Green is a learning curve, says John Zito (pictured left). Soften the curve, and trades might take it better.
courtesy of John Zito Green is a learning curve, says John Zito (pictured left). Soften the curve, and trades might take it better.

John Zito has been doing advanced framing [PDF] since 1992 and super-insulating for much longer, but don’t tell his trade contractors he’s a green remodeler. “With the trades, the key is to give them the goals,” not utter the “G word” that still engenders such suspicion, says the owner of Coastline Building, in Delton, Mich.

That means clearly spelled-out scopes of work, such as a nine-page framing agreement specifying that cuts be within ¼ inch or less of required length (less waste), requiring “California corners” (less lumber, better insulating), and designating receptacles for different types of debris (recycling). These are green specifications without once saying “green” or “sustainable.”

If challenged, Zito stays in stealth mode. If anyone questions why they should put metal scraps here and cardboard there, “I tell them I’m cheap and I don’t like to use Dumpsters.”

Further, once trade contractors know many green methods, “they love it,” Zito says. Drywallers like California corners, for instance, because they have so much more surface area to attach to.

So distinct is some contractors’ aversion to the G word that they may not preach what they practice, Zito says. His plumber would deny being green, “but he plans his layouts real well, and doesn’t throw much away.”

What concerns Zito (who also teaches advanced framing) is when remodelers greenwash with the equivalent of a wink. He’s known some to call green “a gimmick” even while claiming to be green, or to disparage the concept within earshot of homeowners. If you don’t believe in green, be transparent, he advises. Otherwise you’re doing a disservice to others and you’ll potentially be on the hook for jobs that don’t perform as promised and expected.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.