We recently did something we rarely do: A previous contractor walked off a high-end project run by an architect/construction manager, so we sent a crew to complete the exterior framing, trim work, and siding.

Early on it became clear that our approach was different from the architect's. On arriving, I noticed the architect's car was running, and I brought this to his attention. He thanked me. A few hours later, his vehicle was still running, and when he drove off, his car had left some sort of puddle behind. The project was alongside a fragile estuary, and it was obvious that no consideration was given to the effect of street runoff.

Waste disposal

In the afternoon, our crew needed to put some trash in the Dumpster. It was loaded with aluminum gutters, downspouts, cardboard, lead, bottles, cans, and asphalt shingles. Our crews have been trained to recycle those items. When we strip a roof, we put the asphalt shingles into separate recycling Dumpsters. Aluminum is a natural to be recycled, too. In fact, we recently gave our employees monogrammed fleece jackets paid for with money received from recycling scrap aluminum saved at jobsites. This encourages crews to separate the recyclable materials.

At the end of the first day, we spent two hours cleaning the jobsite. There was plywood exterior trim on the ground, with nothing under or over it to keep it from being damaged. After properly protecting the materials, we picked up all the trash that had blown around the neighborhood.

Building green

There were even more differences when it came to framing. The previous crew used 2x10s for floor joists and rafters, plywood subflooring, and 5/8-inch CDX wall sheathing. We use engineered floor joists, trusses, or engineered rafters. These products, as well as AdvanTECH engineered panels for subfloors, wall, and roof sheathing, perform better, save labor, and use trees more efficiently.

When we took out our commercial foam gun to seal the point where the oil fill pipes enter the house, the architect wondered why it was necessary. Infiltration of cold air is one of the causes of energy loss. By sealing gaps and cracks with insulating foam, we eliminate most air infiltration. We specify cellulose or cotton batt, both made from recycled materials. These are more efficient and less harmful to installer and owner than fiberglass.

The deck framing was standard pressure-treated lumber. We use composite deck boards -- made of sawdust and recycled plastic -- and framing lumber treated with safe, arsenic-free preservatives. For some high-end projects, we use a naturally durable hardwood that's harvested using sustainable forestry methods. Inside, we like to use cork, bamboo, tile, linoleum, or FSC certified wood floors.

Go with the green

Our decision to be a green builder has proven to be good business. Many customers work with us because of it. Other people contact us because they want a high quality job, and when we explain our "green" approach, they respond favorably.

When I started RemodelWrights in 1990, I budgeted 2% of gross sales for marketing. To my surprise, we've spent less than $1,000 on paid advertising since then.

Can architects, remodelers, and builders be successful as green builders? If they're already environmentalists, yes. For others, it's more difficult but not impossible. It requires extensive research and knowledge, which are both easily acquired in the many books and magazines on the subject.

--Bob Chew, CGR, CKD, is head of the R.W. Chew Group, a company that owns RemodelWright., SolarWrights, and Earth Friendly Homes.