Archives for October 2010

Toolbelts and Textbooks: Our Ongoing Education

Jon has been building custom homes and remodeling for over half of his life (which, I jokingly remind him, is a very long time). And simply by practicing thoughtful and responsible habits — considering long-term and life-cycle sustainability, and maximizing nature’s resources in an efficient and conserving manner — he was a green builder, I believe, long before the term came into vogue.

He’s taught me construction and remodeling along those lines, so although it’s fun to read about trendy materials and more efficient systems, the philosophy and mindset are already second nature. Each time I eagerly bring an article to work about a new insulation or roofing shingle, he unfailingly responds, “Doesn’t that make sense?”

Deliver better indoor air quality, make the home cost less to operate, and minimize the negative impact the home has on the environment — these aren’t revolutionary concepts. The products themselves may improve on earlier versions, but the practical goals have been around even longer than, well, Jon.

That being said, we find it extremely important not to rest on our (green) laurels. Jon and I both are avid readers and self-educators on emerging green techniques and materials through trade magazines, web sites, seminars, manufacturer and distributor newsletters, and trade shows.

Jon is currently pursuing continuing education through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), where he is studying to become a Certified Remodeler (nothing like going back to school after 25 years in the business). Although his course load doesn’t specifically focus on green building, the information seems to take a pragmatic approach to environmentally responsible and cost-effective solutions for long-term goals (again, a basic definition of green building).

Last year I became a LEED Accredited Professional, which was a very intense six months of classes, studying and a pass-fail exam. The US Green Building Council defines a LEED AP as someone who has demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building practices and resources. He or she is also trained in the process of attaining LEED Certification for their projects. I belong to the US Green Building Council’s local Delaware Valley Chapter, as well, where I sit on the Emerging Professionals and Residential Circle Committees.

Check out next week’s blog to see how we’ve incorporated some green principles into our everyday work.

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What Green Remodeling Means to Us

Jon Cumming and I have put a lot of thought into what “building green” means to us, as builders, contractors, architects and designers are at the forefront of the surging eco-friendly movement. We decided that — although there are a handful of exclusively “green” remodelers in the area enjoying great demand, and believe me it’s tempting to ride the wave — we’re only going to incorporate the green elements into our projects that work smarter and look better than conventional products (AND do this after considering the product’s environmental impact over its entire life cycle).

Our job as remodelers is to deliver an energy-efficient project, contribute to healthy indoor air quality, and practice thoughtful and well-researched buying habits — not to religiously aspire to a mysterious principle because it’s trendy and looks good on our marketing materials. So we’re “practically” green, if you will.

The first, and by far most important, component of green remodeling, we concluded, is education. It is incumbent upon us — both for our clients and the greater good — to be highly knowledgeable about and aware of as many green products, materials, and techniques as possible. We then must give clients the options and explain:

  • what a product’s green benefits are,
  • the upfront price difference and possible cost-savings,
  • the product’s components and durability,
  • how it returns to its natural state in the environment at the end of its life (check out the broad green remodeling cost-benefit analysis by our friends at GreenandSave.com, for example).

We should work closely with our clients to interpret the (often hazy and conflicting) product or material information and best apply it to their projects — if it makes sense.

As we pursue this ongoing education (watch for later posts), our responsibility at Cumming Construction is two-fold. First, construct smart, well-insulated and energy efficient homes. Not just on larger projects like complete renovations or additions, but also on a smaller (and more frequent) scale, like bathroom or kitchen remodels. Secondly, but just as importantly, we must have the knowledge and experience to propose and explore whatever sustainable and green elements might benefit our clients’ homes in the long run. We must educate our clients and then let THEM decide; we’re here to consult and guide the process, not to insist on a principle or tell the clients what they want. We want our client to champion the process and recognize the benefit of every decision made and each piece in the puzzle. In the end, it’s the client’s home, not our’s. Despite how nicely it may read on our web site.

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