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J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907

Green Building / FAQs


We can barely afford to build our home. Doesn’t green building just add more costs?
Yes, often the initial construction costs of building green are more expensive but long-term costs are typically reduced. There are also many ways to build green without significantly increasing construction costs.

  • Build on a lot within an existing neighborhood where all utilities are already available. Yes city land is typically more expensive. However, when the cost of septic systems, wells, propane tanks and connections to electric service are added in, those cost differences can quickly shrink. Also, in most instances there will also be long-term savings in transportation costs and commute time.
  • Base structure design on standard material dimensions to reduce waste.
  • Design floor plan so primary living spaces face south for heating & day-lighting reasons and use light colored interior finishes for improved day-lighting.

And there are ways to build green and reduce construction costs.

  • Design a home smaller than the current average size of 2,400sf. The average home size was 1,400sf in 1970. At the same time, the average household size has declined from 3.1 people in 1970 to 2.6 today. At a cost of $100/sf, the average size home will cost $233,000. Reduce that size by just 500sf and you’ve saved $50,000!
  • Advanced wall framing where stud spacing is increased from 16”oc to 24”oc reduces the number of studs required by one third.
    Centrally locate the heating/cooling system to reduce lengths of duct runs.
  • Again, start by taking time to think about what you’re building, how you’re building it and the impact of today’s decisions on long-term costs to you, your children and your neighbors.

I want to start building green. Where can I start?
Start by doing some additional research just as you are now. Check out the following websites that offer a wealth of information that’s easy to understand.

Monopoly house by Loozrboy.

If I paint my building green, does that qualify as green building?
Actually it can be that simple! If the paint itself is a non-toxic or low-toxic paint of which there are (3) types - natural Paints, zero VOC*, and low VOC. Paints, stains and other architectural coatings are the second-largest source of VOC emissions (see following question) after automobiles. Therefore simply by using a “green” paint you’re improving the air quality for the painter, the owner and the earth.
* Even Zero-VOC formulations contain some amounts of toxins.

paint cans

What are VOCs and why should I avoid such products?
VOCs are carbon compounds that evaporate at room temperature and react in sunlight to help form ground-level ozone, an integral component of photochemical smog. VOCs can cause respiratory, skin and eye irritation; headaches; nausea; muscle weakness; and more serious ailments and diseases, according to the EPA. Formaldehyde, a VOC commonly found in paint, is a probable carcinogen. The EPA has found that indoor concentrations of VOCs are regularly up to ten times as high as outdoor concentrations, and can climb up to a thousand times as high as outdoor concentrations when you are applying paint.

What is an Energy Star?
Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. Those appliances with the Energy Star rating meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and DOE. When shopping for new household products or a new home, look for ones that have earned the Energy Star. If you are looking to make improvements to your home, the Energy Star website offers tools and resources to help you plan and undertake projects to reduce your energy bills and improve home comfort.

What is the USGBC?
USGBC is an acronym for United States Green Building Council. It’s a non-profit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everyone within a generation. They developed the green building certification system known as LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

What is LEED?
LEED is the internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the United States Green Building Council. It provides third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most

  • Energy savings,
  • Water efficiency,
  • CO2 emissions reduction,
  • Improved indoor environmental quality,
  • Stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

LEED provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

What are some other green building certification programs?
In addition to LEED, others are:

What’s the rest of the world doing when it comes to green building?
Many countries have developed their own standards for green building. Programs include Green Star in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa; AQUA in Brazil; PromisE in Finland; DGNB in Germany; GRIHA in India; Protocollo Itaca in Italy; Green Mark in Singapore; and VERDE in Spain. LEED is also found in Canada, India and Mexico.


What is a net-zero building?
A net-zero building or ZEB (zero-energy building) is one that produces as much energy on-site as it uses. In theory such a building would not be connected to any outside utilities such as electric or natural gas. All energy needs for heating, cooling and lighting would be generated from within. However a net-zero building could be connected to the electrical grid and use power from the grid at peak energy times but return an equal amount during off-peak hours.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is sponsoring the Net-Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative. The goal is to achieve marketable net-zero energy commercial buildings by 2025. Refer to their website at to learn more about this exciting challenge.

What is embedded energy?
Embedded energy refers to the energy that is used in the process of extracting, refining, manufacturing and transporting your building materials. The lower the embedded energy of your building, the better. Example – wood reused from a structure (rather than simply disposing of it) has a low embedded energy.