Green and Suburban Homes

Builders strive to make green building more mainstream.


Eric Maier, and Barbara Edelman love their 1,050-square-foot duplex in Lafayette, Colorado, which was constructed by McStain Enterprises to meet the standards of the state’s “Built Green” program.

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You don't have to use rammed earth or straw bale construction to have a green home—even standard-frame suburban homes can be built with the environment in mind. Peter Yost, director of Resource and Environmental Analysis at the National Association of Home­builders Re­search Center, describes his organization as “on the cutting edge of mainstream.”

“Most people think of alternative building methods when you mention green building, but we’re working on encouraging green building practices in the mainstream building industry. Even a small improvement from large production builders can mean big overall resource savings, because most homes are still built using traditional methods.”

Green builder programs that provide guidelines and ­ratings systems are springing up around the country as ­consumer awareness increases. This makes it easier for ­homeowners, even those of modest income, to own ­responsibly constructed homes.

The Green Builder Program of Colorado (GBPC) is the largest in the country and has set an example that many other programs are following. As a partnership between the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Denver, Public Service Company of Colorado, Energy Rated Homes of Colorado —the E-Star Home Energy Rating Program—and the Governor’s Office of Energy Conservation, the GBPC awards a “Built Green” label based on a checklist rating system. To qualify their homes, builders must fulfill criteria in several major categories such as indoor air quality and materials use. Consumer education is a big piece of this effort, because the program’s managers know that only market demand will encourage more builders to join the program.

Green-builder-style programs also are active in places like Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; New Mexico; and the Washington, D.C. area. These programs go by different names and their standards vary a bit, depending on regional considerations like climate, but they have provided good incentives for both large and small contractors to adopt green building practices.

For his clients, Bill Reed of Global Environmental Options in Washington, D.C., emphasizes “good design” rather than “green building” because he wants them to know they are receiving the best results for the lowest price, period. One thing they learn is that green building provides both economy and longevity, often just as important to homebuyers as energy efficiency and non-toxic materials. nNH


Finding the Right Contractor

Here’s how to start your builder search.

  • Stockpile information. Use the Internet and read publi­cations to educate yourself about green ­building standards, and check out a few local ­programs around the country, even if they’re not in your area.
  • Search for builders in your area who market themselves as green. Start with your local Home Builders Association. If they don’t have a green building program, try the Yellow Pages for architects and builders who say they are green.
  • If there are no knowledgeable green builders in your area, try to find one who is willing to be­come educated on the subject and work with you to meet guidelines for an energy-efficient home.
  • Consider renovating an existing home instead of building new. Making use of an already built structure is the best way to lower resource use.
    If you are working with a builder who is new to green building, consider a third-party inspection to verify that your builder is meeting the area’s agreed-upon standards.


  • Building for Health Materials Center, a healthy-building materials and appliances supplier who offers ­special pricing for owner builders and contractors, (800) 292-4838
  • The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST),
  • Colorado’s Green Builder Program,
  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC), (800) 363-3732, e-mail:
    GreenHOME, Washington, D.C. area resource site, (202) 24GREEN or
  • National Association of Homebuilders, (301) 249-4000,
  • The Rocky Mountain Institute, green development publications, (970) 927-3851 or order online from
  • Sustainable Building Sourcebook, created by the Austin, Texas Green Building Program, (512) 499-7824,
  • United States Green Building Council, (415) 445-9500,

Natural Trends in Education

Teachers integrate environmental topics into school curricula

Life decisions about things like drugs, the environment, and sex” are among the sensitive issues that twelve-year-old Alejandra Zelman and fellow seventh graders discussed in school last year. And they didn’t have to hide behind the gym to do it. Their talks were part of the Adolescent Issues class at New York City’s Little Red School House—a class that combines environmental topics with other important issues that may be on students’ minds.

With increasing effort, edu­cators all over the country are working together to create in­novative programs for environmental education at all grade ­levels. The State Education and Environment Round­table (SEER), a cooperative organization that promotes “environment-based educational approaches,” has ­created the term Environment as Integrating Context (EIC) to describe the curriculum changes it promotes. Several schools are adopting this approach, which calls for environmental, project-based, learning experiences that combine many disciplines. SEER’s preliminary studies suggest an added benefit: Students develop better interpersonal, citizenship, and decision-making skills when they learn in this fashion. Perhaps the most interesting result of this early study of fourteen participating schools is that students who work in team-based systems perform higher on standardized tests and have fewer ­discipline problems than their peers in more traditional learning programs.

While this evidence is not conclusive, it may lead to wider integration of environmental issues into school ­curricula. Following are some additional examples.

• Pennsylvania’s Huntingdon Area Middle School has ­created STREAMS, a hands-on water-quality project
for sixth graders that turns students into activists.

• Adairsville Middle-High School in Georgia is now a ­magnet school for the Environmental Sciences Academy, which introduces students to environmental career op­portunities through practical experience with curriculum-based environmental projects.

• At the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York, eighth graders build their own, small-scale solar houses, and a Science Research student studied the antibiotic ­properties of herbs and worked on adapting a Pontiac 6000 LE to run partially on wind power.


Nature’s Black Gold

Worming your way to creative composting

Picture your garden after a rainstorm: hundreds of worms crawling over each other, struggling to get back into the dirt. Now picture that in your kitchen. Most people would be flipping through their Yellow Pages, looking for worm exterminators.

But not the increasing number of ecologically-minded ­gardeners who have discovered the unique joys of raising worms—thousands of them—right in their own homes. And it isn’t a science project: What these inspired souls are after is “black gold,” or, to be perfectly blunt, worm droppings, or castings. Because red worms, slippery critters akin to those found on sidewalks and driveways after a good rain, are nature’s best composters.

Imagine the possibilities: By worm composting, or vermicomposting, you can convert your kitchen waste into one of the best forms of garden fertilizer available in only a few months. You can do it in your own home—without odor, bugs, or mess. And you can reduce your organic waste by three to five hundred pounds a year while you grow healthy plants.

The worms reproduce at an almost alarming rate: Begin with a pound of red worms—about 1,000—and soon you will have approximately 12–15,000 worms in the bin. Red worms can convert six to seven pounds of organic waste into the valuable, nutrient-rich plant food of castings every day. This is a significant amount when you consider that nurseries charge more than $2 per quart for this organic “black gold.” Dig through the worm bedding, separate the worms from the castings, spread the castings in your garden, and watch your plants thrive.

“I had one school teacher write to tell me that worms are the best classroom pets,” says Dorothy Benoy of the Happy D Ranch, a worm farm in California. “They’re not distracting, they don’t take up much space, and if you make a mistake with them, they’re very resilient.” nNH