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How to Choose a Green Builder

Become an Expert to Select an Expert

Rather than throw yourself at the mercy of a green builder's preferences and suggestions, pre-load yourself with opinions about the materials and techniques you want used. Knowing the lingo will allow you to better vet builders. How intelligently and honestly can a builder discuss, for example, your desire to install radiant heat flooring or use plastic lumber for your deck, or substitute fly-ash for cement?

Here's a sampling of some basic green building terms you should know to talk shop with potential green contractors:

  • Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA): The LCA of the materials you use takes into account the entirety of their lifespan, from extraction or creation, to installation and use, to eventual decomposition or recycling. For example, wool carpet and composite marble get terrible LCA ratings, while ceramic tile with recycled glass and cork flooring get better marks [source: Bower].
  • Sustainable Design: Though the term can be an umbrella for all stages of green building, it specifically refers to how a building interfaces with the environment surrounding it.
  • Efficiency: Another big topic, efficiency generally refers to minimizing the use of energy, water and materials.
  • Waste Reduction: What percentage of a builder's materials ends up in landfills? Has the builder considered donating extra wood?

Lastly, check to see if your prospective green builder works in a green office space herself. Ask about the energy efficiency and materials sustainability of that work space. Is the space LEED certified? What green techniques did the builder use in the construction of his or her own home? These questions should show how committed he or she is to the idea of building green.