Green and natural building offer two paths to high-performance homes
So should your home project go green or go natural? The answer may be yes to both, or the right path may depend on the goals and lifestyle that are driving the project.
The terms “green” and “natural” building are sometimes used interchangeably, which leads to confusion among homeowners and professionals alike. Green and natural building techniques and objectives may overlap in a lot of ways, but those in the industry point out some subtle differences.
“By definition, a natural product comes from the earth, is used until it is no longer functional, then goes back into the earth without polluting,” said Derrick Ravey, sales manager for Green Building Supply in Fairfield, Iowa.
On the other hand, “I think of green building as having more high performance aspects to it, such as the energy and HVAC system,” said Annette Stelmack, a sustainable design consultant and LEEP AP.
However, the concepts don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A home that may have built with a focus on one aspect often includes significant attributes of the other.
“I work with very few people that are seeking natural building specifically,” said Carl Seville, LEED AP and green building consultant. “People are looking for green building because that’s what they call it, but they have different opinions of what it is. Some people look at green building as high efficiency and some see green building as healthy. It’s basically all of those.”
Green building often focuses on energy efficiency and other operational aspects of the home, but may also include indoor air quality and other health-related aspects of natural building.
“Building science has been around a while, and indoor air quality concerns have been around a while but now we’re merging, bringing the science aspect in from an indoor air-quality standpoint to make sure the products support the health of the occupants,” Stelmack said.
Natural building is a growing segment of the green movement, as people desire to build a home from as much natural materials as possible, for a variety of reasons. These homes may include straw bale, rammed earth, earth bag and other techniques using materials from nature. Using natural materials can mean fewer chemicals in the home’s components for better indoor air quality, less cost and less construction waste.
The reasons for natural building are as varied as the people involved.
“In some cases natural building is chosen by people who want to want to downsize or get back to a simpler way of living,” said Joyce Coppinger, managing editor and publisher of The Last Straw, the international journal of strawbale and natural building. “They may want to get away from chemical toxicities, and a lot of people are concerned about the environment and future of our world.”
For many homebuilders, the focus is on improving indoor air quality for health reasons. People with allergies or chemical sensitivities want their home to be a refuge from the substances that plague them. Not all consumers know about common problem chemicals such as volatile organic compounds or formaldehyde, but simply seek a respite.
“Right now clients don’t say, ‘Don’t use anything with formaldehyde’ but they do tell me they have asthma and their children have asthma,” Stelmack said. “We address it from the health aspect rather than from a specific concern about formaldehyde.”
Natural choices extend to home furnishings such as flooring, paint, fabrics and other components of the living spaces. Green, high performance aspects can also be included in a home for energy efficiency, and can fit into any architectural style.
Stelmack recalled a recent design project that incorporated high-performance systems with a natural interior and a contemporary rather than modernist design. “We used a lot of wood and stone, and the wall finishes were much more natural,” she said. “A natural home can be within any aesthetic palette a homeowner might want. Once the aesthetic vision is determined then that really shapes the interior floor, walls, doors, cabinetry, mill work, light fixtures and so on.”
Investing in green and natural products can be a personal choice, balanced by environmental goals and the realities of the budget.
“We have dozens of wonderful customers who grow and can their own food, compost and recycle everything, buy all of our energy saving appliances and are not afraid to do a little extra work to reduce their impact on the planet,” Ravey said. “However, for the thousands of other customers, they just want to know they aren't going to get sick or have to spend too much money.”
(Photo courtesy of colros)
Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.www