Green Homes


When an existing house is slated for demolition, usually there is a good deal of material left in any house that could be salvaged for reuse or recycling but conventional practice is to demolish the house. A small amount of material might be recycled but the majority of the material ends up in a landfill.

A new and much greener option is available – deconstruction.

Demolishing a home means completely destroying it, using heavy machinery to knock down and then crush it, condensing the materials as much as possible for ease of transport to the landfill. Not only does this method clog the landfills and shorten their life, it can cost homeowners thousands of dollars in landfill fees while depriving consumers of a wealth of quality products and materials.

Deconstructing a home means carefully dismantling it, using hand tools to take it apart board by board, beam by beam. All usable materials are then sorted and distributed for donation and reuse. As much as 85 percent of a structure can usually be diverted from the landfill.

A typical deconstruction process takes about three through four weeks to complete – from roof removal down to the excavation of the foundation – and everything in between. Advanced planning will help your project stay on schedule.

Build on an Undeveloped Piece of Land

If you plan on building a new home on an undeveloped piece of land, Paramount Construction is ready to help you make the most of the situation. In addition to minimizing environmental damage to the site, and maintaining as many of the original trees as possible – there’s the added benefit of orienting your home to maximize natural daylight and take advantage of passive solar gain which will reduce energy bills.

Why do green buildings cost more than traditional buildings?

The issue arises when you try to compare “apples and oranges.” For instance, if you are comparing a building with solar panels to a traditional building without solar panels, of course it appears the traditional building costs less. This is focusing solely on the up-front cost of building. This model fails to take into account how the building with solar panels will immediately begin producing energy and lowering your monthly electricity bill. The lifecycle cost of the solar building will be much less. This monthly benefit, called a return on your investment, quickly pays for any additional up-front cost for purchasing the solar panels.

Numerous studies have shown investments into green products and systems will pay for themselves at least ten times over the life of the building. Luckily, the benefits and opportunities to save money on the operational costs are enormous. The combination of energy savings, water reduction and maintenance costs will catch the attention of building owners and translate to bottom line benefits.

The first step is energy efficiency. If every home in the U.S. used an Energy Star refrigerator, we could close ten aging power plants.

The next step is energy reduction. Replacing your burnt out light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs would prevent enough pollution to equal removing one million cars from the road. Natural light easily replaces the need for lights in the first place.

The energy savings alone in a green building could pay for green improvements several times over with a return on investment within 1-7 years.

In the case where you are comparing similar materials, the costs end up being the same. For instance, a bamboo floor installs the exact same way as a traditional wood floor. The material costs are now the same, and use of the bamboo does not result in the clear cutting of a forest.

Finally, green buildings offer social benefits not easily seen. Student test scores are 15% higher in spaces lit with natural daylight. WalMart has discovered their retail sales increase in stores with natural light. Office workers report greatly reduced absenteeism in an environment with natural, non-toxic materials.

Although there are green materials that cost more than their traditional counterparts, there are also many more whose cost is far below the standard. Advances in recycling, new materials, and better designs have allowed for a new generation of environmentally-friendly products that are less costly to produce. Of course, green materials also have a very important long term benefit of not destroying our planet’s resources.

What is a “LEED” building?

Since it’s founding in 1991, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has emerged as a recognized and respected leader among green professionals.

To help the construction industry define green building, the USGBC discovered a need for a method of scoring buildings to evaluate their “green-ness.” LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is their green building rating system, which defines a voluntary guideline for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.

LEED has quickly become the industry standard for green building in the United States. Today, LEED buildings can be found in 12 countries and all 50 states. There are currently over 20,000 LEED Accredited Professionals trained in this rating system and nearly 2,000 buildings on their way to certification. This represents about 8 percent of the U.S. new construction market, and this number is growing quickly.

Still in it’s early stages, some have found LEED to be confusing and difficult to implement. While LEED lists prescriptive requirements, there are no practical applications listed. A member of the construction team is left to guess how to meet the qualifications of each LEED point.

The USGBC had enough foresight to understand this, and the LEED system is structured to be open ended and consensus-based. The systems is continually being refined and draft versions are left open for comment and debate. In the near future, LEED will simply get better and better.

The LEED system works by dividing the building into five categories:

  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Conservation
  • Energy & Atmosphere
  • Materials & Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality

LEED lists opportunities for a building to earn points in each. The final number of points determines the green level of the building, rated as Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

To date, LEED has been adopted by 8 federal agencies, 20 states and 41 U.S. city and county governments as the green standard in the construction of all municipal facilities.

This widespread acceptance of LEED will ensure future versions will overcome any criticism.

What do you mean by a “green” building?

Buildings of the world consume:

  • 40% of the world’s energy & materials
  • 25% of the wood harvested
  • 17% of our water

The average American house uses:

  • 13,127 board feet of lumber
  • 6,212 square feet of sheathing
  • 2,000 square feet of flooring

In the U.S., buildings account for:

  • 36% of total electricity consumption
  • 62% of electricity use
  • 30% of greenhouse gas emissions
  • 37% of ozone depletion potential

And, ironically enough, most of us spend 90% of our time indoors.

Our way of life is killing us. Our buildings consume over 40% of our energy and resources and their use represents 70% of our total consumption. The environmental damage caused in the last hundred years is a direct result from how our buildings are built. Architects, designers, and all building professionals are in a position to affect great change on our environment, moreso than any other group, since our buildings are responsible for most of the damage.

