Green building means using renewable resources such as bamboo flooring, making your home more energy-efficient, avoiding products which damage the environment, and in general, trying to live lightly on the earth.
That doesnt mean you have to become a commune-dwelling stereotype or move to an earthberm house, however; most green-built homes blend into their neighborhoods in terms of style, space and comfort. The difference is theyre far ahead when it comes to saving on energy bills and preserving resources.
Builders Jennifer and Mark Steinorth have been involved in the green building movement for the past seven years through their company, Steinorth Fine Homes. They build an average of seven homes per year in the 1,500-3,000 square-foot range using green building techniques and materials.
Their own home/office in Chartwell Village southeast of Traverse City is a model of energy efficiency. In fact, the couple were awarded an Energy Star Grant of $8,000 from the Michigan Department of Energy for the high level of innovation in the home as a showcase for other builders.
This house is 63 percent more energy efficient than the national average home, says Jennifer, an articulate and well-versed spokesperson for the company. She adds that the home has a 92.7 percent efficiency rating under EPA standards, going far beyond the average.
We basically have just insulated the heck out of our house which allows us to have a very small furnace, she says.
That means 2x8 studs in the walls with 7 1/2 inches of Icynene foam insulation for an R factor of 42. It also means double-pane, argon-filled windows and double-insulated concrete forms for the basement. Plus, the outside of the house is sheathed in a snug fiber-cement siding that looks and lasts like petroleum-based vinyl but without the harsh environmental repercussions.
But isnt there a hazard in having a home built too snugly?
The idea is to control the breathing of your home so that instead of letting air waft in from outside you do it in a controlled manner, Jennifer responds. In the Steinorths home a duct system keeps fresh air circulating. Exchanged through a capillary system, 80 percent of the air is captured and electronically filtered. The result is that most of the heat remains in the home, rather than being discharged outside.
The Steinorths take some of their design ideas from the building philosophies of Sarah Susanka, author of the popular Not So Big House books. In their own home, this means an open, spacious floor plan with an emphasis on cozy. Shes into breaking up spaces which gives a house a big feeling, Jennifer says.
We note that the home seems very feng shui in terms of its flow. Feng shui is basically just good design, Mark responds, noting that ancient principles have been rediscovered and enhanced by modern builders.
Marks family has been in the building biz going on forever. The company was founded by his parents Paul and Lee Steinorth in Alpena. They moved to TC in 1975 and Mark and his brother Cal grew up with hammers in hand, just like their father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Mark and Jennifer strive to lead the way in educating other builders on the benefits of green building. Other eco-friendly aspects of their home include bamboo flooring; they note that bamboo is a fast-growing grass thats ready for harvest and regrowth within 7-15 years, compared to at least 40 years for oak or maple. Then there are their lyptus wood counter-tops made from a fast-growing tree found in South America and Africa; again a renewable resource that spares rare tropical hardwoods.
So, how does green building compare, cost-wise?
It doesnt have to cost much -- its all about education and making the right choices, Mark says. That may include using recycled materials, such as a claw-foot bathtub or the window door in their office -- both from Odoms salvage shop in Grawn.
Jim Carruthers, who handles sales and marketing for the company, notes that there are tax incentives for green building that cut costs, and of course, anyone with a heating bill this winter knows the value of long-term energy planning.
We really try to fit a building plan as close to the clients budget as possible, he says. And with all of the information on the Internet we have such smart clients who are familiar with green building. They spend their evenings surfing on the net and coming to us with these products.
Moral of the story? Go green, and save.
Check out www.steinorthfinehomes.com for more on green building.