What Does It Take to Be a “Green” Contractor in the Hudson Valley?

What does it take to be a green contractor in the Hudson Valley? First of all you have to care about many things:

Have a deep connection to the environment, physical health, the local economy and progressive building methods to help nurture these concerns. Knowing how to communicate your commitment to all of these things is really important to establish relationships and long lasting trust with your community/ patrons. Getting educated in an aggressive manner and then bringing this information to your clients for their benefit. Building smart, energy-efficient, non- toxic, environmentally friendly and competitively is what the patrons of the Hudson Valley want.

Think of the environment before building

Parks, local wildlife, bodies of water, plant life and underground aquifers are in the active minds and daily events of most of the Hudson Valley residents. They are fighting the “Fracking” for gas, pollution on the Hudson “river keeper” and greedy developers from building on land with endangered flora and fauna. I firmly believe that many people that hike, bike, swim, climb or ski in the Catskills and “Gunks” want to help protect these places, whether they are weekenders or long time residents. Enjoying the “green” is often what starts a “green” lifestyle. I spent most of my teens and twenties hiking, back packing and swimming during my weekends and vacations. I believe that is why I went green with my business and life style. Equally, that is why most clients want green contractors in the Hudson Valley. It is there lifestyle that dictates this.

Thinking and planning with the environment or specific site location should always be part of the green contractors planning method. Understanding the lay of the land along with a desired home site location is important. How can we build with the smallest impact environmentally? Can we position this house so we have solar advantages? Can we use the elevations for irrigation or wind power? Can we use a creek for Hydro power? How will we minimize waste or silting on the site? There many more considerations to take into account about site planning and positioning houses.

We can build healthy
Health is a big issue for many in choosing a green building project. Sure… fear is often a motivator for big choices concerned with health. There are so many horror stories about the side effects of off-gassing(formaldehyde or Poly urethane)carpeting and floor finishes and Petroleum based insulation or plastics can really do some damage. If your going to drink bottled water, go to the gym and eat healthy, then it is only logical to approach a building project the same way.

I always approach this topic with kid gloves. I often probe my clients with questions like ” what does green mean to you?” If it means non-toxic materials, then I read it as a green light to offer countless health minded materials. Yet, if a client says energy efficiency, then I modestly mention that I can also offer health minded materials and leave it up to them to ask for them. A contractor should be sensitive to this and relate the feeling that he or she is just concerned for them and not trying to overload the budget. There are some things that a contractor should insist on. One of which is an HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) unit which is used to control fresh air in a “air tight” house. It also controls humidity levels to avoid mold, mildew and structural rot.

When you insulate green, such as in a Net-Zero home, you definitely have a well sealed insulated envelop or in a Passivhaus, you have insulation levels up R-60 all the way around all six sides of your home. The insulation is usually integrated with mostly cellulose on the inside(between wall studs and in the attic floor) and Poly-Iso- rigid foam board all the way around the outside of the house and under the foundation and basement slab. All the windows are triple glazed with foam sealing around all windows, doors,vents and miscellaneous penetrations. It is like having your head in a plastic bag and hoping for fresh air if you don’t have a HRV system in place. All of my projects include HRV units with super insulation( Cellulose primarily and integrated rigid and spray foam.)

So the local economy is not as strong

The local economy is not as strong as it was during the housing boom or real estate boom. Ok, so what does this mean for contractors? Often, it means leaning out, cutting back on spending and re-positioning business. I did all these things and discovered that it was still difficult and then I decided to get educated in green building once again…
Instead of just being a green builder general contractor, I became a green contractor who specializes in not only General “green” construction, but also, solar and Green insulation(dense packed cellulose.) I have found that designing a cost effective project for a client who is price conscious often involves a strong focus on insulation, cost effective- high efficiency windows and tax rebates and energy star rebates. Once we get all of that in the pot then, we discuss renewables like Solar electric and Geothermal. You have to weigh all the variables in initial cost and long term payback. For instance: If I have a client that is really excited about Solar electric and Geothermal heating and Cooling and they just can’t wait to sign on the dotted line, I take a step back and ask a couple questions. Number 1 is: how much energy are you using already? and have you had any weatherization projects performed in your home recently? The bottom line is that if you don’t have the proper insulation in your home, you will be wasting your money on a renewable energy system install. Don’t put the cart before the horse… of course you could beef up the solar modules and increase the loops and heat-pumps for your geothermal system to keep your house running yet, it is like that old gas guzzler in the sense that you will pay for a huge install cost and maintenance costs will be crippling down the road.

The right methods for construction

Contractors need to be using the right methods. The old stand by of conventional construction worked for the clients that just wanted square footage and luxury at a competitive price. The new clients want energy efficient, luxurious, technologically fitted and cost effective homes. How do you give it to them? Read up on Net-Zero building, Passivhaus and Permaculture. Get educated and specialize in something green. I consider myself to be in school for eternity. We have to keep up on building technologies. You don’t have to be a contractor blogging to all hours of the night, but, you better read some of them on the subject of green building.

Be the right kind of person

You have to be the right kind of person to be a green contractor. You have to really believe in it. Care about the environment, people and their health, understand the economic condition, educate yourself endlessly and educate your clients. Put your heart into it. You must always keep your clients best interest in mind… That is a sustainable method to live by.

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