Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Q: We enjoyed your article about "Built Green" since my wife and I want to build here.

Our frustration is finding resources. We've looked at a few of the Modernist modulars like the Glide house and just find them too stark. We want to design our own home but want it really "green". Where do we start and what is "green" anyway?

A: Green building encompasses many elements. Start with a designer who understands "green". A major element is energy conservation. That means heating, cooling and insulation. The first step is choosing a site for the house so that you get plenty of passive solar heat in the winter but shade and cooling breezes in the summer.

Next is using energy efficient methods like in-floor heating, on demand water heating, extra insulation, well insulated windows, proper caulking and solar panels. Remember that you need proper ventilation.

Another part of green is using non-toxic materials. Many building materials, especially carpeting, countertops, most paint as well as wood floor finishes contain toxic chemicals. The fumes from these put toxins in the air inside your home for years. Many children have developed serious illnesses from these products and adults with allergies can be affected.

Another part of green is using recycled materials as much as possible. Plastics that have been recycled into floor covering for example, reusing of recycled cabinets, and using older wood floors from salvaged properties all save energy and contribute to saving the earth. Outside the home there are things to do too, like saving and using rainwater, composting, using native plants for landscaping and minimalizing impervious surfaces.

Consider using sustainably harvested, local wood to save old growth and the cost of transporting exotic materials across the world. You'd be surprised at what's available in the region. Look at these sites to get started: Built Green Program of the Master Builders Association: www.mba_ks.com , Cascadia Regional Green Building Council: www.cascadiabc.org, Northwest Eco-Building Guild: www.ecobuilding.org , Northwest Energy Efficiency Council: www.nwec.net , Washington State Recycling Association: www.wsra.net, Sustainable Northwest: www.sustainablenorthwest.org. That should get you started.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Q: We can't decide what to do about buying another home.

We were recently married and each have a house on Vashon. Mine is a small cabin in the woods and my husband has a really nice large home. We sort of want to keep one for a rental and sell the other so that we can get a new place that's just "ours", with no past connections to his former mate. That may sound stupid, but it's what we really want to do. The problem is that mine is paid for but not worth much and his is worth more but heavily mortgaged. Nothing seems to work out financially. Ideas?

A: After looking at your little cabin I can see that an addition could work really well. Your husband owes a large mortgage on his house but he will still make enough selling it to afford a good sized addition to your little house. That could mean you are free of a mortgage and in a house that holds no bad memories.

Many times the answer to a problem isn't to buy or sell real estate. Sometimes just looking at all of the options available to you opens the door to a great solution. Of course I'd love to sell you a new home, but that probably isn't the best solution for your problem. The problem is really the desire to be rid of the memories that your husband has of his former wife. By selling his home he gets rid of that problem and by involving himself in a remodel of your home he has the chance of making it his own.

Sit down and think through what you could do with your little house to make it a shared dream. Then put your ideas on paper and start talking to builders, designers or architects. I'll bet you can come up with something that solves your housing needs, puts you in a great place financially and fulfills your desire for a shared "nest" to start your new life together.