Reasons to hire a green renovation expert

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    There are many decisions to take when renovating an old house. Alexandra Marks and Martin Sheridan check out the possibilities for environmentally friendly heating systems at Silverio Mechanical in Old Saybrook, Conn.
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I ended my last post with the conclusion that hiring a “green expert” would be too expensive and so I would not hire one, but would do the research about various green building techniques myself (which I will then share with you).

In that way, I concluded, Martin and I could make informed decisions about which technologies to use based on our limited budget and save the money we’d use on an expert.

Even as I was writing that last sentence, I knew that I had not done due diligence.

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I’ve been blessed in my life to know some remarkable people. One is Rick Schwolsky, the current editor-in-chief of EcoHome Magazine.

That’s impressive enough, but, from my perspective, his real claim to fame is that back in 1979, at Jimmy Carter’s behest, he helped install solar panels on the White House. (These are the very panels that Ronald Reagan had removed in 1986, not wanting to be reminded of the energy crisis.)

Rick’s then-wife-to-be, Mollie Beattie – who became the first woman director of the National Fish and Wildlife Agency, sat with him there on the parapets above the Oval Office writing out their wedding invitations. (Please, forgive my name dropping, but I am gifted to have known them both. And what a great story, eh?)

So, I called Rick. He immediately suggested I reconsider my decision.“Have you really looked into it, or are you picking up on the perception that it’s costly from other sources?” he asked.

I had to admit to just researching LEED for Homes, which is the gold standard for green building, and I had been taken aback by the apparent complexity and cost of going for a full green certification. That was enough to make me decide against it and think it better to use LEED only as a guideline.

Rick calls that the “menu approach” – where you pick and choose what suits you from the LEED guidelines – and he frowns on it.

Rick, generous as always with his antediluvian green friend, then patiently explained to me that the goal of LEED and other green building advocates is not simply to provide guidance to home renovators like me. It's also to spread knowledge about green construction – its advantages and techniques – in a way that will standardize and professionalize green building and also eventually make it the standard way everything is built in America.

“We are trying to educate and inspire construction professionals to follow stringent guidelines because it contributes to the quality and continuity of the overall effort to reduce the carbon foot print of the industry, which we have to do with urgency,” he says. “Using a standard or a certification also provides us a kind of measuring device so we can see how we’re doing.”

That’s why EcoHome Magazine won’t cover any product or project unless it has been certified and field tested. It’s also why Rick and others are trying to fight the perception – which I have contributed to, that hiring a green professional is too expensive.

“As the general public becomes aware of these programs, there’s this perception that there are a lot of costs associated with them and with green building,” Rick says. “A lot of numbers that are thrown around are designed are to scare people. LEED for Homes, in particular, tries to fight the perception.”

So Rick suggested that I at least get a quote from the LEED expert before passing final judgment. He also apprised me of a fact that I should have already known. The National Home Builders Association also has a green standard and rating system of which I was unaware.

I pledged to contact both and get actual quotes for a green consultant.

That’s going to take a few weeks. In the meantime, we’ve already decided to go for a geothermal heating and cooling system despite the initial high costs. I’ll explain why in the next post.

Editor's note: Alexandra Marks will be blogging twice a week about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. See a photo gallery of the early days of the project by clicking here. You can read all she's written about the project so far by clicking here and then looking for Sheep Dog Hollow under Topics on the right side of the page.

You'll find numerous articles about the environment at the Monitor’s main environment page. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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