Giving green building a chance: Sustainable builders see the forest, save the trees with ingenuity
Gerard Marichal and Joseph Fowler have heard all the reasons not to go green when remodeling or building. It’s too expensive, it takes too long, I didn’t vote for Obama.
And for every excuse, the owners of Forest Design Build have multiple reasons to choose environmentally-friendly materials, building and construction. There’s a truly healthy home, the preservation of natural resources and what Fowler calls “the warm fuzzy feeling” of doing the right thing. The duo have countless residential and commercial projects under their tool belts and are convinced the road to green living starts with just a few simple steps.
Most of the clients contacting Marichal and Fowler do their homework, choosing a sustainable company to do their project. They know the benefits of a healthy home (no migraines, less allergies and asthma) and are willing to look at a remodel or new build through a green lens, reusing items and buying as much as possible from local vendors. It’s the prospective clients, the ones who are all but convinced green building isn’t for them that Marichal and Fowler go through the process with.
“Often the greenest thing to do is not tear it down,” Fowler says. “Green construction doesn’t mean going off the grid.”
The team is working in a 1,700 square foot home on a corner lot in West University, a bedroom community in Houston, that has sat vacant for 10 years, creating a neighborhood eyesore. Rather than remove it, Marichal and Fowler discovered enough good in the house to maintain the basic structure, eliminating off-gassing, the emission of especially noxious gasses often associated with new construction and typical materials like carpet, insulation and plywood.
“It takes four to five years for new construction to stop off-gassing, so with older homes you don’t have to worry so much about that,” he says. Urea formaldehyde is the most common culprit found in materials and Fowler says there is no reason consumers should have that in their homes when there are formaldehyde-free options.
One of the biggest myths about green remodeling is the expense involved. Marichal says people often think it’s 20 percent more than typical construction, but he and Fowler are big believers in repurposing items to save money. The start of a remodel job can take a few extra days because everything that comes out of a house is taken out carefully, separated into piles (reuse, recycle and trash) and then cleaned and prepped for future use.
“You spend a little more time, saving money and not spending on new materials,” Marichal says. “You have to go into it thinking how we can use this or that. It’s changing a mentality and not about instant gratification.”
Wood from one job was milled and turned into cabinet doors, while bulletproof glass from a bank turned car wash on Richmond became coffee tables. They etched the sides of the glass to make it look nicer and saved it from a landfill.
Both men get a dreamy look in their eyes when describing aged wood that has taken on a rich caramel hue with time or the strength of old wood that is as valuable in 2011 as it was 60 years ago. The real struggle comes from changing the industry as a whole. Time is money after all.
“The biggest hurdle for us is to retrain builders who are used to doing the day-to-day operations the same way,” Fowler says. “Ask your builder about green materials to lessen the carbon footprint, and they may get annoyed with you, but at least you just educated your builder.”
Even if there’s not a major remodel in your future, Fowler and Marichal say there’s lots of way to make a big impact on a home space starting with using non-toxic paints and materials like wool carpet instead of fiber and Silestone and IceStone for countertops. Putting in sky lights and solar tubes, reclaiming rain water and water from air conditioning units and buying locally are other fairly basic ways to add some green to living and work spaces. The attention to healthy materials has caught the eye of businesses like Define Body & Mind, One Green Street, The Green Painter and New Living.
It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of environmental dedication, but Fowler and Marichal don’t want people to get too bogged down in the details.
“See what’s important to you and have reasonable expectations,” Fowler says. “That’s the best way to have healthier, more efficient, sustainable homes.”