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A Conversation With Architect Peter Pfeiffer: The Common Sense Approach to Green Homebuilding

July 14th, 2008

People need to understand that builders aren’t building scientists: 99% of builders in the state of Texas have no building science education. So hire someone to help you choose the right house plan for your site.

GRN: It often seems the green building movement is fraught with misinformation and conflicting recommendations. For example, bamboo flooring vs. wood flooring; high cost solar panels vs. inexpensive fluorescent lighting as the best way to reduced energy consumption.

Pfeiffer: Green first and foremost should be regionally appropriate. Saying, ‘I’ve got solar panels, a

Photo: Barley & Pfeiffer Architects
Alan Barley and Peter Pfeiffer, principals of Barley & Pfeiffer Architects

geothermal heat pump, a tankless water heater, bamboo flooring’ is what I call ‘cocktail party green building’ — things that are neat to talk about at cocktail parties. But there are so many smarter things to do.

Take Austin. What we’ve got here are tons of oak trees; they’re everywhere, right in your backyard. So in the Austin area, oak flooring is great. It’s extremely sustainable and you don’t have to ship it overseas, like bamboo. Because when you ship overseas, you’ve got the embodied energy that was used to get it to your job site. So putting in bamboo floors is backwards.

GRN: What would be the first steps in building a green home? Where do I go to get the right advice?

Pfeiffer: Hire an energy specialist or a building science consultant to come to your site and prioritize what steps to take. You need someone who really understands building science. And be sure the information makes sense for your area.

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