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Sunday, November 21, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ask the Expert / Darrell Hay

It's not easy building "green," but it's getting easier

Q: For years I have heard about "green" building techniques, yet I just don't see it happening in the marketplace. This is surprising. Why aren't there more developments devoted to these techniques? Is it an expense issue? Does the public not demand it?

A: Change may seem slow, but it is occurring, nonetheless. Many of the changes in the greater marketplace today are not necessarily obvious to the naked eye. More efficient lights, appliances, water heaters and heating units, windows and higher insulation levels are things you may not even notice while touring a home. Recycling and reducing extra materials on job sites are becoming critically important cost issues for builders — as well as good ideas.

The Puget Sound Energy Built Green{trade} Idea Home is in the Issaquah Highlands (www.issaquahhighlands.com). It's a great compilation of many of the ideas being used today by builders. No, we aren't seeing many two-story-high Trombe walls or roofs covered in solar arrays like we did in the 1970s, because the truth is, people still demand housing that is attractive, looks like any other home in the neighborhood and makes sense economically. Changes are occurring, but they are based in regulation, market demands and economics.

One project with which I am familiar is in the Columbia City historic district in South Seattle (www.raincityhomes.com/featuredhomes.html). Builder Graham Black, owner of g Projects, has incorporated many "green" techniques and materials into his development. But would the average person know this simply by walking into the building? Probably not. And that speaks well for how developers are meeting the challenge to make it green, but not "look green."

See whether you think some of the following items found in Black's project or the Issaquah Highlands demonstration home are overtly "green," or simply features you would like in your own home:

• Smooth fiber-cement siding massed to give the look of old-school cedar siding.

• Wet-sprayed cellulose insulation built up to R-49 in the ceiling. Cellulose is recycled newspaper (fire-treated, obviously). Fiberglass can be an irritant, at best. Sadly, cellulose insulation is the destiny of this column.

• Stained concrete flooring with hydronic radiant heat. Plenty of character, efficient, healthy, durable, warm on the feet — and did I mention cheap to build and maintain?

• Recycled brick and broken concrete (from an old building on site, and culled from other projects) used for retaining walls, stepping stones and planters. Stuff destined for the dump is even cheaper than cheap!

• Sunflower board, stained and sealed, used for flooring. Lots of character and color. When raw, it honestly smells like Safeco Field after a game.

• Cork/rubber flooring. This smells like a box of new Nikes. And it is good-looking, with a great surface for walking. Available at Environmental Home Center — which happens to be near Safeco Field (www.environmentalhomecenter.com).

• Bamboo flooring. A quick-growing, sustainable woody grass.

• Wool carpeting. I promise, no sheep jokes for ewe.

• An on-demand hot-water heater (tankless) provides energy savings and an endless hot shower, if desired, and takes up less space and lasts twice as long as a tank. In some cases, the hot-water system is the heating system, making for less maintenance and no dirty ducts or the associated efficiency losses.

• Engineered floor joists made from oriented strand board or OSB (in a huge number of homes today). Straight and true, quiet, and no large trees were destroyed.

• Dual-flush toilets. OK, I admit it — having a No. 1 and a No. 2 button on your toilet is a bit "green," but get used to it. It's the future.

• Circulating hot-water system reduces the amount of water wasted while waiting for hot to arrive. We're living large now!

• Paints and finishes with no toxic out-gassing.

• Drought-tolerant landscaping.

• Permeable pavers rather than hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. Yes, you mow the driveway. Reduces runoff and keeps the home cooler in summer.

• Humidistat-controlled bathroom fans rather than a timer or manual switch.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages several rental properties. He answers reader questions — call 206-464-8514 to record your question, or e-mail dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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