Beginner's Guide to Eco Friendly Building: 1, 2, 3... GO GREEN!


This month we've shared some of our favorite green products to fill our homes. Now here's an easy 1, 2, 3 beginner's guide to GREEN building...

ONE TERM to learn:

LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. An internationally recognized suite of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes and neighborhoods.

Founded in 1998 with the intention of helping builders and home dwellers find ways to be environmentally responsible and resource-efficient, LEED's ranking system is out of 100 possible points that spread across 5 major categories ( Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality) plus bonus points for Innovation in Design and Regional Priority. It sets the standard for those who strive to rise in the ranks to the highest level of GREEN design.


In 2006 NYC's first Gold Level LEED certified project was completed by architect Norman Foster (above). The skyscraper just happened to be Hearst Publishing headquarters in Manhattan's Upper West Side, home to many of the world's most illustrious magazines, including House Beautiful, Town & Country and The Oprah Magazine. The 1929 stone foundation was topped with 46 stories of recycled steel, seamlessly blending two building vernaculars into 1 near perfect structure.

In 2009 when Manhattan's Cooper Union opened 41 Cooper Square (below) designed by Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis and housing classrooms, lounges, laboratories and an auditorium, it was awarded the Platinum LEED certification.   


1) Eric Corey Freed, building in and on the tradition Frank LLoyd Wright’s organic architecture, created his San Francisco based firm organicARCHITECT in 1997 with an eye to a new approach for building. Author of Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies he helped develop the Sustainable Design programs at both the University of California Berkeley Extension and the Academy of Art University. Despite hitting the lecture circuit hard he still finds the time to offer easily accessible consulting services for homeowners willing to pay by the hour for his expertise.

Every angle of Freed's Suncatcher House is designed for optimal climate control.

2) William McDonough received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development—America's highest environmental honor—and alongside Brad Pitt (he just happens to love architecture as much as we do) helped found the Make It Right Foundation. Their efforts helped create homes for Hurricane Katrina victims that are green, storm-resistant, and affordable.


McDonough reworked Ford Motor's Rouge River plant in Dearborn, Michigan. He added skylights and wood floors, minimized ductwork, and a created a 10-acre vegetative rooftop that provides eco friendly thermal and acoustic insulation.


1) Recycled, Reclaimed, & Repurposed...

Because the greenest choice in materials are those that already exist: Go for wood & paper and glass products on their 2nd go 'round. Reclaimed wood, recycled glass or paper countertops are abundant, sustainable, and as practical as any material one could ask for, as are reclaimed wood floors. Recycled newspaper insulation for your walls and attic is another fantastic and totally doable solution for keeping a green house. Treated with non-toxic boric acid the paper is insect resistant and fire retardant. North Carolina

The patina of aged wood used as countertops and flooring adds more depth and richness to a room than any amount of embellishment.

Boasting a soapstone-like appearance and feel, recycled paper countertops have the added advantage of being bound together by non-petroleum based resins and pigments. Maintenance is easy for this non-porous surface, but it's not heat tolerate above 350 degrees, so trivets are a must.

Bio-Glass by CaraGreen

Recycled glass is beautiful and green and available in a vast array of colorful countertops, but it is not as durable as other materials so you'll need to keep a cutting board handy to protect your slightly precious surface.

2) Wool Bricks & Paper Concrete...

Not yet mainstream but based on an idea whose time has come, these materials remind us that the whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. Wool bricks were pioneered in Britain for use as a sustainable, non-toxic, locally abundant building material... Concrete can be quite green when poured on site and if recycled paper or glass is used to as aggregate—the chemistry of cement is quite forgiving so be creative with your filler.

Why we love these unconventional building blocks: The wool dries hard so there's no wasted energy as there is with traditional bricks that require firing and they're said to be considerably stronger than their clay counterparts.

3) Buy the Best...

Whether you're building new or retro-fitting, create a lean, mean, energy-efficient machine by taking note of what every surface of your home is made from. Look beyond the floors and walls and countertops and consider a big budget for windows and roofs, where the bulk of the air in your home escapes. Sleek, state-of-the-art materials will pay off in spades, extending the life of your house as they lower your bills. Go green and you'll save the green!


If triple-glazed, krypton-injected windows are available to you, get them. Go for double-glazed at the very least. Argon is also a better choice than the less dense nitrogen filling in most panes.

McKinney York Architects

Metal roofs cost but they will increase your home's energy efficiency and decrease ambient air temperature which is a benefit to everyone. They are often made of from up to 25% recylced materials and are 100% recyclable when removed. Say good-bye to energy absorbing dark building materials. Stay light and be cool.

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    • Roxie Mae Lackman