Our Director of Environmental Initiatives had a favorite saying. “There’s no such place as away.” I get it. We’re all drowning in plastic. We poison our water and air. The Planet Earth documentaries make it clear humans leave a path of destruction wherever we roam. But we all need a place to live and there are less impactful ways to build homes, along with almost everything else we do as people and businesses and governments in 21st century America.
We put the “no such thing as away” into practice when we de-constructed part of the old Northstar-at-Tahoe base village. I have a plaque somewhere showing the ceremonial removal of the hands from the clock on the clocktower building. We didn’t use a wrecking ball. I don’t remember anything being demolished. We literally took the building apart piece by piece and there was a company in the Bay Area who was willing to buy all the raw materials and re-sell them. I was under the impression they had a massive junkyard somewhere in Oakland where small builders could come shop for secondhand supplies at a discount.
It’s cool to think you can re-use many of the parts and materials from an old building. I’ve certainly seen the high-end homes using century old recycled barn planks as trophy flooring. And I’ve also read the stories of thieves looting new construction sites for raw materials like copper. On the other hand, I have also seen many on-line of videos of old hospitals and hotels being blasted and destroyed and crumbling to earth in a cloud of dust.
I’m not sure where the breaking point is. I know one of the measurement criteria in obtaining green status for new construction is to eliminate waste created by recycling and to incorporate recycled materials.
The US Green Building Council awards buildings LEED certification based on levels of green. LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. There are different levels ranging from LEED certified to LEED platinum. The more elements you can incorporate into new buildings the higher up you can climb on the scale. It is a point of pride to achieve these standards and they’re not easy.
The problem with residential development though is I don’t think consumers will pay more to buy a LEED home even though it costs more to build, and costs to go through the certification process. We thought it was a compelling story for the Bay Area market in the early 2000s but while you might feature the story in the sales gallery it didn’t exactly translate into higher sales prices. It might have been a feel- good factor and a story that got people interested, but certainly not a negotiating point.
With a commercial building the scale of utility savings over the years in a green building can really add up but it doesn’t translate in a compelling way to smaller unit. In California at least it seems the government is already stepping in to accelerate requirements for green building on a smaller scale.
We did make one green build decision that back-fired big time. It was a classic example of “no good deed goes unpunished.” We used recycled rail ties that had been conserved at the bottom of the Great Salt Lake from the time of the transcontinental railroad as siding. Obviously, the ties were recovered and cut up to make a decorative and supposedly weather proof siding. It was green. It was a cool story. It was new.
But the siding didn’t perform exactly as the architects and builders planned and that created a field day for the construction defect attorneys that hijacked the HOA and created a massive lawsuit for the developer and insurance companies to defend. More on defect attorneys in a future blog. This fight got ugly.
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