With only some renovation experience under her belt, Anna Hackman put on the general contractor hat in 2003 in the construction of her ENERGY STAR house. Passionate about green building, she shares her experience and offers advice to those aspiring to build their own eco friendly house.
Was it a good experience? Can you tell me a little about it?
I loved building but most people don’t because you have to pick out everything, especially when you are in charge of building your own home. We didn’t have a builder that said you have three choices and pick one. At the time, we would never have been able to build the type of home I wanted with any builder. We had to hire a builder who was open to building the house we wanted.
In 2003, no one understood what it meant to build the house that we wanted. My builder used to call me the GC of green since it was my job to source what I wanted to use.
I love green building so it was a good experience for me. However, not everything was rosy. Subcontractors would show up with the wrong materials or didn’t bother to read the instructions on how to install products they had never used before.
How steep was the learning curve?
Extremely steep especially when you throw in the goal of building an energy-efficient, non-toxic house. At the time, no one knew what I was talking about so I was on my own to source building materials and looking up the chemicals in products.
Why did you choose to build an ENERGY STAR home over another option?
We would have built an energy efficient house anyways. What I liked about the ENERGY STAR program were the building requirements for air tightness and energy efficiency in order for the homeowner to be reimbursed for a portion of certain products. Thus, the subcontractors were given concrete guidelines how the house had to be built. ENERGY STAR representatives came several times to verify the house was built according to their guidelines. It was a great check-and-balance system.
LEED for Homes was not around when we built; otherwise I would have built a LEED home.
Why did you become a LEED AP and what did you learn from taking the accreditation program?
I became a LEED AP in 2010 so I could work on commercial projects. I really haven’t found many people in my area looking to build green homes, but more and more commercial buildings are becoming LEED certified.
Since my LEED accreditation is in new construction commercial buildings, I learned more about lighting, energy efficiency, and site development. There are more requirements for obtaining LEED certification in commercial buildings than in a home.
Do you have any advice for readers interested in building their own eco friendly house but who lack the experience?
Read, read, and read. There are many good books out there and you want to be knowledgeable so you can question what you are being told.
Realize building green is more expensive and you have to prepare a budget as to what you are willing to spend. I hear many people tell me they want to build a green house until they hear the cost. We probably spent 15 percent more on the green elements of the house.
Hire either a LEED-accredited architect or builder who has designed/built green homes since they will have more experience in guiding you through product selection. Get at least three recommendations for each and, in regards to a builder, also make sure to ask how hard it was to get him or her to come back to repair items in the home.
Don’t hesitate to hire an interior designer. Picking out every detail can be overwhelming and they can be quite helpful in picking out lighting, colours and much more.
Ask yourself if you have the stomach to build? It isn’t for the weak of heart since you have to pick out everything unless you hire a builder who limits your choices.
image: Photo Dean (CC BY-NC-ND)