Green Building & Remodeling For Dummies®


by Eric Corey Freed




About the Author

Eric Corey Freed is an architect, lecturer, and writer based in San Francisco, California, with 15 years of experience in green building. He is a practitioner in the tradition of organic architecture, first developed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Eric is founder and principal of organicARCHITECT, part architecture firm, part think tank. In addition to designing award-winning green buildings, the firm publishes its research and produces the annual organicAWARDS ( to recognize designs that are both innovative and environmentally responsible.

During Eric’s early years working in his hometown of Philadelphia and in New York City, noted architect and critic Philip Johnson cited Eric as “one of the real brains of his generation.” After several years in Santa Fe, New Mexico, working with natural building materials, he moved to San Francisco in 1997 to join the heart of the green building movement.

In 2002, he was Founding Chair of Architecture for the San Francisco Design Museum, the exhibits of which were featured in Metropolis, ARTNews, and Newsweek. In 2005, San Francisco magazine named Eric the city’s “Best Green Architect.”

Eric teaches in the Sustainable Design program he co-developed at the Academy of Art University and the University of California, Berkeley. He is on the boards of Architects, Designers & Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), Natural World Museum, Green Home Guide, and West Coast Green, as well as the advisory boards of nearly a dozen other organizations.

A much sought-after lecturer, Eric speaks extensively around the United States, giving nearly 50 talks a year, and consults directly to large companies seeking to transition into sustainability.

His monthly column, Ask the Green Architect, is published by GreenerBuildings and syndicated to dozens of other publications. He is a regular columnist for LUXE Magazine and his work has been featured in Dwell, Natural Home, Newsweek, and Town & Country, among others.

Eric loves talking with people about design and the environment. For more information on his work and activities, visit or contact Eric directly at



This book is dedicated to my beautiful wife, Laurie. If you wish to “be the change you wish to see in the world” it helps to have someone with whom to share your vision. I strive to make the world a better place for her.

This book is also dedicated to my dad, my first mentor.


Author’s Acknowledgments

A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.

—Albert Einstein

As a teacher and mentor, I am fortunate to meet hundreds of students a year. Their questions, enthusiasm, and energy inspire me each day.

I am privileged to work with some of the most fun and passionate people who contributed their research and ideas to this book: Joey Becker, Lamia Bensouda, Sara Buck, Hannah Hunt, Elisa Kim, Tanya Lee, Amie Lewis, Liz Maquire, Emily Naud, Emily Privot, Jessica Resmini, David Waldorf, Marita Wallhagen, and Drew Wentzel.

Building Green ( is a daily and invaluable resource, and I drew heavily on their insight and expertise.

The following people must be thanked by name, (and you can just assume they know what they did to deserve mention): Nick Aster, Chris Bartle, Nicole Cassani, Howard Chambers, James DeKoven, Gabrielle Fladd, Gil Friend, Stacey Frost, Jennifer Gadiel, Matt Golden, Christi Graham, Jeff Hamaoui, Ryan Hamilton, Zem Joaquin, David Johnston, Miriam Karell, Hunter Lovins, Joe Lstiburek, Willem Maas, Tyler Manchuck, Joel Makower, William McDonough, Laura Rodormer, Michael Sammet, Amy Sagalkin, Richard Silver, Mark Singer, Arthur Young, Dennis Yanez, and Jerry Yudelson.

I would particularly like to thank my editor, Elizabeth Kuball, for being such a strict taskmaster and keeping me on schedule through a strategy of fear and intimidation. The staff at Wiley Publishing, Inc., is incredibly impressive and I am appreciative of their dedication.

This book could not have been possible without my clients, the generous patrons providing the canvas on which I paint.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

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Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Elizabeth Kuball

Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

Copy Editor: Elizabeth Kuball

Technical Editor: David M. Handman

Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker

Consumer Editorial Supervisor and Reprint Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Assistants: Erin Calligan Mooney, Joe Niesen, Leeann Harney, and David Lutton

Cover Photos:

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Lynsey Osborn

Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers, Shane Johnson, Barbara Moore, Laura Pence, Christine Williams

Proofreaders: Laura L. Bowman, Cynthia Fields, Jessica Kramer

Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Special Help: Reuben W. Davis, Melissa K. Jester

