I didn’t set out to “build green”, by any means. I wouldn’t put that label on it, although I do have an overall ethic of building as healthy and low-impact as I can. I have an ethic of saving money that supersedes even that. It’s just turning out that I’m doing better than I expected, kinda by accident. Cheap and green can be congruent.
So far, the off-gassing, plastic, chemical, clearcut-sourced shit I’ve installed: the polyethylene vapour barrier, the plywood sub-floor (which will probably double as the floor-floor), and the fire retardants in the cellulose.
So far, to my eco-credit:
The insulation. Roxul is billed as an environmental choice, basically because there are just so many rocks out there. I suspect that the energy it takes to shred rocks into insulation is tremendous, though, and I’m not sure how it stacks up against fiberglass at the end of the day. I must do more research.
The pallet floor. Reused, removed from the garbage cycle, and repurposed as an alternative to concrete. Compared to pouring a slab of the worst kind of emission-heavy building material out there, my pallets earn me a little carbon-offset halo. Not to mention ‘crete is an oxygen sink, and sucks to walk on.
Floor again- the cellulose insulation. Surprise, when I started splitting the bags into the hopper, there was the three circling birds logo and the gloating “this product is 100% post-consumer recycled” statement. On the other hand, what chemicals do they soak it with so that it’s not ideal tinder for burning down your house? I don’t know- yet. Must research. Also if I had gone with the slab, it would have meant rigid styrofoam beneath it, and extruded polystyrene is bad, very bad. Shredded end-of-paper-cycle newsprint good. It’s even “rodent-resistant.”
My milled lumber. Interestingly, I wouldn’t have known about this at all if I hadn’t just read James Glave’s Almost Green, in which he describes at length the ordeal it is for him to get lumber marked as “sustainably harvested” by the FSC. When he noted that the only two mills in BC milling FSC lumber were 100 miles north of Idaho I thought hmm, that has to be the Kootenays, and when he mentioned they were owned by Tembec, I thought hmm, I wonder if Kalesnikoff is one of those two. That’s all it was, a thought. So then I’m tacking up poly when I come nose to stamp with a little bubble tree logo and the FSC imprint on the side of a stud, plain as anything. I just loaded up at the lumber yard like always, paid the usual, and hey, I wouldn’t have even known I had sustainable lumber without that book. I guess our proximity is just lucky. Local, sustainable, and that’s just what you get when you buy 2×6 around here. Nice.
Above all, reusing the barn in the first place. Glave’s put the phrase “embodied energy” in my head now, referring to the energy stored in something that exists. I used to call it “I think it’s unethical to build something all new when there’re so many perfectly good structures already standing that could be repurposed.” If you can create what you want out of something already there, sparing the manhour energy and inevitable waste of tearing it down, carting it to the landfill and burning it or letting it rot, not to mention avoiding the creation of a new footprint and the use of many new materials (ahem, clearcut), then it’s worth some design and efficiency compromises as you adapt to what’s there. Really.