Today there is a lot of attention paid to green and sustainable building practices, and the bar for how far to take these practices is a moving target. One simple strategy is to use less through building smarter. Less energy consumption in finished structures, fewer raw materials, less overall project waste through prefabricated elements, and less time on site all lead to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable project.
Smaller, more efficient homes and accessory dwellings have many benefits. Lower resource and energy needs, and the associated savings in construction costs and utility bills are just the start. With a smaller footprint and a design that focuses from the start on efficiency alongside beauty, everyone involved in the building project - client, designer and builder - are more engaged in the process. Choosing materials, guiding the discussion on heating and utility choices and deciding on the best construction methods are all part of this conversation. These decisions, coupled with a careful examination of what spaces in the new building or remodeled area will get the heaviest use, become a part of a creative endeavor that enrich the aesthetics and livability of the resulting structure.
As builders, we need to be applying the same level of thought and care traditionally directed towards designing creative house elements to selecting basic building methods and materials. Building in the Pacific Northwest, or in any rainy climate can inadvertently lead to working with wet materials, job sites, and attitudes. Having a dry roof over the work area reduces the problems associated with wet materials, allows happier subcontractors to start their work earlier, and reduces the disturbance to the building site. Many of the assemblies featured in the Green Building Assembly are well-tested techniques that are successfully used internationally and for commercial construction projects in the US, but have been slow to gain traction in residential building. Prefabricated wall assemblies, structurally insulated panel (SIPs) roof assemblies and insulated concrete form (ICF) walls and foundations are some of the ways to speed up the drying in process, and significantly reduce building waste during the rough construction phase of residential projects. Using these methods as part of a more holistic building system, it is also easier to achieve tighter and more easily air sealed structures.
Using a system based approach to designing and building homes adds many benefits to a project. Putting a lot of thought and energy into understanding and focusing on how pieces of a home will fit together during the building process is equally important to how the pieces of a home will work together once the project is finished. Through this approach of careful planning, and choosing to use innovative products and techniques for their improved performance and compatibility, homes can be built better, more energy efficient and faster.
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