You’re about to get schooled

Green building doesn’t have to be hard: SN&R offers 10 lessons we’ve learned

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

The indecisive shall inherit a headache. Is that “green?” Or is that? Or, wait, maybe this? Who came up with the whole concept of green building, anyway—Nietzsche? Don’t allow the ambiguity of “green building” to morph you into Kermit the Frog on acid. Keep it simple by establishing end goals from the get-go. Do you want to lower your monthly electric bill, save money on construction costs, achieve LEED certification, generate on-site renewable energy, two of the above, maybe all of the above? Well, which is it? Decide and work backwards from there.

Procrastinators finish last. The hare lost the race to the tortoise because he diddle-dawdled until the last minute. “Oh, pardon me, let me just go nibble on some grass over there and catch a nap. OK, now I want the ultimate green building.” Not cool, hare! With green building, there’s no “fashionably late.” Go green early in the process so as not to miss out on decisions that require immediate action, such as site selection. Is your building located near public transportation? Will you orient the structure to promote optimal passive solar energy? Once done, some decisions cannot be undone, just as King Henry VIII couldn’t bring back his wife once he rudely chopped off her head.

Someone else is smarter than you. Hire architects and/or engineers with green-building experience, which will make the process much smoother, leaving you with plenty of time to twiddle your green thumbs and tend to your immense collection of Venus’ flytraps.

Best check it before you wreck it. People are primordially ingrained to make lists, because it’s a bona fide, God-given fact that we take immense pleasure in crossing items off them. Thus, I highly recommend using a green-building checklist for guidance, such as LEED or Build It Green’s GreenPoint Rated system.

Ask (for help) and you shall receive. Seek out incentives and fee waivers that remove barriers to your project. Go ahead and install a solar water heater or a solar photovoltaic system on your house: The city of Sacramento waived the fee. We’re also allowed to plant fruit trees and vegetable gardens in front yards, as recently approved by the city council. Hallelujah! Ask the Sacramento Tree Foundation for free trees and help grow our urban forest and reduce the heat island effect. Tap into SMUD to find out what rebates the utility provider offers.

It never ends. An eco-friendly building is an ongoing process of managing the building in a green manner. This requires the proper training of facilities-management staff, support of the building owner, education of occupants and a collective commitment. So don’t think you can take those long showers, leave lights on nonstop, throw away tons more than you recycle, replace your carpet every two seconds and then brag about living in a “green building.” It doesn’t work that way, mister!

We heart durability. Products that last a long, long time have “sustainable” written all over them, which is why we think durable products are just as important as recycled, renewable and locally sourced products.

Beware of cherry-picking. Not all green measures have the same eco-impact. Say you install a bike rack outside your business to earn a coveted LEED credit. Sorry to break it to you, but that bike rack won’t do anything to help the environment if employees never ride bikes to work. If you don’t have a five-billion-trillion-dollar budget, then choose wisely.

Retain an arm and a leg. There’s no need for green-building stuff to cost you these appendages. Try some low-cost measures. Place buckets under storm drains to collect runoff and use it to later water your lawn. Use low- or no-VOC and formaldehyde-free paint. Switch to dual-flush toilets to conserve water. Install ridiculously inexpensive “light shelves” to diffuse light. And even if you do pay more for materials, you’re buying a higher-quality product, and if you pay more for electrical and mechanical equipment, the paybacks will come rolling in like the homies down Broadway in a Chevy on Sunday evening.

Keep your head up, kid. People will criticize, nit-pick everything and find endless flaws in your writing style. As much as you’ll want to sit alone in your cubicle and pout, don’t let it bring you down. Oh, wait, never mind. What I meant to say is green building is admittedly confusing and frustrating. You’ll likely have moments of wanting to give up, being left with nothing more than a nagging feeling of utter failure and self-contempt. If it helps, know that we feel your pain. But eternal truth tells us something very interesting about the often misunderstood concept of pain: At some point, it stops hurting. And that’s when you’ll feel nothing but the most intense inner satisfaction that makes it all worth it. Right?