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Starting a green home for self-builders

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A green home minimizes its impact on the environment through careful design, material choices and construction practices. It needs to be long-lasting, efficient in providing utilities, nontoxic, and a place where the owner wants to live a long time. For those who want to build their own green home, the beginning steps are a little different from those who need to hire a builder.

The self-builder should first Google the Internet for green building and read as much as possible about the various types of buildings that can be used for the main structure. This includes cob, straw-bale, earthship, cordwood, living roofs, modified stick-frame, rammed earth, adobe, underground and earth berm homes, earthbag, papercrete, domes and others. There will be pros and cons for each type and some will be more appropriate for certain regions of the country.

Watch YouTube videos of building green homes. Examples:

Watch Michael Reynold's Garbage Warrior. The Alternative Building Association website also has lots of good videos.

Read some of the great books written by the experts. Examples are:
Clarke Snell & Tim Callahan's Building Green
Jennifer Roberts Good Green Homes
Michael Reynolds Earthship Volume 1
Malcolm Wells Underground Designs
Rob Roy Cordwood Building: The State of the Art
Nader Khalili with Cal-Earth Institute Ceramic Houses & Earth Architecture
Mike Oehler The Fifty Dollar and Up Underground House Book.

Visit the different types of green buildings in person if at all possible. Green intentional communities not only allow scheduled visitations but usually offer workshops on particular building types. Good examples of communities are Earthaven in Black Mountain, North Carolina; Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Rutledge, Missouri; Sandhill Farm in Kirksville, Missouri. View the Fellowship for Intentional Community directory for others in the region. There is a new one forming in Upstate South Carolina.

Examples of offered workshops are Kleiworks International, Earthwood Building School with Rob Roy, Earthship Builders, and the Cob Cottage Company.

Work on others' building projects to learn the techniques and find out if they are really desirable choices with the given skill sets available with the help of friends and family. Some will pay for help; some are work exchanges; others may only use volunteers and provide food and lodging. What looks like a difficult or easy build will become more realistic in person. Posts for help can be found at the ecovillage websites and on site like Cob workshops. Create a post on Craigslist seeking the desired type of experience.

Gather information for the local building codes enforcers once the desired type of structure has been chosen. Get documentation on the technique and materials, fire-rating information, examples of approvals from other jurisdictions, and, perhaps best of all, a signed off local architectural engineer approval of the home design. Use other green builders in the area as a source of what is needed and which department person best to approach or avoid.

There are over seventy green building programs in the United States. While it may be cost prohibitive to earn the points for a certification, use the standards and information available in making building choices. Read the suggested article below on green building certifications. Some major examples include:

  • U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
  • National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) green home building program
  • U.S. government-sponsored Energy Star program.

Choose or create a design based on the necessary home size needed, lot orientation and requirements, native landscaping to be saved, what is going to be happening in the home, and personal dreams and budget.

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