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : The Need for Green

Chapter 1: Going Green

Understanding Why Green Matters

Looking at Cost in a New Way

It Is Easy Being Green: Steps to a Green Building

Location, Location, Location: Choosing a Site for Your New Green Home

Designing Your Way to a Better Green Home

Following the Rules

Picturing the Perfect Green Room

Chapter 2: Green Building in an Organically Grown Nutshell

Playing the Name Game

Green Building: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Envisioning the Total Green Building

Looking at the Pros and Cons of Green Building

Chapter 3: Remodeling with a Green Eye

Deciding Whether to Remodel

Planning Your Remodel

Surviving Your Remodel

Chapter 4: Working with Building Professionals

Identifying the People You Need on Your Team

Finding Green Professionals

Getting Certified: Looking at Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

Part II : Paying Attention to Material Matters

Chapter 5: Looking at a Material’s Life Cycle: From Cradle to Grave

Looking at Life Cycle

Understanding the Effort That Goes into Materials

Being Clear about By-Products

Recognizing That There Is No Such Thing as Waste

Talking to Manufacturers about Any Material

Putting Standard Materials to the Life Cycle Test

Looking to Trusted Green Certification Programs When Shopping for Materials

Chapter 6: Material Opportunities: From Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle: Designing Like Nature

Setting Priorities and Goals for Your Home

Remodeling an Old Home with Green Materials

Finding Green Materials

Knowing Whether Manufacturers Are Telling the Truth

Chapter 7: Green Finish and Construction Materials

Identifying the Dangers in Traditional Finishes

Hidden Materials: What’s Behind the Walls


Floor Finishes


Other Finishes


Exterior Finishes and Trim

Remodeling: Bringing Old Materials to Life

Part III : Green Building Methods

Chapter 8: Framing Things Up

Traditional Wood Framing

Engineered Lumber

Advanced Framing Techniques

Heavy Timber

Steel Framing

Chapter 9: Natural Building Methods

Straw Bale


Rammed Earth


Pneumatically Impacted Stabilized Earth



Ceramic Earth

Chapter 10: Manufactured Building Methods

Structural Insulated Panels

Insulated Concrete Forms

Part IV : Green Building Systems and Site Planning

Chapter 11: Energy Systems

Our Growing Energy Need

Global Warming

Renewable Energy Systems

Introducing Energy Efficiency

Chapter 12: Heating and Cooling Systems

Mechanical Systems

Natural Methods

Conservation Techniques

Chapter 13: Water and Waste Systems

Conserving Water

Reusing Water: The Controversy over Graywater

Harvesting Rainwater

Cleaning Your Water

Chapter 14: Landscaping and Site Planning: Going Green in the Great Outdoors

Placing Your Home on a Site

Using the Natural Environment to Bring Beauty to Your Home

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 15: Ten Common Myths about Green Building and Remodeling

Green Buildings Always Cost More Than Traditional Buildings

Green Materials Are More Expensive

Green Buildings Take Longer to Build

Green Buildings Look Like Mud Huts or Rice Cakes

Green Buildings Offer No Economic Advantage

One Building Doesn’t Make a Difference to the Environment

Nobody Cares Whether a Building Is Green

Green Buildings Are Just Buildings with Recycled Materials

Green Buildings Are Fragile and Require More Maintenance

You Can’t Have High-End Design in a Green Building

Chapter 16: Ten Green Things to Do on Every New-Home Project

Turn toward the Sun

Use Recycled-Content Drywall

Stuff the Walls with the Right Kind of Insulation

Choose Healthy Paints

Change Your Concrete Mix

Pick the Right Toilet

Heat Your Water with the Sun

Recycle Construction Waste

Choose Your Carpet Carefully

Watch Your Plywood

Chapter 17: Ten Green Materials You Can’t Live Without

Recycled-Paper Countertops

Recycled Glass Terrazzo

Recycled-Glass Tiles

Eco Resin Panels

Kirei Board

Earthen-Clay Plaster

Bamboo Flooring

Linoleum Flooring

Cork Flooring

Recycled Denim Cotton Insulation

Chapter 18: Ten Green Things You Can Do in Your Home Right Now

Replace Your Old Appliances with New Energy-Efficient Ones

Buy a Water Filter instead of Bottled Water

Install Water-Saving Devices in Your Bathroom and Kitchen

Install a Solar-Powered Clothes Dryer (a.k.a., a Clothesline)

