These days it seems you come across some new product or offering that promotes green building design and construction at every turn of a page. Whether it be for barns or homes or any other structure, there are many different types of materials on the market, some new and some old. The most important rule in green building materials is that it will almost always be more efficient and sustainable to re-use what you currently have by retrofitting structures. Consider the amount of energy and resources that it takes to harvest new material (with fossil fuel-powered vehicles), ship them to your location and set them up. It will take far less energy to fix and retrofit your current barn.
More important than the new materials is the thought behind why they are important and how you can choose the best for your unique situation. Most previous buildings have taken just a few things into consideration: economy, utility, durability, and comfort. For a green structure, you will have to consider a lot more factors by looking at the structure and environment in a holistic way—that is, by taking the entire environment and project into consideration.
You will not only think about creating structures, but also using processes that are environmentally responsible and conserving resources throughout the building’s entire lifecycle. Here are a few examples of things to consider:
• siting and structure design
• construction techniques
• energy, water and material efficiency
• indoor environmental quality (enhancement and comfort)
• operations and maintenance optimization
• waste and toxins reduction
This last point is especially important. We have spent many years building and creating structures on earth without ever thinking about what we will do with them when we’re done. That’s one of the reasons we find barns with chemically-treated wood that can’t be burned, and homes with harmful asbestos in them. So before you start retrofitting or building your barn, consider where all those materials will end up when you are done with them. Can they be recycled, reused or disposed of in an ecologically friendly manner?
Before beginning your selection of green building materials, consider some of the following, because without first considering them, using green materials may be moot.
Siting and structure design—Have you chosen the best location for your barn, one where it can fit into the surrounding environment with the least impact while maximizing natural resources (southern facing roof for solar panels, natural wind breaks that protect from prevailing winds, use of natural land forms for water or rain diversion)? Is your barn designed with efficiency in mind?
Construction—Are you choosing locally available materials that require less shipping and packaging? Are the construction methods completely reliant on fossil fuel-powered equipment? Consider some of the following choices: using sunlight through passive or active solar; or using plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and for reduction of rainwater run-off. Also, in design, construction and material selection have you considered the amount of energy required and how much energy your choices will save? Can you implement design elements that maximize efficiency—for example, have you evaluated the cost and energy/environmental savings of a water catchment system with an underground cistern? Just that one element could impact the entire way you use water throughout the building.
Indoor environmental quality enhancement—Designing your barn for healthy air quality has sometimes been left off the design table because we all assume that “barns smell” and we can just open the window and air it out if needed. But air quality affects the health of our horses and our boarders. Imagine the impression a boarder has of a facility when the air is clean and free of chemicals like ammonia or cleaning fluids. Keep in mind that many building materials and cleaning products can emit toxic gases, such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and formaldehyde.
Operations and maintenance optimization—Your barn design should integrate with your entire land plan so that you minimize the reliance on fossil fuels during your day-to-day operation. Can you make choices now that will actually generate on-site renewable energy to make the operation of your facility less reliant on purchased energy? The design of on-site energy generation is often the most expensive element (but consider the benefits of not having your board rate linked to rising energy prices).
Waste and toxins reduction—Locate your manure or compost pile in an appropriate location to prevent overflow/drainage issues. Also, consider what type of air pollution you will create. Can it be reduced by making cleaner choices with equipment, or logging fewer hours behind the tractor?
Renovation and deconstruction—Have you chosen materials that can be reused or recycled when you no longer require them?
Now that we’ve covered the initial methods of building green, let’s talk about those materials that will help you make the best choices:
Bamboo—this plant is considered green because it grows quickly and is easily harvested and re-grown.
Straw—while harvested with fossil fuel powered vehicles, it can still be used for a long period of time as insulation in outbuildings, and easily decomposes when no longer needed.
Lumber—make sure that your lumber is from forests certified to be sustainably managed.
Eco-Blocks—manufactured (sometimes locally) out of return concrete, these blocks are good for low walls for land design (i.e., retaining walls or for water redirection).
Recycled stone, concrete, metal, etc.—You can work with a construction company that purposefully chooses recycled material or other products that are non-toxic and are reusable, renewable or recyclable. These include: Trass, linoleum, sheep wool, panels made from paper flakes, compressed earth block, adobe, baked earth, rammed earth, clay, vermiculite, flax linen, sisal, seagrass, cork, expanded clay grains, coconut, wood fiber plates, calcium sandstone, concrete (high and ultra-high performance, roman self-healing concrete.)
Recycled industrial goods—there are some products, such as coal combustion products, foundry sand and demolition debris, that can be put back into construction projects. As long as the manufacturer or contractor is able to state they are free of toxins, you can use them to reinforce walls and land forms.
After you’ve worked to design a barn that is as green and efficient as you want it to be, make sure that the materials are extracted or manufactured as close as possible to the building site, so that you can minimize transportation, or built at the manufacturer and delivered as whole as possible, to minimize waste (due to one-location manufacturing).
Once constructed, you can enjoy your barn and offer it to others for their enjoyment with peace of mind and the knowledge that you’re helping future generations as well.
Here are some green products for your barn:
Windows: John Miller works with Southwall Technologies (www.southwall.com), a company involved in producing high quality, heat mirror insulating glass.
“Despite heavily insulated walls and ceilings, 25 percent to 35 percent of the energy used in homes and buildings is wasted due to inefficient glass,” says Miller.
This glass helps insulate against heat loss in the winter, thanks to the air space inside the sealed glass, and the coating reflects the sun’s thermal/ solar rays to prevent overheating in summer.
Fencing: There are many options in fencing, but one company has taken green to the next level. LifeTime Lumber (www.lifetimelumber.com) uses a filler material called fly ash, which is generated from the use of coal to produce electricity. Its unique combination of weight, strength, hardness, flexibility and resistance to water absorption makes it an excellent fencing material.
In addition to using this non-hazardous product, LifeTime Composites has employed an energy-efficient manufacturing process that does not discharge any residue that would be hazardous to the environment.
More green building materials
• Aeroseal.com—An air duct diagnostic system that finds leaks in air ducts.
• American Formulating & Manufacturing; Afmsafecoat.com—paints and primers, floor seals.
• Dirt Glue; dirtglue.com—Environmentally-friendly soil treatment that helps stop erosion.
• Equilumination; equilumination.com—Fluorescent high-ceiling lighting that operates on less energy and lasts longer.
• MSDS; msdsonline.com—online resources of material safety data sheets.
• SolaTubes; solatube.com—natural lighting for all types of buildings.
• Wood Treatment Products; eswoodtreatment.com—manufactures EnviroSafe Plus, an alternative for pressure-treated wood.