Lessons learned from Building a Green Home

I've been reading the experiences of Popular Science staff photographer John Carnett as he has chronicled them in Popular Science in The Green Dream feature for over a year now.  While I think it is a great project, I thought that some of the steps taken may have been a bit extravagant (like $55,000 for custom Aluminum windows; however, the author does a good job validating them).  But I think the best pieces of advice appeared in the October 2010 issue of Pop Sci where John listed the 4 things he has learned while building the Green Dream home from scratch (I tried to find it on the web to no avail, you'll have to publish back issues for the full article).  The items in bold are from the article, and the text afterwards is my summary of John's lessons:

  1. Balance benefits of new technology against risks - New technology is great, but if you are the first one to use it, chances are there are going to be mistakes in the product and installation.  I've never yearned to be an early adopter.  I want to be right after the early adopters so the kinks get worked out.
  2. Know your contractor - If you are getting custom work done, make sure you have read reviews, gotten references and spoken to customers of the contractor you're selecting to do the work.  John got burned and his Green Dream home has huge holes in the walls where insulated windows are supposed to go.
  3. Accept your DIY limits - John thought he could make better solar thermal water heating panels than the pros could.  He was wrong.  I know the limits of my handyman skills.  They are anything above nailing, painting, cutting drywall and simple wiring.  When you think you can do something for cheaper than buying it, make sure you count the quality of what you are buying vs. your own, your time, and take time and money into account for re-work.  At best, when you include for how much your time is worth, it usually it's not worth it even if your quality is just as good as buying the products from the expert.  At worst, your DIY product may not work, not qualify for government incentives, or be a danger to you and your family.  I wrote along the sames lines in our criticism of the DIY Solar Panel plans called Earth4Energy.
  4. Respect your budget - It's easy to get carried away on green technologies and the prices of many emerging technologies are higher today than they will be next year.  When you're building a green home, make sure you set a budget and stick to it.  Take into account the amount of energy green technologies save in the long run and the payback of each technology.  For instance, installing solar panels when you build the house will probably save you money in installation costs (easier to install when designed for up front), but the payback on solar panels may take years to recoup.  If you plan on staying in the home for awhile, then it's probably a good investment.  Set a good budget up front and stick to it.  You can always make improvements/additions in the future with the money you've saved on energy and water!

In addition to the above lessons, you may want to check out LEED for Homes or some of these ultimate green dream homes to get some ideas.

I want to build my own Green Dream home one day, and I plan on taking the above lessons into account to go along with all the research I'll be doing and experts I'll be consulting with!

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