Recently, I toured a 125-year-old home on the South Side of Chicago that will cost its owners about one-tenth as much to heat and cool as a typical Chicago home of its size. The difference is in the building envelope. An inexpensive, double-radiant barrier cuts heating and cooling loads by 40%. Low-E windows keep heat out in summer but let it in during winter. Soy spray-foam insulation achieves R-28 in the walls, and wet-spray and dense-pack cellulose are used for plumbing walls. The home exceeds Energy Star requirements by 80%.

Christina Koch According to the home's architect, Dave Hampton, owner of Chicago-based Echo Studio, building envelopes often are overlooked because they are not as sexy as the "green bling" commonly attributed to sustainability. But the value that comes from focusing on building basics–like keeping buildings tight and installing products properly–often tops the benefits from flashier products. Often, green building is just a case of using foresight and common sense, qualities that lumber executives have in abundance.

For example, during a meeting for the new Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center in Atlanta, the landscape architect suggested a signature water feature. The planning team was able to tap into a nearby line of nonpotable water from a waste water treatment plant. Mechanical engineers suggested the water feature be used as a heat sink and circulated through the building to assist with cooling. In addition, the nonpotable water flushes toilets and provides irrigation. The result: something meant to be aesthetic also boosted the building's bottom line by saving energy and water.

Think about buildings put up before there was air conditioning. Many were designed to take advantage of what Mother Nature provided. They were oriented east/west; rooms that required a lot of natural light faced south. Overhangs protected south-facing windows from the summer sun but in the winter, when the sun is low in the sky, let heat inside. These design techniques are coming back as part of the green building industry.

Every occupant of your building should know how to operate it. Create an instruction manual with drawings of equipment and where plumbing and electrical are located. Explain how to use thermostats and automated devices.

The amount of green building information can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. The United Nations' established definition of sustainability is "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Your foray into sustainability should be as simple as that.

–Christina Koch is editor in chief of eco-structure magazine (, a sister publication of ProSales. She can be reached at [email protected].

Green Products and Technology Magazine Debuts

Which green products are worth selling and which are just greenwash? What building techniques really make a difference? Dealers should find it easier to sort through this confusing new world with the help of Green Products And Technology, a sister publication to ProSales that debuts this month.

This new quarterly will feature case studies on innovative green home and best practices data. Along with the print publication, the initiative by Hanley Wood, LLC also will feature Green Products News, a biweekly e-newsletter that launches in February, and a Web site, In addition, Hanley Wood Exhibitions will stage a Green Products and Technology Expo in Austin, Texas, in October.