Building green - soapbox

rosebush(z7 NC)October 22, 2007

My goal is to build a little passive solar home (960 sq. ft.) and make as little impact on the land/wildlife as possible. I thought I had found the perfect "green" builder to help me in this venture. Ha! His ballpark estimate was astounding! He's over $70,000 than the conventional builder!

I just have to vent: If the average person cannot afford to build "green" or use solar - if the price is not even comparable to conventional methods, then what is the point? (Of course I know what the REAL point is.)

Think about it; the average person needs to be made aware of how we all impact the environment. And in the case of construction, good grief, there is so much impact! The conventional builder doesn't stop to think of the 6o-year-old trees being bulldozed, only that they are in his way. The green builder thinks about it, and charges you out the wazoo for doing so! AGH!

I have looked into radiant floor heat, solar water heating, solar panels, greywater catchment, and all I am able to do is build a small passive solar home. And that without the luxury of everything being as green as possible. The estimates on everything else are just beyond belief.

There has got to be a way to decrease the price and make this a reality for more people. If we wait around for more people to catch on, instead of helping them catch on, I can't imagine it becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Anyone have any thoughts, any helpful suggestions?

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An addtional $70/sf for what's involevd in the "green" features you want isn't a bad price. Just because you can't afford it doesn't mean it's an unfair or unreasonable price. Decide what features you think will make the most impact and do the ones that fit you checkbook. What's wrong with a small passive solar home with a few other features you consider "green"? You can spend you energy building what you can afford or complaining about what you can't. Tom

    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 8:42AM
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rosebush(z7 NC)

Alrighty then. Are you in the business?
Seriously, what you say is true. But what I was hoping for was a discussion of what could be done to help average people use the free energy of the sun and include some pertinent green features, without breaking the bank. I really don't know how we can get more people interested and educated (and believe me, where I live they need to be more aware of how they impact the environment) without making it accessible to all.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 1:04PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Rosebush, I've been trying to word this for a few days now, and I still can't seem to explain what I'm trying to say in a clear manner, but I'll give it a shot.

I think a couple of things are at work here. One, not a lot of people either provide these services/products or want them. So, like anything new to the market, the price is higher. In time, hopefully, the price will come down.

Secondly, many contractors know they are selling a principle, and that people will pay extra for that principle. Again, when there are more contractors providing the services/products, there will be more competition and hopefully, better pricing.

I recently looked into going solar. The two companies I looked at (admittedly not much in depth) were fairly comparable, but unfortunately just not in my budget at the moment, even with some very good incentive programs here in CT. If they would throw in college tuition for my two teenagers, I might have taken them up on their rebates, lol, but in the meantime, it will have to wait. Which is what many people are thinking/doing, and which is what is keeping the price high. But I just can't do it at the moment,and that's that.

But what I can do is something on a smaller scale. I can buy certain organic and/or green items. For example, I started buying an organic laundry soap about two years ago, even though it was on the expensive side. I've seen the price drop by almost $3 per bottle in that two years. I'd like to think that my buying it helped that price drop.

By the way, have you looked into whether there are any programs out there to help defray costs, whether government or private? Something along the lines of the many solar energy rebate programs that are out there? Perhaps there is something for green construction...?


    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 7:01PM
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When it comes to converting the sun's energy to electricity it's not free. There is no free energy. A lady my wife works with is building an off the grid home with solar power and generator back up. Not only is the cost of the solar components high the bank is charging them a higher interest rate because they are off the grid. There is a shortage of photo cell quality silicon although there's a company developing a method of making them without silicon. There's also the cost of mitigating the toxic chemicals used in manufacturing the cells for the solar panels.

