You don't have to construct walls with hay bales to meet standards for green home-building. Nor does a green house have to break the bank.
You can learn more about what green building actually does entail at upcoming one-hour sessions sponsored by the Building Industry Association of Clark County. You have two chances to listen to Swiftsure Energy Services' presentation "Think Better Living, Think Better House": 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Battle Ground Community Library, 1207 S.E. Eighth Way; and 6 p.m. Nov. 15 at the BIA's Vancouver offices, 103 E. 29th St.
Builders can apply very simple design standards to get energy bills down to $40 to $50 a month year-round, said Swiftsure's Garen Thatcher.
"Everybody's talking about solar panels and geothermal power. But another way is to not use the energy to begin with," Thatcher said. "If we can reduce the demand for energy, maybe we can get by with the power we're generating now."
Buyers can gauge a new home's energy-efficiency by looking for a Home Energy Rating System Index score. The U.S. Department of Energy has determined that a typical resale home scores 130 on the HERS Index, while a standard new home scores 100. A house with a score lower than that would be more energy-efficient.
"It's similar to buying a car. You shop for the gas mileage of the car. The consumer needs to have that information," said Troy Johns, who serves as chairman of the BIA's green building council. He owns Urban NW Homes, which developed Wild Glen in Felida, the first subdivision on the West Coast to receive National Green Building Standard certification.
Clark County has adopted the standard, which builders can choose to meet on a voluntary basis.
Regular county building codes provide a minimal standard for safe and energy-efficient houses, said Mike Selig, Clark County's building safety coordinator. "Green building provides many more levels above that for energy-efficiency, durability and sustainability."
That doesn't necessarily mean that a green house is going to cost a lot more, Selig added.
"It's just making different informed choices about what material you're going to use, how you orient the house — simple things that don't cost extra money," he said.
Small changes in design can make a big difference in energy-efficiency, Thatcher said. For example, in a two-story home, current building standards would place most of the ductwork in the attic or crawl space. That uses twice as much duct material, and puts air you've paid to heat through the coldest parts of the house. But if you make trusses three inches bigger between the floors to make room for the ductwork, then you don't lose as much heat, Thatcher said.
The presentations will address choosing building materials that are not only sustainable, but have fewer emissions that might affect the health of a home's inhabitants.
Swiftsure will also outline universal design standards that enable a homeowner to "age in place." Homes with wide doorways and ample room in kitchens and bathrooms make it easier for inhabitants to stay put into their old age, even if they need a scooter or a wheelchair to get around. This avoids costly and wasteful remodeling later.
"There's more to green than saving the planet, a lot has to do with living environment," Thatcher said. "Green is not only about energy-efficiency but healthy living."
Preregister for the sessions at the BIA's website or call 360-694-0933.
Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions via email or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.