Thinking Green

by Owen Sechrist

On a crisply frozen January evening I arrived at my home after a long day of building to be informed by my better half that my neighbor, who was tending to her dying father at the hospital, had an oil furnace that wouldn't fire up. Grumbling under my breath I trudged through the snow to her house.  After trying to start the furnace a few times I theorized that the pump on the furnace needed to be primed.  I found a wrench and a coffee cup and pumped a full cup of heating oil before the boiler fired. Now, what to do with the oil?  And so I had reached the critical point which is at the heart of every single issue that faces humanity in regard to our planet.  The easy choices: dump the oil down the drain or walk outside and quietly dump the oil on the ground.  When I was fifteen I would have done this without even blinking, at twenty I would have at least felt guilty.  Today I carefully walk the cup back to my house and pour the contents into a container designed to hold petroleum waste until it can be disposed of properly at a recycling center.  Tomorrow we can only imagine and hope that petroleum based fuel oil will be just a memory. And what was that critical point?  It was not so much the decision, but the actions, and the effort required to complete those actions, that bog us down in choices that impoverish our environment. In the built environment those choices become a matter of dollars, another form of effort.  If we are going to live in a sustainable world, we are going to have to pay a financial cost.  The alternative is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the "green" brand is coming to represent something of questionable integrity:
Many “green” buildings don’t save energy (see “MIS-LEED-ING” sidebar).  Why?  They have too much glass, they are over-ventilated, they are leaky to air, they are fraught with thermal bridges and they rely on gimmicks and fads rather than physics. - BuildingScience.com contributor
At Ruby Construction we have chosen to join the US Green Building Council, albeit with some reservation.  The USGBC's LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) program is gaining momentum, but LEED commercial buildings are not out performing similar non-LEED buildings in energy efficiency.  In the quest for points and ratings common sense sometimes seems to fly out the window. The green building movement must not lose sight of the overarching principles that should guide all (green) construction:  we must use use less energy and use clean energy, we must use less water and we must build with materials produced sustainably.

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