Insulate in Normally Forgotten Locations: Pipes, Water Heater, and Attic

Go Green with Your Yard

Convert Your Wood-Burning Fireplace to a Gas Fireplace

Weatherize Your Windows and Doors

Make Your Heating and Cooling Work Better

Switch to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs and Install Occupancy Sensors

Appendix: Resources

Locating Green Materials

Finding Rebates and Incentives

Identifying Green Product Certifications

: Further Reading


Our grandchildren will look back at this time in history, this push toward a sustainable world, as the moment of the greatest opportunity, excitement, and challenge in human history. As you read this book, you won’t be able to help but get caught up in this feeling. You’ve heard about green building, maybe even read books and magazines about various homes with a green focus. Now is the time to plan your green dream home and discover the art of building in a responsible manner.

As you learn more about green building, you may start to have feelings of guilt. After all, the act of building is disruptive. Building a home, even a green home, uses materials, resources, and energy, and it produces waste. This is inevitable. And there is no perfect green material — all materials will have some impact on our planet. But don’t beat yourself up about what you can’t control; instead, focus your energy on what you can control.

For thousands of years, human beings built their homes out of natural materials, using the sun to heat and cool, and harvesting the rainwater for other uses. We can learn from our past to understand how to build our future. In fact, in the future, I believe that all buildings will be green buildings.

Whether your green dream home is a simple remodel, or a multi-million-dollar mansion, Green Building & Remodeling For Dummies is for you. Instead of making you feel guilty about the environment, this book guides you step by step toward selecting the finishes, systems, and structure to make your dream a reality.

About This Book

Building or remodeling a home is a stressful, expensive, and exhilarating experience. Countless details and decisions go into design and construction. This book is not a comprehensive guide to building or remodeling your home. Several other For Dummies books are far better at covering those topics in greater detail. But if your interest is in green building and remodeling, and examining the issues, costs, and considerations surrounding it, this book provides all the answers you need — a wonderful, easy-to-use reference you can take with you anywhere.

Although dozens of books have been written about green building, most are targeted at professionals already interested in green building, while others assume that readers have some experience with it. Part of the reason I chose to write this book was to create this missing piece — a book targeted at normal people wanting to green their homes, but not having any idea where to start.

I divide this book into five parts, each targeting a different area of understanding in building a green home. Each chapter is broken down into specific topics, each exploring the various issues and questions that will arise in looking at your own home. For example:

bullet The various people you’ll need on your team, from architects to financing people

bullet How to develop a set of priorities for the materials you choose, including wading through the endless choices available

bullet How certain construction methods influence your design

bullet Comprehensive advice on how to budget these features into your home, and ways to save money in the process

The wonderful design of the For Dummies series is that you decide how to read it. You can start to read from any point in the text, getting just to the information you need. The table of contents in the front and the index in the back help you find exactly the information you want.

Conventions Used in This Book

I use the following conventions throughout the text to make everything consistent and easy to understand:

bullet All Web addresses appear in monofont.

bullet New terms appear in italics and are closely followed by an easy-to-understand definition. Everything is in plain English to make it accessible.

bullet Bold text indicates keywords in bulleted lists or highlights the action parts of numbered steps.

When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that I haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.

What You’re Not to Read

This book was carefully written so you can easily find and understand everything you need to know about green building and remodeling. I know you’re busy and don’t have time to read every single word, so I’ve designed this book so you can identify the stuff to skip over. Unless you’re trapped in a remote mountain cabin, please feel free to skip the following:

bullet Text in sidebars: Those shaded boxes that appear from time to time in the book are called sidebars. These include fun, extra asides in case you’re looking for more detail. But they’re nothing essential or required to make your home green.

bullet Anything with a Technical Stuff icon: This information is interesting, but a little nerdy, so if you skip it, it’s not the end of the world.

bullet The tiny text on the copyright page: Do you really care about the pub-lisher’s address? I don’t either. Skip it unless you want to test your eyesight.