“Green building” (also known as “sustainable,” “ecological,” and “eco-designed”) is a way of looking at buildings in terms of reducing energy use, conserving water, improving indoor air quality, and reducing dependence on our natural resources. Although the basic concepts for green building have been around for decades, it has only been in the last few years that we have seen this explosive growth in the greening of the construction industry.

Once only of interest to hard-core environmentalists, the rise in energy prices, our dependence on fossil fuel and growing concerns over the damage done to our planet has boosted green building into the spotlight of mainstream interest.

More important than any statistic however, is the good feeling you have when you know you’ve done what’s right for both your family and your community. Promoting continued health, financial savings, and social responsibility, Green building is the construction standard for the future, and the smart solution for today.

What is indoor air quality?

Asthma, once rated seventh, is now the leading chronic illness in children. One of the primary causes of asthma is indoor air quality. The importance and need for green building is increasing exponentially as our health is affected.

Indoor pollution sources that release gasses or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality problems in homes. Inadequate ventilation can increase indoor pollutant levels by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions from indoor sources and by not carrying indoor air pollutants out of the home. High temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.

There are many sources of indoor air pollution in any home. These include combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products; building materials and furnishings as diverse as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products; products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies; central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; and outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution.

Asthma afflicts over 20 million Americans, including 6.8 million children. Since 1980, the biggest growth in asthma cases has been in children under five. In 2005 there were nearly 2 million emergency room visits and nearly half a million hospitalizations due to asthma, at a cost of almost billion, and causing 14 million school days missed each year.

The consequences of poor indoor air quality go beyond mere comfort issues and extend into that of our future health.

Which is better: a recycled material or a natural material?

Recycled or natural? This question harkens back to the old “paper or plastic?” debate. In reality, most architects and contractors do not want to get into a philosophical (and perhaps even semantic) argument about the pros and cons between these two types of materials.

There is no perfect material. All materials have some negative impact on our environment. The key is in setting priorities for the project.

For instance, for a residential kitchen countertop, preference might be given to non-toxic and non-off-gassing materials. The indoor air quality and the health of the inhabitants are more important than anything else. In the walls, perhaps using recycled plastic vapor barriers makes more sense.

There are natural materials that off-gas (such as the natural occurrence of formaldehyde in wood). Simply being a natural material does not guarantee the health of that material.

How can I determine if a material is green or not?

The biggest obstacle in the adoption of green materials is a lack of understanding of how to look at materials. Our old method of “price first, features second, appearance last” is short sighted and explains how we put ourselves in this environmental catastrophe.

The primary thing one must understand about green materials is to realize it is not black and white issue. There is no one perfect green material. All materials have both positive and negative environmental attributes. The key is in understanding which of these will benefit your specific project.

For example, many people will ask me if concrete is a “green” material. They want a simple “yes” or “no” answer. But the real answer is not so black and white.

If we look at the good things about concrete: durable, (technically) recyclable, natural, non-offgassing, made from natural sand, stone, and water – we can see it casually appears to be a green material.

But on the other hand, the bad thing about concrete is it’s chief ingredient, Portland Cement. Portland Cement is mined out of the Earth, heated to intense temperatures and as a by-product this releases tons of greenhouse gas. Suddenly, the green concrete you hoped for is a potentially bad source of pollution.

So how do we resolve this? How do you take a complex issue of concrete and look at it in a black-and-white way?

If the main problem with concrete is its content of Portland Cement, we can replace up to 50% of that Portland Cement with a material called fly ash. Fly ash is a by-product of the coal industry. It is typically buried in a land fill where it seeps mercury into our water table. By putting it into our concrete mix, it turns out the fly ash makes the concrete stronger and more workable.

Is concrete a green material? Fly ash concrete is a green material.

This is how you make something into a black and white issue.

Is wood a green material? FSC-certified Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council is a green material.

Is steel a green material? High recycled content steel is a green material.

Ask yourself these six questions when looking at any material:

  • Where did this material come from?
  • What are the by-products of its’ manufacturer?
  • How is the material delivered and installed?
  • How is the material maintained and operated?
  • How healthy are the materials?
  • What do we do with them once we are done with these materials?

This is a shorthand approach looking at the entire lifecycle of a material.

Why should I care about green building?

With most of us spending more than 90% of our time indoors, green building is the healthy, common sense choice for a better life. In traditional construction, the quality of our indoor environment is often far more polluted than outdoor one due to the building materials, inadequate lighting, and a variety of other variables.

Green Buildings are sited, designed, constructed and operated to enhance the well-being of occupants, and to minimize negative impacts on the community and natural environment. Our buildings consume 40% of the world’s total energy, 25% of its wood harvest and 16% of its water. Compared to traditional construction, a green built home takes some of this pressure off the environment.

Logically, our society can no longer build this way. It is simply a matter of time before we run out of the resources needed. The sooner we change our habits and how we build our buildings, the better position we will be in to minimize the devastation.

In the future, all buildings will be green. This is inevitable. Soon, we will have no choice.

In short, a green building has the potential to:

  • Provide a healthier and more comfortable environment
  • Improve long-term economic performance
  • Incorporate energy and water efficient technologies
  • Reduce construction and demolition waste
  • Bring higher resale value
  • Include renewable energy technologies
  • Improve indoor air quality and occupant satisfaction
  • Are easier to maintain and built to last