Builders’ Circle Blog: How Low Can You Go?

Jim Baker, B & G Drafting

Low is not always something we like to think about. To lower your driving speed when you are late for a doctor’s appointment, to get there just in time so he can tell you to lower your cholesterol and lower your weight, tends to give us a low, negative feeling. The doctor’s advice continues to include lowering carbs, lowering fat intake, and lowering the volume of food consumed. Do these words sound familiar? Admit it, we just don’t like low.

So I understand when the NAHB Green Scoring Tool starts to ask about low flow, low flush, low VOC… we suddenly get turned off. The normal argument is to ask, “What good can that really do?” Think about it this way…someone brings in donuts as a snack in the morning, definitely not low-cal, and the one we eat can quickly become two or three eaten. Not good for us and never confessed to the doc. Just like the donuts being right there in front of us to grab, so are all the regular flush toilets, normal flow faucets, and standard paints that can easily be picked up anywhere for purchase. And these items are what will turn up on the job site if we don’t remember to ask for the “low” stuff.

If the objective for your health is to be a lean, mean fighting machine, and the objective for your profession is to build the world’s most efficient house– you have to go “low”. For example, low Flow Shower Heads are a huge energy saver. They save a little bit in water and sewer fees but save a whole lot of energy needed to heat the water. The old argument that “they are not as good and cost too much” just no longer applies. Technology has caught up; these items work well, are no longer out of budget, and are available at your request. We will blog more about these things later.

Now let us focus on the least understood of all: low VOC paints. These are paints with little or no volatile organic compounds. As homes become more air tight to save energy, air quality begins to suffer. What was once not a problem, like off-gassing of paints and sealant, can now become a health issue. Even fine dust particles become trapped in the air tight structure and remain in the house for you to breath.

Producing good air quality is like trying to lose weight. Lowering the pollutants in a home’s air is similar to the doctor’s advice. A single approach, like cutting back on calories is not enough to accomplish the task. Three major things must happen. First, we must prevent contaminants from entering and accumulating. (Covering furnace vents during construction is an example.) Second, we can filter stuff out by using a MERV 8 filter. Third, dilute the pollutants by adding fresh air with ERV type equipment, to make them less harmful. Off-gassing fumes can’t be filtered out, and dilution may struggle to keep up. Therefore, low VOC paints must fall in the prevent category.

Low VOC paints, unlike those doctor approved low-carb, low-fat foods, have very few negatives compared to the positive heath impacts

Jim D. Baker, B & G Drafting—HERS Rater and NAHB Verifier with this project.

In January 2011, the HBA of Greater Springfield announced it would partner with Habitat for Humanity of Springfield to build the first two homes in Habitat’s new Builders Circle development. The homes will be certified to the National Green Building Standard and their construction will serve as a demonstration of flexible and affordable methods by which construction professionals can build green in a residential setting.
Jim Baker (B&G Drafting) is a Certified Green Professional (CGP), a HERS Rater, and a certified NAHB Green Building Verifier.  He also helped design these and other green-built homes throughout the area. This Builders Circle Project Blog helps keep HBA industry professionals and curious consumers up to date on the latest green building features being incorporated into the project. The blog also provides updates on the project’s latest progress and upcoming needs. Those who would like to help with the project are encouraged to leave their comments at the end of blog posts, or on the project’s facebook page, to offer your assistance.

Jim D. Baker, B and G Drafting – HERS Rater and NAHB Verifier on this project.