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Why I became a green builder

By Jim LaRue

I was lying in bed on a summer night with rain falling on the metal roof of the home of my wife’s grandmother in mid-PA. The porches in front and back permitted us to leave windows open so we could smell the moist air, hear sounds of all kinds of creatures and for a while feel glad I lived on this earth.

For several years in my work teaching people how to rehab and build houses, a number of significant issues emerged because of the way we humans have treated the earth and used it. Our residences have gotten bigger and bigger and the cost of heating and cooling them more and more expensive even as the resources we use to do so continue to diminish. The materials we have created to do our buildings have required the use of all manner of chemicals many of which have proven to be hazardous to our health. Further health concerns are created by the products we bring into the home and how we use (or misuse) the heating/cooling equipment required.

We have done severe damage to environments as housing developments have emerged on land that once was farm land. More and more forests have expired in the face of the demand for wood products with little care for restoring these wooded sites. Water resources are diminishing and whole areas of our country are under threat of too little water to support all the demand by burgeoning development.

I awakened the next morning at grandmother’s house, wondering how we had strayed from the wonderful sensitivity to the ways of the earth reflected in her home. The windows on the front porch went nearly from floor to ceiling and when opened in combination with a few rear windows, provided significant cooling during hot summer days. In the cold weather, grandma hung her “winter drapes” over the windows that went from the floor to an enclosed valance that kept air from circulating in front of the windows and returning cold air back out into the room. In the warm weather, she hung her summer curtains that were light and airy and allowed plenty of air flow. All the bedrooms on the second floor had transom windows that opened like awnings and allowed both light and air from the bedroom windows to illuminate and ventilate the hallways and pass on to other rooms. Grandma took what nature gave her and adapted to take advantage of all its gifts, while we are always trying to control nature or hide from it as if it was the enemy.

It was on that evening many years ago that I started to change the way I did my building work. My children were asleep in the next bedroom and I began thinking of their future in a world in which we were indiscriminately using natural resources. I began to realize that the earth would recover and survive our ignorance, but that we humans might not survive our own indiscriminate damage of the earth. I decided it was time, for my children’s sake, to build and live in a sustainable manner like grandma did. We call it "green building" now, but grandma would have simply called it “living thoughtfully and gratefully”.

My “Greening Your Home” series is offered in this spirit.

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