9 Lessons from a Green Builder

1. Make design changes while they’re on computer and paper rather than in the field–it’s a lot cheaper. Take advantage of the drafting software program AutoCAD, which makes viewing interiors easier. Many architects include this service at no additional charge.

2. Clear communication is critical. When possible, deal directly with those who perform a service or make a product. Properly recording decisions can save money and time.

3. Provide ample opportunity to store the sun’s heat. Houses designed to maximize solar gain need concrete and extensive stone surfaces to capture and radiate heat back into the house after the sun goes down.

4. Beware of greenwashing. Hire good advisors. Ask questions, and if you don’t get satisfactory answers on a product’s materials and sourcing, choose another product.

5. What’s good for the Earth is often good for you. New cabinets, furniture and carpet can outgas toxic chemicals for years, contributing to indoor air pollution and possibly asthma. Avoid medium-density fiberboard (MDF), pressboard and particleboard interiors, which contain formaldehyde.

6. Avoid “boutique” appliances. Choose appliances based on energy efficiency first, brand reliability second, and aesthetic and other features third. Refrigerators with freezers on the bottom are best, because they take advantage of the natural properties of air movement: Heat rises, cold falls.

7. Choose green floors. Ask for carpet with the highest amount of post-consumer (best) or post-industrial recycled face fiber. Also look for carpet made with nontoxic adhesives. Select cork or certified-sustainable hardwood.

8. Quality details count. Don’t skimp on good design and finish materials, which reduce waste by lasting longer. Remember, however, that less is more. Do you really need molding and wainscoting?

9. Use low-VOC paint. Avoid the darkest colors, which fade in sunlight and contain the most toxic volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.