If you are able to build a small passive solar home with a few green features you're doing a good job. Don't let discouragement stop you in your tracks. Tom

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 8:16AM
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Here's an interesting article. Tom

Here is a link that might be useful: Green as Houses

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 8:25AM
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rosebush(z7 NC)

Thanks! I agree with doing all I can on a smaller scale. I have looked into rebates & incentives and there are not as many for passive solar as for solar panels, which I cannot afford. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.
Thanks for the link. When I spoke about free energy from the sun, I was referring to passive solar, which is just a matter of site and design. "Off the grid" is WAY over my budget! I found a free passive solar house plan from ASU online - You can download the working drawings or get a CD by request. So that was very helpful.
I am determined to keep on plugging away until I get this built, and will likely use a conventional contractor, while overseeing as much as I can. Might even use the green contractor as a consultant, since he offered - for a fee of course.
Thanks for all your suggestions and encouragement.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 9:32AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Rosebush, I just re-read my post above, and I hope I didn't come off as preachy regarding the "smaller scale" thing. I certainly didn't mean to imply that you don't already do anything like this, or even that you should do this, but I was just trying to use it as an example of how when more people do/buy something, the prices come down. I think you got my meaning, but just wanted to clarify so I didn't offend. :)

Tom, why is the bank charging a higher interest rate because they are off the grid? Do you know? That almost sounds illegal!

Just another thought, rosebush, that popped into my head. I wonder - if you had the iniative/motivation to take it this far - I wonder if you tried contacting some companies that build this way as a *regular way of business*, (not someone who builds conventionally and will build green *on the side*), perhaps some newer companies that are trying to get established, and worked with them on this project, and let them use your home to promote their business, if that would perhaps save you some money. They could use your home in their literature, website, etc., or perhaps even the show the physical house itself to interested consumers, and show off their work and innovation, and you might get a break. It would involve lots of contractual stuff, I would suppose, but again, I'm just trying to throw some ideas out. Even if they are bad ideas, they might generate some good ones, lol!


    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 10:31AM
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rosebush(z7 NC)

We're on the same track. :)I got what you were saying and appreciate your ideas. I've actually considered having my home used as a promotional tool for either ASU or the contractor, if they would help me out with the building. The conventional GC might even want to expand his horizons and have my home as an example. There are a lot of possibilities. . .
By the way, I happened to catch a very informative program on solar energy on PBS last night. NOVA presented "Saved By The Sun" and it was a fascinating look at various solar solutions here and in Europe.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 2:22PM
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Dee, the interest is higher because the bank sees an increased risk to the bank and whomever buys the loan because of the house being off the grid. It's marketability is lower and the bank is charging more to take that risk. Tom

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 2:55PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Phew! Glad to see you understood me rosebush! :)

Tom, I guess I see what you mean now. I didn't think of the marketability of the house as being lower due to being off the grid, so I didn't see the risk on the bank's part. IMO, though, being off the grid would be a great thing! Imagine buying a house with all the solar work all done and installed, and you could just sit and reap the benefits! Obviously, you'd be paying for it in the price of the house, especially if the original owners rolled over the price into a refinanced mortgage, but still - everything (planning, picking a contractor, installation - all the dirty details) would be done and up and running. Sounds like a dream house to me!


    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 9:40PM
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Dee, these folks seem happy with what they've done so far. But they have over $10,000 into a diesel generator system and have propane appliances and heat. So although they are off the grid they are still dependent on the delivery of fuels. They recently installed a wind powered generator on an 80' tower. Going to have to get up there and see all this sometime. Tom

    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 5:27AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

One of the features you could include, though not solar, is a tankless water heater. I have a Rinnai and really love it. It uses so little energy to produce endless hot water. Once again, it is more expensive than a conventional tank, but the savings are huge.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 6:01AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Tom, I've done some light research into wind power, being in a windy spot. Don't think the tower would go over too big in my neighborhood though, lol! Sounds like these folks have quite the set-up!


    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 9:44AM
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steve_o(4a MN)

I've been trying to remodel "green". It's tough, especially if you're on a budget. I long ago came to two conclusions:

- It's only possible to be shades of green. Much as I'd like to make the "greenest" decision every time, it just can't happen, either because the budget does not permit or the skills don't exist in my area or ... whatever. Being somewhat green is better than not at all, and there is a virtue in even that. Rosemary, good for you for trying to work out passive solar!