Foolish Assumptions

Throughout the writing of this book, I had only you (the gentle reader) in mind. Don’t be alarmed, but here’s what I assumed:

bullet You’ve already heard about green building, and you are interested in it enough to buy this book.

bullet You’re not a hippie, but you probably recycle.

bullet You don’t want to live in a mud hut.

bullet You either own, or are thinking about buying, a hybrid car.

bullet You want to improve your home through remodeling, adding on, or building something new.

bullet You’re not a lottery winner, and you have real concerns about cost and budget. You need and want to make well-informed decisions regarding the budget and the long-term costs of operating your home.

bullet You’re willing to be realistic and accept certain realities about cost, availability, and the environment.

bullet You’re aware of the environmental issues facing our planet. You know that global warming, air and water pollution, and an energy crisis are all real problems that need to be addressed.

bullet You don’t want to feel guilty about your own impact on the environment — you’d rather do something positive to better it.

How This Book Is Organized

This book is divided into five parts. Feel free to jump to any part you want! The following sections explain what you’ll find and where it will be.

Part I: The Need for Green

This section begins by defining what makes a building green. In order to understand green building, you first need to understand the huge impact buildings have on our planet; Chapter 2 covers this, as well as identifying the hidden opportunities in any building. Because you probably already live in a house, Chapter 3 discusses remodeling issues and ways to add value to your existing home. Before you start a construction project, you’ll need to put a team together, and Chapter 4 explains how to find good professionals.

Part II: Paying Attention to Material Matters

This section is the core lesson in materials. Beginning with exploring the entire life of materials in Chapter 5, you see how to analyze any material or product for its green qualities. Chapter 6 explores an innovative way to create new sustainable materials and talks about how to choose between the various choices out there. In Chapter 7, I get into the details of a green house, from the walls to the floors and everything in between.

Part III: Green Building Methods

This part focuses on construction methods. I cover framing in Chapter 8, natural building in Chapter 9, and manufactured systems in Chapter 10. Don’t worry, though: I evaluate the pros and cons of each system I introduce, allowing you to make the decision about what’s right for your own home.

Part IV: Green Building Systems and Site Planning

This part offers a detailed look at the wonderful world of the sustainable systems that go into a building. Chapter 11 begins with the variety of energy systems available. After this come the heating and cooling systems that keep you and your family comfortable, explored in Chapter 12. The last type of systems, water systems, are discussed in Chapter 13. And Chapter 14 covers the landscape and orientation of the building, where you’ll see there is more to landscape than just grass.

Part V: The Part of Tens

Because green building is so misunderstood, Chapter 15 gives you ten of the most common misconceptions people have regarding green building. Chapter 16 explains the things you should do for every green building project. You may start drooling when you read Chapter 17 and the ten green materials you can’t live without. Finally, plan your weekend projects with Chapter 18’s list of ten things you should do right now in your own home.


The appendix is a helpful reference guide. From sources to find green materials, respected green certification, and detailed information on the LEED Green Building Rating System, the appendix covers information you’ll want to have handy.

Icons Used in This Book

To make this book easy to read and simple to use, I include these helpful icons to help you find the key ideas and information:

Discover ways to protect the health of you and your family wherever you find this icon.

This icon highlights information that’s so important you’ll want to remember it later.

Although this information may be fascinating, it’s not critical to your understanding of the subject. Unless you’re feeling like an overachiever, feel free to skip it.

Using expert advice and real-world experience, these tidbits save you time and money — and preserve your sanity!

Avoid costly mistakes by following the sage advice next to this icon.

Where to Go from Here

Everything in this book is organized as an independent topic, so you can jump to just that section and understand it completely. If you already understand the reasons why you should build green, but you don’t understand green materials, jump ahead to Chapter 5 to find out about analyzing materials. Unsure what solar panels really do? Flip to Chapter 11 to explore all the energy systems. Even if you’re just looking for quick tips on what you can do in your current home right now, turn to Chapter 18 for a complete list.

If it all sounds interesting and you’re not sure where to begin, you’ll enjoy Part I. It gives you a firm foundation in understanding the issues around green building and remodeling. From there, skip around to the areas that interest you.

Finally, give yourself a pat on the back for doing your part to save our environment. Small steps you can take in your own building or remodeling project can reap major rewards for you, your family, and the planet.

Part I

The Need for Green

In this part . . .

I begin this part by defining what makes a green building. In order to understand how green building and remodeling works, you need to understand the huge impact buildings have on our planet; Chapter 2 covers this subject, as well as identifying the hidden opportunities in any building. Chapter 3 discusses remodeling issues and ways to add value to your home. Finally, before you start a construction project, you need to put a team together; Chapter 4 explains how to find good professionals for your team.