If you’€™re somewhere in the process of building a home – thinking about it, getting ready to hire a builder, digging a hole, or already planning your move-in date €- chances are you’ve heard a lot about “green building.” The glut of information on the subject has left a lot of us scratching our noggins. Building professionals from architects and designers to contractors and construction workers are getting bombarded, too, and a lot of them are probably as confused as the layman consumer -€“ even though they’€™re less likely to know or admit it.

Like any buzzword, “€œgreen building”€ is gradually being drained of its meaning. It’€™s a strange dance: the more energetically you try to distinguish yourself as a green builder, the more you become like everyone else, and the more everyone else becomes like you. You can leave me off this dance card.

To be sure: we all have to start getting our act together. But green building is a vast and complicated field, and it shouldn’€™t come as a surprise that there are lots of folks who are so heavily invested in it that they’re beginning to battle it out over who’€™s right, who’€™s doing it best, who’€™s bamboozling the public, and on and on. What we have is a lot€“ a whole lot€“ of folks scrambling to hop on the green building bandwagon. Let’™s be honest: in the face of day after day of dire predictions about the fate of the planet, wouldn’t you like to be told that you’re doing something vital to our future? Sure you would!

So a general contractor can feel pretty good about making you feel pretty good that everything’€™s going to turn out pretty good after all, especially if you hire him or her to build your house. There’s damn good money to be made by peddling the qualifications and certifications and approvals and accreditations and seals of good environmental housekeeping that help us sleep soundly through the greenwashing din.

About a year ago, Tony Zaya and I brought out a book on hybrid timber framing. Flush with the pride of having published my first book, I handed the books out to friends and family and waited for their praise. One of the lucky recipients didn’t congratulate me, didn’t call or write to say how enjoyable and wonderful the book was – nothing. I was hurt. Eventually, I found out -€“ a little obliquely – that this person thought it was raping the planet to build with heavy timbers. Fair enough, I suppose. But that opinion wasn’t backed up with any real understanding of the whole science of building in an environmentally responsible manner, or any understanding of building at all, for that matter. It was a knee-jerk reaction.

In fact, timber frame hybrids can make a lot of sense environmentally. A timber frame roof system, for example, creates an efficient structural system that can eliminate a host of unnecessary framing, and can be insulated without the cold-bridging -€“ and energy inefficiency – inherent in conventionally-framed roofs. The majority of timber frames today are built with materials that are sustainably harvested from managed forests and from standing dead trees, or from recycled and reclaimed timbers. And the likelihood that your timber frame will last generations is inherently “green.”

Greenwashing -€“ the unscrupulous and manipulative use of the term “green”€ to attract customers -“ isn’t going to make anything on this planet any greener. What’s needed is for all of us to invest time in acquiring the knowledge needed to make informed choices, not a parade with barkers and snake-oil salesmen. Don’t forget that no matter how green you build, if you don’€™t live green, too, it won’€™t make enough of a difference.

– Tim Diener

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