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"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" UN Brundtland Report 1987

That’s the basic idea, but how does it translate into the actual building of a house? What is the one really important consideration in sustainable building that dwarfs all other considerations? Is it "green" materials or "sustainable" construction practices? If you have been reading the literature available you have probably asked yourself these questions. The range of information out there, including material choices, the VOC content of paint, indoor air quality, landscaping, embodied energy, and carbon footprint, to name just a few, is vast. The amount of information and variety of emphasis can be not just confusing but overwhelming. It might surprise you that most of these topics are not very important. From the perspective of environmental impact, the most important factor by far is energy use, meaning the actual energy consumption of the building.

Certified Sustainable Building Advisor
Trade Ally of the Oregon Energy Trust

 "The ongoing energy use of a building is probably the single greatest environmental impact of a building, so designing buildings for low energy use should be our number one priority.” -  “Establishing Priorities with Green Building”, Environmental Building News, September 1, 1995.

"Although important, initial embodied energy is nearly always dwarfed by the energy consumed by a building over its lifetime. … Over the first 50 years, the initial embodied energy is less than 1/12th of the operating energy." —"Embodied Energy: As Important As Low Energy Design?" by Stephen Thwaites.

Focusing on construction materials in isolation, to the exclusion of the other impacts of owning and operating a home is a shortsighted approach to sustainable building. When you add together all life-cycle carbon emissions for manufacturing and transporting the materials, building the home, maintaining, heating, cooling and lighting it for 75 years, and dismantling and disposing of it at the end, the big carbon impacts from a home, accounting for well over 90%, are from heating, cooling, and electric power consumption during its operating life, according to research done by Martin Holladay at greenbuildingadvisor.com. Building a home with a well insulated high performance building envelope and incorporating energy efficiency features such as passive heating and cooling as well as good day-lighting and other strategies is far more important than material selection during construction. An energy efficient home not only makes a big difference in reducing the long term environmental impacts of a house, it can also save a substantial amount of monthly operating cost which over time can add up to a lot of money saved by the owner. And best of all this type of home will be healthier and more comfortable for the occupants.

P.O. Box 1390, Hood River
Phone: (541) 806-0543
Fax: (541) 387-2298    E-mail 
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