Green buildings, do they exist or are we playing with words and trends again? It seems since William McDonough & Michael Braungart book Cradle to Cradle hit the book shelves there has been a wide range of mis-information about “green building”. I am not saying that McDonoughs book was off the track….actually it is dead on, what I am saying is that it started a trend of marketing the idea of “green building“. Today one can look on the web and find a bizillion sites claiming to be green builders, architects, designers….it is a catchword now for expensive construction.
To give an example of the dilemmas that Green construction faces one only need to look as far as their own bathroom. The bathroom is a perfect example of a green place that only gets greener and greener without non green products. Mold and mildew are the enemies builders face as a consequences of climate on buildings. If you need verification that all mold is not always our friend see
Legionnaires’ disease Philadelphia, 1976
The first recognized outbreak occurred on July 27, 1976 at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where members of the American Legion, a United States military veterans association, had gathered for the American Bicentennial. Within two days of the event’s start, veterans began falling ill with a then-unidentified pneumonia. Numbers differ, but perhaps as many as 221 people were given medical treatment and 34 deaths occurred. At the time, the U.S. was debating the risk of a possible swine flu vaccination Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mounted an unprecedented investigation and by September, the focus had shifted from outside causes, such as a disease carrier, to the hotel environment itself. In January 1977, the Legionellosis bacterium was finally identified and isolated, and found to be breeding in the cooling tower of the hotel’s air conditioning system, which then spread it through the entire building. This finding prompted new regulations worldwide for climate control systems.
In the climate of East Coastal Maine where I live there is a serious war we wage with Mold because of moisture associated with condensation. Much like the bathroom example our homes and buildings are similar, they fill with moisture. The hidden moisture that causes so many mold and mildew problems occurs in the walls and roof systems of our buildings. This is because of the temperature difference that occurs between the outside and the inside of the home. The outside in the winter is cold, the inside is warm, and vice versa in the summer. This temperature difference causes condensation much like the steam filling the bathroom during a shower. So how does a builder handle the difference in temperature….insulation…. the more the better in order to keep the condensation zone towards the outside of the building. The best way I have found to stop mold growth in the wall cavity is to use a blown closed cell foam , is this an example of a green product?
http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/ask/poly a link to find out about PolyUrethane foams like Corbond pretty much gives you the idea…its not too green….but it really works in keeping the moisture out because it is closed cell foam meaning like a plastic bag it keeps moisture out. The added flame retardants are at issue as well and cause horribly caustic vapors when burned. So there you have it try to stop mold and you are up against a fence. How to do this without toxic materials has been an issue that the building world has struggled with.
I am not suggesting that it is impossible to build without toxins, what I am suggesting is that to build with longevity and human health in mind becomes very difficult. The toxins that off-gas during the curing or burning of foams and urethane sealants, VS mold, rot, mildew…..
As a builder and designer I struggle with these issues….and I can tell you in order to make a non toxic home we might have to go back to deer skin teepees. Longevity is to defy rot….to defy rot is to be toxic or expensive; a paradox of sorts.
I strive to make healthy buildings, I strive to make them affordable and lasting. I strive to not be a hypocrite and a liar…..