Two decades from now, new homes may be so uniformly efficient
and environmentally friendly and that the term "green" will no
longer mean much.
But today, homes with that label are one of the few hot trends in
an otherwise moribund industry. While that has given some builders
a much-needed niche, it is spurring others to apply the term with
little to back it up — a problem known as "greenwashing"
that's been spreading throughout the building products
At least, that's a common complaint among advocates, who say they
fear the ever-more-widespread use of "green" confuses and misleads
"Some of these builders are putting that on as tagline, when all
they might be doing is putting in compact fluorescent light bulbs
and Green Label carpet," says Drew Smith, a founding member of the
Florida Green Building Coalition and president of Two Trails Inc.,
a green building consulting firm near Bradenton. "It's becoming
extremely annoying, and it's really annoying to the builders who
doing it right."
doesn't look any different than a conventional home, so buyers are
at the mercy of their knowledge and a builder's marketing efforts.
And builder's themselves who are interested in green building
products rely on the honest marketing of manufacturers. The
potential for greenwashing is high, and the only valid assurance
seems to be in independent, third-party inspection that can verify
that what's been done will actually provide a green
At the heart of the issue is fact that there is no accepted
definition for "green" in the building industry or beyond. The term
arguably accurately describes energy efficiency, water-conserving
building components, products made from local or recycled
materials, so-called "healthy" materials such low-VOC paints, and
many other products or services. More confusing still, seemingly
"green" products or techniques may come up short if used
improperly. Concrete, for example, can be green or not, depending
on how it is made, how far it is trucked to the job site, and its
application in a home.
"Even the most environmentally friendly product, if it is applied
incorrectly, is not green," says Dennis Creech, executive director
of the Atlanta-based Southface Energy Institute, an education and
That said, Creech and other advocates insist there is an evolving
consensus within the industry on the meaning of "green building"
and "green home." The bottom line: the term implies a system rather
than single product or design choice — and a suite of
environmental and human health benefits rather than a single one.
"People want an easy solution to a complex problem, and there's not
going to be an easy solution. That's why greenwashing is so
appealing," Creech explains. "What green design is really about is
looking at a site, looking at the parameters you have on that site,
and customizing environmental solutions."
Smith says he tells builders they can go a long way toward truly
green homes by focusing on energy and water efficiency, but other
consultants may rank offsetting carbon emissions as a higher
priority. Fortunately for the practical-minded, there is definitive
hel. While there are no nationally adopted standards, dozens of
advocacy organizations have developed green home certification
programs that contain checklist requirements, including national
ones such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
for Homes and state-based programs such as Vermont Builds
As for which programs are most reliably green, Smith and Creech
agree that there are many certification programs out there, but the
most important part of any program is an independent third-party
verification — an outside inspection verifying compliance
with green requirements. Creech said the problem isn't that the
builders who opt into certification programs try to cheat; rather,
with so many subcontractors and so many materials, mistakes are
easy to make.
Creech notes that the green systems approach requires a seismic
shift in the building culture, with subcontractors focusing on not
only their own job but also on how they fit into the overall
scenario. "It's everyone understanding how their role fits into the
bigger picture." — Aaron Hoover
Tree surgeons may be able to prevent tree damage from high
Coastal builders who want to maintain the shade and aesthetics
of a leafy canopy without exposing home buyers to the risk of
falling trees in hurricanes may be able to offer a solution:
At least, that's what Ed Gilman's research suggests.
Gilman, a professor of environmental horticulture at the University
of Florida in Gainesville, studies the causes of tree falls from
the roots to the crown. Based on experiments involving wind
machines and young trees, he reports in a recent edition of the
journal Arboriculture & Urban Forestry that pruning can
significantly reduce how much tree trunks bow in strong winds
— if it is done correctly, which is often not the case.
"Unfortunately, so many trees are thinned by taking out
small-diameter interior branches," he says. "This is totally
inappropriate and increases the trees' vulnerability by shifting
their weight to the end of the branches."
Gilman and Forrest Masters, a UF assistant professor of civil and
coastal engineering, used an airboat-based wind machine to blast
twenty 20-foot live oak trees with winds of various speeds, with
maximum winds reaching 110 miles per hour. The oaks were pruned
using several different techniques or left in their natural state.
Sensors mounted at three different heights along their
6-inch-diameter trunks recorded how much the trees leaned over,
data that Gilman matched with recorded wind speeds.
His main conclusion: removal of 33% of a tree's foliage reduced its
wind-driven movement by more than half, slashing the risk of the
But the results come with a caveat.
Popular pruning methods known as "lions-tailing" and "crown
raising" were "ineffective" at reducing the amount of trunk
movement, according to the paper. Lions-tailing is the practice of
thinning small-diameter interior branches but leaving thicker ones,
while crown raising involves systematically removing a tree's lower
Hurricane winds from Katrina knocked over a huge tree, crushing
this home in southwestern Louisiana. Recent research has identified
ways to trim trees that might have eliminated the stress on the
tree that led to failure, and thus possibly averted the
There are several more protective pruning methods, Gilman
One is to cut any limbs that are significantly longer than most
other limbs, restoring the tree's center of gravity. Another is to
cut or reduce so-called "codominant stems," or stems so large they
compete with the trunk, for the same reason. A third is to thin the
outer edge of the tree canopy, reducing the size of its
Gilman noted that one of the best methods to ensure trees remain
upright in storms is unrelated to pruning. Whenever possible, he
says, builders should leave groups of trees standing rather than
removing all but one or two.
"You get groups of trees together, and they tend to direct the wind
around them," he says. "And they lean on each other during the
storm. They help each other out." —