GBlist: Question: Sustainable and healthy homes

Thomas J. Phillips (
Wed, 19 Feb 1997 13:40:03 -0800

Hi, Marc R. & Mike R.
I would just like to add to Marc's reply that the DOE Build America
program has developed system-engineered homes in a nation-wide demo
project. The have a few regional teams of builders making low-energy
(and reduced material) homes. I've heard that initial results showed
some major cost savings. Al Hodgson at Lawrence Berkeley Natl. Lab did
some indoor pollution measurments for them. Again, these may not be
totally "green" buildings, but they sound like a quantum leap toward
that goal. For more info, see Energy Design Update article in the last
1-2 years, or DOE; Joe Lstiburek is on one of the regional teams.

Other possible models: the American Lung Association has used Healthy
Homes (low-energy, low indoor pollution) in Minnesota and elsewhere now
as demo homes and as fund-raisers; the Habitat for Humanity homes sound
pretty efficient too.

DOE and others may have begun to plan the marketing of such homes (I
hope EPA gets involved). I thinks it's a great idea for long-term
environmental and health benefits, but those factors aren't dealt with
fairly in current accounting methods and home financing.

We have received a few calls from homeowners or builders interested in
new or retrofit HVAC systems to cope with their asthma or allergy
problems; these folks tend to have the money and incentive to build
healthful and green. However, the general housing market may need a
stronger push (utility/tax incentives, documented resale value
improvement, etc.).

The other general marketing problem I see is one of perception: you
can't see or smell many indoor pollutants, so why worry? you can't see
the forest ecosystem disappearing because of the lumber used in your
home, so why worry? Is it really worth the cost and hassle? In other
words, if it's not personal, it's just business.

To avoid negative press in the beginning, such as the rotten casein odor
from "organic" paint in a Berkeley house for chemically senstive
persons, the quality control needs to be first priority. Also, the
problem resolution and the public relations needs to be quick.

Before I end my lunch hour ramble, I should preach to the choir: no
matter how green the building is, the current practice of sprawling
single family homes will lead to increasing energy and resource use (and
pollution) by cars and other infrastructure. How do we merge green
building into land use/transportation paradigms?

Thomas J. Phillips                             AIR     {)   FOOD
Air Pollution Research Specialist                      /|\	
CARB/RD, Box 2815, Sacramento, CA 95812        WATER    |    SKIN
916.322.7145/4357 FAX,          _/ \_
This greenbuilding dialogue is sponsored by Oikos (
and Environmental Building News ( For instructions
send e-mail to