This one’s a rant.

Unfortunately for environmentally conscious builders, the rising publicity surrounding ‘green’ building has coincided with the collapse in building construction across the planet. Usually I don’t think that personal experience can really indicate a trend. Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the fact that 2 years ago, ‘Some-Guy Construction’ was throwing up (almost literally) speculative pseudo-home junk with break-neck speed. Now ‘Some-Guy Construction’ has re-branded himself as ‘Some-Guy Green Construction’, and is installing edible paint. Or some guy just got laid off his old job, and started a new company, ‘Some-Guy-Could-Use-A-Job Green Building’.

I’m not impressed.

I’m pleased that the public appears to be demanding more environmentally responsible construction. However, most consumers have an unsophisticated understanding of building systems. Consequently, I’ve seen a tremendous hoopla over eliminating Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) from paints, and not much else. In my opinion, low VOC paints are desirable, and are now widely used. But there’s bound to be a diminishing return in going from low VOC to no VOC.

Indoor Air Quality is made comparatively worse by low VOC paints (albeit briefly) than with non VOC paints. But put this in the context of most homes in NJ, where open-cavity returns duct-work is the norm – continously sucking soil-gases from the crawlspace or insulation from the attic. What about water in basements and crawlspaces? Most landscaping is graded improperly, and gutters concentrate bulk water in bad spots allowing bulk water to enter basements. The majority of homes have improperly sealed attics, which commonly leads to condensation (and mold or rot) on the roof sheathing. None of these problems are rare. In fact, these are problems that Tay River Homesmiths, Inc. fixes everyday. (All right, I spelled the whole company name because when you google our company name you get a lighting store, and I don’t know how to make it stop, but am hoping that this might help.)

But isn’t this a red herring? Ok, maybe a little. But if we’re concerned with health, shouldn’t we place non VOC paints in an appropriate broader context?

And if we’re concerned about environmental impact, the overwhelming bulk of evidence suggests that our number 1 priority should be reducing energy consumption. Sure we shouldn’t use toxic stuff in homes. But perhaps we should be willing to use a small amount of bad stuff, if the net reduction in energy, or improvement in durability can be justified.


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