Ask the Green Architect: Builder Certification; Green Museums; $$ Incentives; Fireplace Alternatives

Ask the Green Architect: Builder Certification; Green Museums; $$ Incentives; Fireplace Alternatives

Green architect Eric Corey Freed answers your questions on sustainable building performance, materials, and design.

  • Green Builder Certification
  • Greening Museums
  • Financial Incentives
  • Fireplace Alternatives

    I have been building custom homes for the past 30 years and am very interested in becoming a "certified" green builder. In particular I am looking for accredited distance learning courses that would achieve this status.

    Given the surge in interest in green building, contractors are seeking ways to distinguish themselves from their competition while demonstrating their commitment to our environment.

    Luckily, several builder certification programs have emerged, though many are regional and only available to those in that area.

    Certification provides several benefits, including providing a recognized and established standard to measure green building services. Presumably, conscientious homeowners seeking to build a green home would seek out certified green builders.

    Check with your local Building Department to see if a Certified Green Builder Program is available.

    Explore these builder programs:

    U.S. Green Building Council
    Area: National
    COST: $250 members / $350 non-members
    While the USGBC does have their LEED Rating System for certifying buildings, they also offer a professional accreditation for those trained in the LEED Rating System itself. To become accredited, you simply need to pass the exam (which is on the LEED System, not on green building). Those who pass are awarded with a LEED Accredited Professional Certificate. More importantly however, a LEED AP on a project team will earn a valuable extra point in the LEED process.

    Energy Star Rated Builders
    Area: National
    COST: Free

    A division of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Star promotes superior energy efficiency. Contractors may become a certified Energy Star Partner by signing a partnership agreement, and agreeing to actively build new Energy Star qualified homes according to their guidelines.

    Austin Energy Green Building Program
    Area: Austin Metro Region
    COST: $35 for each program

    The City of Austin has been a pioneer in Green Building. Their Green Building Program is open to all building professionals. To join one must attend their Basics seminar, attend a minimum of two technical seminars and submit at least one Project Report per year.

    Build San Antonio Green
    Area: Texas Statewide
    COST: $100 members / $400 non-members

    Build San Antonio Green was developed by the Metropolitan Partnership for Energy and is co-administered with the Greater San Antonio Builders Association. To become a Certified Green Building Professional, you must attend their orientation session plus two additional technical sessions per year.

    Nebraska Certified Green Builder
    Area: Nebraska Statewide
    Cost: N/A

    The Certified Nebraska Green Built Homes program is conducted by the State of Nebraska's Energy Office, the Nebraska State Homebuilders Association and the Nebraska Green Building Council.

    Build It Green
    Area: San Francisco Bay Area, expanding to all of California
    COST: $350 members / $395 non-members

    Build It Green (BIG) provides a Certified Green Building Professional (CGBP) certification for California building professionals. The 16-hour course teaches participants how to apply green building methods and materials in remodeling.

    Built Green Colorado
    Area: Colorado Statewide
    COST: $45 Project Registration Fee

    Built Green Colorado is a voluntary program to encourage green building. Using a checklist of over 200 green building features, builders choose their relevant building options. Builders must choose a minimum number of points from the Checklist in order to be certified.

    Green Built Home
    Area: Wisconsin Statewide
    COST: $50 Project Registration Fee plus $400 Annual Builder Enrollment Fee

    Green Built Home is a program of Wisconsin Environmental Initiative. A voluntary green building initiative, GBH reviews. and certifies homes that meet sustainable building and energy standards.

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What suggestions do you have for museums to be more green?

Your question is about physical and built environments, I know, but the greenest museum would be a virtual one. So the first place I visited was and my friend Sam Bower, executive director. is a fully online museum dedicated to environmental art. More than a museum, is a collaborative art-making tool with resources and other information. I encourage you to tour their galleries.

With regard to your initial question, existing museums can find environmental benefit from the following:
  • Paint: Given the large areas of white walls to be painted in a typical museum, zero-VOC paints should be used.

  • Shipping: A large amount of the budget for an exhibition includes the shipping of the artwork. Reusable crates and containers should be designed and used. The crates can be stored for the duration of the exhibit.

  • Lighting: Natural, north facing daylighting creates a better viewing experience and saves energy.

  • Publications: All printed materials, gift bags, even the tickets should be printed on tree free paper with soy based inks.

  • Education: Museums should talk about their actions towards making a greener building. Although their building may not be perfect, discussion and information about the green goals of the organization will teach visitors about the importance of green building.
In addition, a couple of case studies worth mentioning are:

California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco, Calif.
Architect: Renzo Piano
Scheduled Completion: 2007

Featuring a bold 2.5 acre green roof, the academy will provide a habitat for native species of plants and birds as well as filter rainwater. Photovoltaic solar cells in the roof will supply about 5% of the building's energy needs. This new museum building is hoping to achieve a LEED Platinum rating.

Brooklyn Children's Museum
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Architect: Rafael Viñoly
Scheduled Completion: 2007

Slated to be the nation's first "green" children's museum, the Brooklyn Children's Museum will be LEED certified. The museum will educate its visitors about its environmental features, including geothermal heating and cooling and photovoltaic solar panels that provide about 2.5% of the building's electricity needs.

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What financial incentives exist for green building projects?

Numerous financial opportunities and incentives exist for greening your buildings. These incentives tend to center around energy (efficiency or production) but sources exist for educational programs, community building and renovating your home.

Most of these programs exist at the local level, so contact your local public utility commission, building department, and energy sources.

Here in the State of California, many options exist. For example, a complete listing of incentives for schools as a PDF download here.

In the meantime, I have compiled a list of general national sources for various building types and uses to get you started.

In short, countless opportunities exist if one just looks for them.

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I know that most places no longer allow wood burning fireplaces and favor a natural gas fireplace. Is there a more environmental alternative for fireplaces and heating your home?

Wood burning fireplaces have long been a sentimental vision of home. The sounds of the crackling fire, the warmth of the hearth are comforting and romantic notions. But in recent years, local building codes have banned their use, preferring the cleaner burning gas fireplace.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, wood burning fireplaces emit nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, organic gases, and particulate matter. These pollutants can cause serious health problems for children, pregnant women, and people with respiratory problems. Some of these are even known carcinogens. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the codes only permit installation of U.S. EPA certified wood-fired appliances in new construction.

For those of us with existing wood burning fireplaces, a certified clean-burning fireplace insert and a glass screen will protect your family from the gases entering the room. Rather than using petroleum based pre-manufactured logs, look for eco-friendly versions, like this firelog made from recycled, dried coffee grounds.

For the rest of you who do not like the sterile flame or fake wood inserts of gas fireplaces, EcoSmart Fire has introduced an environmentally friendly open fireplace. Fueled by renewable methylated spirits (fermented sugar cane), the EcoSmart burns and does not require a flue. As a designer, you will fall in love with the possibilities.

Of course, if the intention is just to heat your home, nothing beats designing it to embrace the sun and store its warmth. Primers on passive solar design are available from:

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Eric Corey Freed is principal of organicARCHITECT and teaches sustainable design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and University of California Berkeley. He is on the boards of Architects, Designers & Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), Green Home Guide, and West Coast Green. Portions of this article have been excerpted from his upcoming book, The Inevitable Architect: A Phase by Phase Guide to Green Building.