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Guest post contributed by Chris Hurst, President/Contractor at Hurst Construction since 1986.  Over the past five years, I’ve focused on energy-efficient construction, passive solar design, and sustainable construction; here are a few observations on the green building movement from a nuts and bolts, contractor’s perspective.

Challenge #1:  Lack of Knowledge and/or Awareness
The average consumer, architect, or designer has no clue what I am talking about when I describe energy-efficient, sustainable construction.  To build a super-insulated passive house is not really difficult–sure it costs more, but the payback averages about 5 years for the extra cost.  Then you’re insulated from future energy price hikes (i.e., you can pay me a little bit more now or the utility/oil company can take a lot more for the rest of your life!). 

There really is an enormous amount of bad design out there…I average one client a month who has a horrible set of plans for a home with absolutely no regard for energy-efficiency, passive solar design, or practical sustainable design criteria.  Recently, a couple came to me with a home design plan with 58 corners (every extra corner adds time and money to a construction job); unfortunately, they payed $10,000 for this pile of crap.  We told them the only option was to trash it and start over. 

The first thing we do when we go to a prospective building site is take out a compass and determine proper solar orientation for the home (caveat emptor:  clients bring in tons of plans ordered on-line and the designer never visited the site!).  It is worth the money to hire a good architect or designer, because home design can really make or break the job.

Challenge #2:  The Over Design Problem
Petrangelo_010_1 Why not design a nice, 3-bedroom home from about 1700 -2400 sf and call it good?  Use the extra money to make the home energy efficient and sustainable.  Most people don’t need a 5,000 sf home, and the bigger you go, the more wasteful the home will be with materials and energy.  The problem is, it really takes a lot of information to get the average homeowner to understand what makes a home sustainable. Everything is different, including heating and cooling systems, water distribution schematics, and building envelope design.  Contractors have to educate clients on what they are getting for their money. 

The bottom line is, for this to really take off, we need to educate the average consumer about sustainability.  Until "Joe six pack" demands this type of construction, it won’t happen.  I’ve spent some time in Austria studying passive home technology and they are about 25 years ahead of the United States. Why?  Because the consumers demand it.  If you tried to sell an Austrian a stick-frame, USA-style home, they would laugh at you!  Please visit my website, www.zeropowerhouse.com, for more passive solar design and construction. 

Note to images:  This is the first passive solar home in the USA built with Bruckner windows and doors.  It is located in Wellington, Nevada.  Notice how the sunlight penetrates into the home with proper passive solar orientation on a cold winter day.  Chris Hurst can be reached at chris [at] zeropowerhouse dot com.

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