The Truth about Green Design

From the food you eat to the car you drive (or bus you ride), the idea of being “green” has become a part of daily life in America, especially in forward-thinking cities such as Seattle.

When I have clients who ask about whether or not I do “green” design, the answer is, “Of course!”  I have always been motivated by eco-consciousness and energy conservancy.  Now we just have more and better tools available.

A "green" green sink. Salvaged, recoated, and repurposed in the laundry room.

A "green" green sink. Salvaged, recoated, and repurposed in the laundry room.

But, what does it really mean for YOU and YOUR project?

First, I need to understand your motives and objectives.  Clients often fall within one or more of the following categories:

  • Good Steward – You want to do what you can for the environment.  You want to reuse what you can and donate what you can’t, even if that means you have to invest more money in labor. When you cannot find suitable salvage, you want to purchase products that are “green”.
  • Health Conscious – You have chemical sensitivities or underlying health conditions which have made you greatly concerned about the off-gassing of products, as well as dust and mold.
  • Investor in Technology – You want to support alternative energy innovation by using systems such as solar heating and rainwater harvesting, even if the initial investment is significant and the payback period is long.
  • Conservationist – You want to consume less, and get more out of what you already have.  You are not willing to be experimental and would rather “go with the known”.
Cabinets and light fixtures like these are excellent candidates for donation to a salvage company.

Cabinets like these are excellent candidates for donation to a salvage company in exchange for store credit, tax credit, or cash.

Prioritize

It is very rare for a client to say “yes” to all of the above categories and also be willing to accept the higher price tag for materials and labor that accompanies that decision.  Nearly everyone has to at least prioritize their eco-goals, finding the best intersection of cost, return on investment, comfort, and impact on the environment.

One person's junk is another person's treasure.  This mantel was salvaged from a home on Capital Hill in Seattle.

One person's junk is another person's treasure. This mantel was salvaged from a home on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

Buyer Beware

The marketplace is flooded with “green” products (including many inferior or fake ones), and using those products doesn’t necessarily make your project a “green” project.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there suitable salvage that would be an alternate?
  • How long will this product last?
  • How much of this product is wasted during installation?
  • If recycled content is important, what percentage and what type of recycled material does it contain?
  • How much energy does it take to produce and transport this product?
  • Is the source renewable?
  • How reliable is the information?
  • How much more does this material cost, and how does that compare to additional labor for reused or salvaged material?
  • How difficult will it be to maintain this material or this installation?
  • If resale value is important, how does this choice factor in?
  • Is this trendy?  Will it go out of fashion?

Establishing this criteria at the beginning of the design process allows us to filter each decision according to your objectives, reducing frustration and delivering the best outcome for your budget, life, and the environment.

Fiber cement rainscreen siding, aluminum windows, composite decking on cedar framing

Fiber cement rainscreen siding, aluminum windows, composite decking on cedar framing

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