Green Building – Site Clearing and Air Quality

The Northwest Clean Air Agency is the regional organization responsible for issuing burn permits for the disposal of site clearing debris in Island County and our surrounding jurisdictions. Their mandate comes from the State of Washington Clean Air Act of 1967.

The site that we are clearing in the short video above is outside of an Urban Growth Area, which means that we have the zoning to apply to The Agency for a burn permit. This job also started at the beginning of the rainy season when burn bans are typically lifted and more permits granted. Burning however, essentially decreases air quality at all times of the year so for several years running we have ignored weather and zoning and instead used this amazing mobile grinder. The machine is rented from an Island company. Our clients feel good about having their clearing debris chipped versus being burned and we all get to enjoy watching the giant machine in action. The bucket is about 15′ in diameter. Using their excavator an operator will load the bucket with stumps and branches where they are quickly churned into a pile of wood chips. This pile grew to be about 20′ high in just a few short hours. We then push the pile around the site with a bulldozer, giving the site greater stability and a nicer appearance. A client may also choose to leave part of the pile to be used later in their landscaping.

Note that debris is comprised of the stumps and branches from the fallen trees, plus any smaller vegetation that we clear. How the trunks of the trees are handled is enough info for another blog post entirely, which we will get to, but it will likely not involve such a cool video.

Attached is a link to the Northwest Clean Air Agency. Their website is full of information about air quality and burn bans.

Dirt Work

We love the iconic passage of little boys playing in the dirt and how that fascination with big trucks and beeping bulldozers lingers on. A story told to us by one of our dirt guys is that operating dirt machinery is just as it was in his memory (of close to 60 years ago) and that the only difference with the real toys is that you don’t have to make the engine noises by yourself.

We have worked with our same dirt guy, Robert Long, for many years. He exudes enthusiasm, intelligence and boyishness for dirt. He makes fun of quickly and precisely falling large trees on your land or installing a complicated septic system into a tight space. Perhaps most importantly he believes in the importance of water management. It is easy to underestimate how important site drainage is to your project, from driveways to backfills, water needs to be directed properly or it can do big damage to a site. Dirt work is actually an expensive part of the project so Robert’s integrity and attention to detail is especially appreciated.

The clearing of land and the excavation of your home or remodel is where it all begins. We believe in careful siting and attention to elevations. Quite often clients too want to be sure to be on site for the day the equipment rolls off the trailers. We often assume that the little kid in them needs to be there too.

Green Building – Recycling

We do not officially call ourselves green builders,although we are looking to do one of the certification programs soon. We call ourselves custom builders who care for and do a lot for our environment. It is our job to be up to date on green technology so that we may inform and advise clients. We are both familiar with the latest prescriptions for green building codes and doing what makes the highest sense in terms of protecting land, conserving energy, re-using and recycling building materials.

This short piece below is about how recycling fits into green buiding and custom buildling. Tim is well-known at the recycling stations on the Island for hauling in his trailer full of jobsite cardboard and scraps of metal. We have always been good recyclers in general, but we also try to give away everything from windows to cabinets to hardware for those projects that require us to tear down an existing home to clear for the new house. And when we demo a house, we always pull recyclable materials out of the piles, find gardens or other places for the busted up concrete and on and on. It only makes sense. We were able to get a client to give old sliding barn door hardware to be used at the beautiful Bayview Corner.

Something that we are happy about is that it is now basically main stream to have recycled content in building materials. Is this due to economics or the pioneers of green building? The quick answer is probably both and we are totally grateful to those who have experimented, engineered and given attention to new technologies. We’ve come a long way.

Whether we request it or not, the drywall that we use on our projects comes from a manufacturer in Seattle or in Oregon(local!) and contains at least 17% recycled content. Drywall has a thick paper surface containing recycled content and a chalky gypsum interior. Gypsum is a mineral substance that is not renewable and must be mined, so it is great too that all of the drywall scraps left after the house is hung are gathered up and taken back to the manufacturer in Seattle to be recycled and reused in more drywall board. In addition to recycling the raw gypsum material, a recycled additive, which comes from scrapings of industrial smoke stacks is also used in drywall production.

There are manufacturers who can provide up to 90% recycled content but the product is shipped out of the southern United States. Below are a few links that provide further information on drywall recycling.

While we do not have a specific percentage, our insulation contractor knows that the fiberglass insulation we standardly use also contains recycled content. There is of course a lot to say about insulation beyond recycled content so we will write more about that asap. The November 2009 issue of Fine Homebuilding has done a great article on insulation that addressed many of these issues and we have it on hand.

We have had clients specify local reclaimed fir for wood floors. A big beautiful way to include re-use into your project…ask us more.

And finally, but not conclusively, we have almost always used the regional manufacturer, Pabco Roofing, for our composite roofing shingles. The Pabco Corporation also guarantees a minimum amount of recycled content in their shingles.

We could go on…and we will.

Recycling is here to stay and again, we are very happy that the industry of re-use is flourishing.