Alan’s response to Janet, on the renovation of Apartment #1807

I’m not a fanatic by nature, and I’m really uncomfortable being a scold.  But to be a green builder requires being both.

That’s because for every way to do something green, there are fifty ways to fall short.  Fifty ways to do it faster, more conveniently, more conventionally, and, in many cases, cheaper.  Some, unfortunately, are more glamorous or trendy.  It is fair to say that temptations abound.


The Temptation of Saint Anthony, by David Teniers II

The most difficult challenges are when an impulse for certain architectural elements conflict with a purely green approach.  For example, a large, unsheltered window to the west, to obtain a beautify view, might burden the air conditioning system and cause a spike in the primary energy load.


Yet there are still consequences that derive from our decisions, which go beyond the bounds of any given project.  Those consequences go to the very nature of sustainability—which is simply a way of assessing what we do and what we create—in terms of whether it will compromise the ability of others who follow us to do the same.  Green building is the concept of the 7th Generation, put into action.

The best design may arise from the severest constraint, and the task of the green builder is create beautiful and comfortable spaces within the constraints imposed by sustainability.

Yet we are humans, and our pulse may quicken at the sight of some form or surface that is at odds with sustainability.  I have come to understand that when you seek to achieve absolute purity, to slay all evil, inevitably impurity and evil find a way to prevail—or even multiply.  Murphy’s Law stalks us around every bend, and unintended consequences are the rule and not the exception.  This is the human factor we struggle with.  Like a dieter, sometimes we must indulge in a little chocolate.

So that is the mindset I bring to my projects, and all this will come into play at #1807.

In my last post, I mentioned that sustainabililty is a mindset.

Ann Edminster, in a 2011 Green Building Advisor post “High Performance and Net Zero Homes” develops this concept, with revolutionary fervor, and no holds barred.


Ann Edminster, Green Building Advisor with a revolutionary mindset


Her thesis is that for the green builder, there is a hierarchy of tools for transforming how we design and build.

There is an ironic overtone to this passive house geek, in that Edminster places “mindset” at the top of the list, and energy modeling and technology at the bottom.


Ann Edminster graphic

Green Builder’s Change Toolkit







Sandy Wiggins


Last night, I had the honor and deep pleasure to host a “Beer Talk” (a monthly soiree dedicated to sustainability and green building, created by architect Bill Hutchins), where Sandy Wiggins gave a presentation featuring the redevelopment of the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center.  Hard Bargain had committed to using the Living Building Challenge as a guiding methodology, and the Center decided to host an extensive four day charrette to create a preliminary design.

Sandy’s story centered around the “hard bargains” that were an essential part of the process, and the inspiration that resolved a seemingly intractable dispute over the siting of new structures on the farm.  The inspiration came when one of the participants was so angry and frustrated with the process, that he left the charrette to wander the site.  The Aha! moment came from contemplating a patch of moss, and the realization that as life forms adapt to specific environments, so to can designers adapt their buildings to sun or shade–even within the rigorous demands of the Living Building Challenge.

The underlying theme of Sandy’s presentation was this:  that the greatest task we have as designers and builders–and as those who commission and inhabit our buildings–is to be aware that every decision we make has consequences that impact our environment and our future on this planet.

Thank you Sandy!



wilson head shot


Alex Wilson, founder of Environmental Building News, and more recently, the Resilient Design Institute, has through the years been one of my primary influences. You could say it is a sort of love-hate relationship, because Alex has always been ahead of the pack, taking on issues that continually shake up my faulty assumptions and bad habits.

In his current posting on The Green Building Advisor blog, Wilson reflects on some work he completed on his own home. His observations affirm my own conclusion: if it ain’t affordable, it ain’t sustainable.

Alex Wilson - Exterior of Dummerston house - cropped

Alex Wilson’s home in Dummerston, VT–the subject of a deep energy retrofit



Architect Steve Mouzon

Architect Steve Mouzon is a proponent of New Urbanism–not only as a means to “livable”–and as he puts it, “lovable” homes and communities–but also as a means to sustainability . His thoughtful blog post on Earth Day 2014 is worth reflecting on:—lean-is.html