanced security system, however, if you live in a crowded city this may take priority. There are many things to consider when building a home to make sure it is safe for the area you are building in.

However, there are differences in architecture across the US depending on climate and culture. For example, houses with a triangular roof are more ideal for areas where it snows. There is a little more upkeep required when you live in a building with a flat roof to ensure the weight of snow doesn’t cave in your house. Adobe style structures, reminiscent of the Native Americans, are popular in the Southwest where it gets incredibly hot in the summer. These style houses help trap in the cold and the clay coloring fits in with the desert landscape. 

Construction Project Manager

A superb home in which Richard Wodehouse was the construction Project Manager. Lovely winter getaway that blends into its surroundings.

Then there are cultural differences in architecture across the US. Architects Greene and Greene designed the Craftsman style house in California which is why they are most popular out here. Spanish and mission style houses are more popular in California because of the Spanish influence in California and Mexico. Greek democracy was a large influence on architecture in the United States in the 18th and 19th century. This is why there are many homes and buildings on the East Coast that have features that mimic greek buildings such as columns or pillars around the house, pediments above doors, and even large porches. There is also the obvious nod to Greek architecture in state government and federal buildings like the buildings in the National Mall. More colonial style houses are popular on the East Cast where those designs originated, along with the shingle mansions on the coastal regions designed to fit in with the landscape. In the 1920’s art deco style structures swept the nation and these style buildings can still be seen from coast to coast and are represented in Malibu homes and buildings like the Chrysler Building in New York. 

Of course with the move of technology and advances in home building, you can see any of these styles outside of their origin. It is important to have a project manager or owners representative when building a home that is familiar with the styles of architecture and methods of building in the region you plan to build your custom home. Homes on the coast in Big Sur and Marin need to be able to withstand salt and sand as the waves carry it through homes. Many neighborhoods and regions have certain requirements like stilts or height parameters. If you want to build the custom home of your dreams and you have a specific style in mind Richard Wodehouse from West Coast Project Management has years of experience building custom homes in snow area like Telluride Colorado, the Spanish style homes in the posh Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego County, and where he is located now in Marin. 

Art Deco style home

Before building a home, research all of the different styles out there, see what will work for you and your family. Then consult with a seasoned professional to work out a plan on how to build. If you are in San Francisco, Tiburon, Napa, Sonoma, Berkeley, or Marin consider consulting West Coast Project Management for your home building needs. 

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