Go­ing green is far from be­ing a no-brainer

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - MIKE HOLMES

THE green build­ing in­dus­try is mov­ing so fast, with technology and prod­ucts be­ing in­tro­duced and im­proved all the time. It’s re­ally hard for home­own­ers — and even for contractors — to keep up.

We want to do the right thing in terms of help­ing the en­vi­ron­ment by mak­ing greener and more en­ergy ef­fi­cient choices. And, with the fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives to build green, ev­ery­one is get­ting on the band­wagon.

For contractors, it’s a chance to make money — and there’s noth­ing wrong with that, IF they are qual­i­fied to do the work. But, when op­por­tunists just see the chance to make a buck, with­out hav­ing the back­ground knowl­edge of what they are do­ing and how it all ties to­gether — that’s where trou­ble starts.

A house is a sys­tem — ev­ery­thing works to­gether. Any change you make to one part will af­fect an­other. So, if you de­cide to up­grade all your win­dows to low-e triple glazed you’ll def­i­nitely save money on heat loss/gain. But, you may find you now have more hu­mid­ity build­ing up in­side and your indoor air qual­ity wors­ens. So you have to also get an HRV (heat re­cov­ery ven­ti­la­tor) be­cause your green im­prove­ments mean you no longer have air leak­age that used to help vent out the moist air. Your con­trac­tor should be able to an­tic­i­pate this kind of prob­lem.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, con­sumers are cost-con­scious, but not nec­es­sar­ily value con­scious. They still go into a dream ren­o­va­tion with a tight bud­get and ex­pect, or hope blindly, to have it all. New technology and prod­ucts cost more than con­ven­tional prod­ucts, but they last longer and they save you money over time. You can’t go by price alone and if you and/or your con­trac­tor only con­sider price, you may be ask­ing for trou­ble.

Your con­trac­tor might be try­ing to save you some money on the project, and sub­sti­tute prod­ucts that aren’t equal. For ex­am­ple look at spray foam. Closed cell and open cell spray-foam in­su­la­tion aren’t the same things; there is a sig­nif­i­cant per­for­mance dif­fer­ence be­tween them. Yes, closed cell is more ex­pen­sive, but it’s not just a mat­ter of sim­ple cost sav­ings.

Your green con­trac­tor has to have solid prod­uct knowl­edge and needs to be fa­mil­iar with how a new prod­uct needs to be used. Take BluWood for ex­am­ple: You’ve got to spray the so­lu­tion on ev­ery cut end as you work, oth­er­wise the prod­uct isn’t ef­fec­tive. I can hear you now: Am I sup­posed to know all about prod­ucts my­self? That’s what I’ve hired a pro­fes­sional con­trac­tor for!

As a home­owner, you can ask the man­u­fac­turer of the prod­ucts you are us­ing on your house to come to your site and ver­ify the in­stal­la­tion of your new green prod­ucts. Not ev­ery man­u­fac­turer will do it, but they can re­view and ver­ify the qual­ity of the in­stall and en­sure it meets war­ranty stan­dards. You can also con­tact green or­ga­ni­za­tions and ask them to do a peer re­view. That will give you some con­fi­dence your project is go­ing the way you want it to.

For me it comes down to the ques­tion of who’s teach­ing green build­ing in our schools. In my opin­ion, not enough is be­ing taught. The school year is full with teach­ing the ba­sics, and that means teach­ing min­i­mum code. Why? Be­cause that’s what’s be­ing built to­day. If the grads want to have a job when they fin­ish school they’ve got to be able to walk onto a build­ing site and know what the pro­duc­tion builders to­day are do­ing. Min­i­mum code isn’t green. If new trades­peo­ple don’t learn at school, they sure aren’t go­ing to learn how to go be­yond min­i­mum code and build greener on the job site of a pro­duc­tion builder. So where does that leave them — and you, the home­owner — who wants to do the right thing in terms of build­ing sus­tain­ably?

They have to learn on their own — read­ing, re­search­ing, join­ing Green Build­ing So­ci­eties — which makes me ask whether they are qual­i­fied to call them­selves green ex­perts.

How do you know if you are hir­ing the right con­trac­tor for your green reno? What ac­cred­i­ta­tion is there? In many sit­u­a­tions, there are or­ga­ni­za­tions like the GeoEx­change Coali­tion, So­lar In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion or Green Roofs for Healthy Cities — but these aren’t gov­ern­ing bod­ies. They are pro­fes­sional groups that ex­ist to share ideas and pro­vide learn­ing and devel­op­ment of their in­dus­tries, or work as lobby groups to in­flu­ence govern­ment pol­icy. Mem­ber­ship is no guar­an­tee of ex­cel­lence.

That means you need to still ask ques­tions, check ref­er­ences, talk to past clients, see the work. And this is key: Even if you don’t feel con­fi­dent you know what you’re look­ing at, at least you are speak­ing to the client. Are they happy? Was the work done on time and on bud­get? Did they get what they paid for?

It al­ways costs more to do the job over again. And — as far as green build­ing goes — it will cost you much more than you save in re­bates and tax breaks.

Home­own­ers re­ally want to take ad­van­tage of the in­cen­tives that are avail­able to go green. And the de­mand for contractors to do green renos is both an op­por­tu­nity and a curse. The build­ing in­dus­try ben­e­fits, but there’s not enough good, qual­i­fied guys to go around. And that, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, leads to trou­ble. Some home­owner is go­ing to get stuck hold­ing the short straw, and will hire a con­trac­tor who’s not go­ing to be qual­i­fied to do the job.

In my world, it al­ways comes back to my big three tips: Slow down, ed­u­cate your­self and ask ques­tions be­fore hir­ing the right con­trac­tor.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

Green builders for green homes. The green build­ing in­dus­try is mov­ing so fast it’s

hard for home­own­ers and contractors to keep up.

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