"There is no such thing as a green product on its own," Michael Anschel, of Otogawa-Anschel Design/Build, in Minneapolis, told a room full of Remodeling Show attendees Friday morning in Baltimore. Though the statement may seem counterintuitive, especially in an industry that has recently been inundated with products trying to outdo each other with claims of "greenhood," Anschel explained his statement by putting it in a larger context.

"You have to think of the whole house as a sum of its parts," he said. "And those parts consist of products. If one or two products in the entire system are dubbed 'green' but the rest isn't, is that really a green project?"

To illustrate his point, Anschel used the example of a bowl of organic cherries. If the organic cherries were used to make an otherwise conventional cherry pie, would you consider it an organic pie? The implied answer, of course, is "no."

In order to define what green building really is, Anschel insisted that we first must change the way we think about our homes, urging attendees to build for the long term (100 years, or perhaps more) and to change the usual discussion from square footage and price to the quality of the materials and aesthetics.

The key to building truly green projects, he said, is in the design.

"If you don't design it to be green, it's almost impossible to make it green. It's too late at that point."

Anschel went on to identify five key principles of truly green building. "If you [design a project with these principles in mind], not only is it green, but it doesn’t cost a dime more than conventional building."

  • Water conservation. Some easy ways to improve a home’s water efficiency: Installing dual flush toilets, 2 gallons-per-minute showerheads, 0.5 gallons-per-minute faucets, and rain barrels to collect and store roof runoff for outdoor usage.
  • Energy efficiency. Always be sure to conduct blower door test and infrared scans of your projects to identify areas where air is able to pass to and from the outside. Always use high-performance windows, insulate properly, and lighten the energy load by using CFL and LED lights.
  • Resource efficiency. According to Anschel, this is the largest and most complex of the green principles. Ways to improve resource efficiency: buy local (within 500 miles) lumber and materials whenever possible; use less material whenever less will do; and try to not only use recycled materials, but materials which are recycled repeatedly and easily.
  • Site and community impact. This category refers to limiting damage to a project's surrounding environment. Some ways to do this include planning and grading the site to hold storm water; planting native and drought tolerant plants at a project's completion; and reducing the use of impervious surfaces on the site, which often lead to erosion.
  • Indoor environmental quality. This category focuses mostly on the reduction of harmful toxins in the home, namely formaldehyde, mold and mildew, carbon monoxide, and multiple VOCs. Ways to reduce these toxins on your jobsites and in your clients' homes: eliminate the use of carpeting; use no-VOC paints, primers, and sealants; and specify no-added-formaldehyde cabinetry.