- The "greenest" decision is a myth. There are so many components to "green" construction: Do the materials and craftspeople/laborers have to come from a distance? I "love" seeing people tout linoleum as the green choice even though there's nothing particularly green about the collection of the raw materials (limestone, linseed oil, and sawdust) or about shipping very heavy rolls of flooring from Europe, where most linoleum is made these days. Ditto for bamboo flooring, which is made of fast-growing native bamboo -- but manufactured primarily in a country (China) with very lax (or no) regulations on pollution or the use of non-toxic materials. How much work is required to reclaim existing product? Recycled-glass countertops like Vetrazzo and IceStone look terrific and surely will last a long time. But they're very expensive because one of the problems is how much labor needs to be expended in recapturing recycled glass safely and in sufficient quantities.

Someday, I hope, the notion of clear-cutting to erect a building will be as quaint and laughable as the idea of attaching leeches to a human to make him/her get well. Until then, I'm afraid being a pioneer has its price.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2007 at 11:06PM
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Get bids from several contractors:

Several years ago, my real estate office listed a house that had been hit by a tornado.

Repair estimates ranged from $32,000 to $80,000 for the exact same work.

& be sure that you aren't being charged for both the conventional components that you aren't using and the green components that you are using instead.


a 1000 square foot 1-story house will have a 1000 square foot concrete concrete slab foundation.

If you build it as a 2-story house, the ceiling of the 1st story will have to have heavier timber, since it's also the floor of the 2nd story.

but the builder shouldn't just add the increased timber cost to his estimate for the 1-story home, since he'll be using only 1/2 the concrete.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 11:20PM
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presmudjo(z9 Osceola FL)

We wanted to do some improvements that would use the sun, gee, we live in Florida. The prices are outrageous and the so called government incentives are a joke. Still looking for a solar outside light for our shed, all I can find is one that is motion activated. I want one I can turn on and off. Had to buy a new washing machine. Energy Star my butt. It uses more than my old one. Wish I would have put the $200 into that one instead of buying the new "efficient" one for twice that much.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2007 at 2:32PM
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Sylvia, it's not quite that simple. The two story house will take a heavier foundation stem wall, depending where you live all the framing may have to be heavier because of the second floor, and what you refer to as the 1st story ceiling is all additional. The second floor will also have a "ceiling" and roof. It takes much more time to frame a floor than to pour a slab so labor costs go up. For the same size house a two story design may be less expensive than a one story but not by as much as you may think. Tom

    Bookmark   October 30, 2007 at 8:40AM
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I am convinced that a general contractor could do a green home if you have the plans and somebody has the expertise to guide them. There may be some areas where materials for a passively designed home may be more expensive (I'm thinking massive walls used as heat collectors near windows), but suspect the price difference very much has to do with paying for what lays between the specialist's ears.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2007 at 10:46AM
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rosebush(z7 NC)

Thanks, everyone, for the feedback.
"Green" and "local" are not interchangeable as terms, are they? I guess the best we can do is educate ourselves and use common sense. Using local materials just makes sense to me; I want the nearby businesses to succeed, as well as petroleum usage to decrease. If that means buying from a "Mom & Pops" store rather than a "green" label from big box store, then so be it. It's similar to the Farmer's Market for me - I buy as much organic produce as possible, but will also buy fresh from local vendors rather than organic from a grocery chain. Distance, freshness/nutritional value and supporting local merchants are all factors in my decision.

I truly hope that the prices for solar will come down (across the country) in the near future. Passive is the least expensive way to go right now, and I will continue to research all options (until I know enough to be slightly dangerous) and go from there. I'm determined to pull this off - somehow! LOL

    Bookmark   October 30, 2007 at 4:00PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

I'vre heard that the reason most solar technology is so expensive is that oil companies bought up most of the patents in the 70s. Anybody know if that's true? Friends of mine paid about $40,000 for the solar panels alone on their solar house.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2007 at 6:39AM
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Part of the high cost of alternative energy components is due to success. There is a shortage of solar panel quality silicon. There is one company developing panels that don't use silicon. There is also a shortage of gear boxes for wind generators. I don't think that "evil oil companies" are behind this. Tom

    Bookmark   October 31, 2007 at 8:50AM
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