by flickr user caveman_92223

When we think of where our energy comes from, we more often than not envision the billowing smokestacks of a coal plant.  It’s true that coal is a major source of energy for most Americans, accounting for over 50% of our energy production according to the Department of Energy, but it’s also important to remember that it is not our only source of energy.

Take, for instance, the massive proliferation of wind power over the last few years.  In 2008, new wind projects accounted for 42% of new power-producing capacity for the United States, and an additional 10,000MW of new capacity were brought online in 2009.  According to the American Wind Energy Association, this sets the U.S. on track to produce 20% of our electricity from wind by 2030,

Wind power accounts for nearly 2% of the electricity produced in the United States, but represents a power source that is considered more-or-less environmentally-friendly.  Wind turbines, after production and installation, do not necessitate the use of fossil fuels to produce energy.  The attributable benefits are substantial – the wind power fleet in the U.S. avoids an estimated 62 million tons of carbon dioxide annually – an equivalent of taking 10.5 millions cars off the road and conserves 20 billion gallons of water annually otherwise slated for cooling or steam production in fossil-fuel and nuclear power plants.

Compared to the burning of fossil fuels for energy, wind power is indeed an environmentally-option, but is beset by some other challenges.  One of the foremost is local opposition to the aesthetic appearance of a wind farm on agricultural or ocean landscapes (notoriously, construction on the Cape Wind Project was delayed for years for this reason).  There have been accusations that wind farms disrupt migratory bird patterns, and that windmills produce low-level vibrations and noise (a claim which has yet to be scientifically verified).

Still, the future of wind looks bright – the DoE’s Wind and Water Power Program notes the proliferation of small scale and distributed wind turbines, large-scale offshore wind projects, and 20% targets for wind production by 2030.  Weaning ourselves off of fossil-fuel consumption can only mean good things for the state of the planet.

While it’s one thing (and a great thing) to talk about green building, it’s not every day that we meet people who are actually doing it on a grand scale. So to bring a fresh dose of reality to the conversation, we tracked down someone who not only talks the green talk but is decidedly walking the green walk, too. Here’s a short Q&A session with Thom Woglom, a green contractor in Warwick, New York. Thom is a regular Green Depot customer, and with 25 years of experience as a general contractor, he is now the owner and president of Greenway Technologies of Warwick–a contracting company specializing in green building. He kindly took the time to answer some basic questions about the business for us.

Green Depot: Thom, what are some of the reasons your customers have given for choosing a green contractor and green building materials, as opposed to going the standard route?
Thom Woglom:
Well, the community of Warwick is special in that it’s both very rural and is made up of a lot of progressive thinkers. So there’s a big emphasis on nature here, and preserving it. The environment is very much on people’s minds these days–there’s a huge amount of interest in green products. But beyond that, our company (my son is my lead foreman) is unique in that we also offer an electronics-recycling service to the community–and a lot of our green building customers come to us by way of that. We think the key to expanding the green movement lies within forming a sense of community around it, because the biggest changes are happening within communities and are growing from the ground up. So we provide a service for our community that helps it become more green-conscious, and as an added benefit, it brings our green business new interest and customers.

GD: What are some products you use often that you order from Green Depot?
TW: We use a lot of your National Fiber cellulose insulation, your Solatube ventilation and daylighting systems, and your Complete Radiant subflooring. We’re about to start working on a house that will have all of those products and many more–they client is going all-out, with a rainwater containment and reuse system, a freshwater swimming pool, wind power, and even a Permaculture site design.

GD: That’s fantastic! Hopefully one day every house will be like that… But are there any areas of the house where that client chose a non-green option? And if so, why?
TW: Well, one of the reasons we’ve heard most often from clients when they don’t want to go with a green choice is concerns about reliability. People haven’t seen most of these new green technologies in action over a long enough time to feel 100% comfortable relying on them yet. This client’s way of addressing those concerns was to have a backup to each of the major systems. So in addition to solar power and heating, he’s installing traditional fossil-fueled electricity and a furnace, too, just in case the greener systems fail (which, of course, we don’t believe they will). It’s an interesting approach. Many clients are also put off by the pricing for green systems, which are generally higher than what they find at a mass-market discount warehouse, but might not be too much higher than non-discounted traditional systems. But price isn’t the main concern for this particular client.

GD: What about the installation of green systems–is it any more difficult or easier than installing traditional heating, cooling and insulation?
TW: It’s all in how you think about it. Any new system requires learning something new, but the basic tools and techniques of building and installation stay the same. As it happens, some of the older workers who might be resistant to learning new methods are now aging out of the workforce, and we’re taking the opportunity to teach the new systems to the new generation of workers from the very beginning. But ultimately, regardless of age, if you’re willing to learn and read instructions, green building really isn’t any more difficult.

GD: Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise, Thom!

Thom Woglom and his company are currently building their area’s first interactive showroom for green building and landscaping, which will feature everything from super-insulated windows and low-flow toilets to compost makers and edible landscaping.

So you’re renovating, or maybe even building something new, and you’ve finally finished framing out your new walls. Now you’re ready to put up your drywall and maybe some tile, or maybe even wallpaper—but what about the ceiling? Sure, you can just drywall it too (and hopefully you’ve been using recycled-content drywall), but there are several other options to consider as well.

The decision of how to make your ceiling can be influenced by a number of factors beyond your decorative choices. A few things to keep in mind are how much sound transmission in and out of the room you want to allow, whether water and/or humidity will be present, whether the room’s activities require any particular kind of acoustics, and whether you’ll be applying tiles.

Here are a number of green products designed for ceiling use that you may want to consider, and some ideas on how they might best be used in your building project.

1) Recycled Content Drywall
If you’re not already using drywall with recycled content for your walls, your ceiling may offer another opportunity to include it. Typical drywall is made of a core of mined gypsum and two outer layers of non-recycled paper. The mining of gypsum typically launches large amounts of particulate matter into the air, threatening both the respiratory health of the miners and the air quality of the surrounding areas. And like most mining, the extraction process leaves large scars on the landscape at the mining site, and often contributes to soil erosion on the slopes where it is mined.

Instead of mined gypsum, recycled-content drywall is made of synthetic gypsum—a byproduct of the process coal-fired power plants use to limit the amount of acid-rain-causing emissions they release into the air. And not only does the use of synthetic gypsum reduce manufacturing waste, but it’s purer than mined gypsum, making for drywall that’s stronger and easier to work with. As an added benefit, the paper facing used on recycled content drywall is 100% recycled.

2) Tectum Interior Ceiling Panels
A dropped ceiling of rectangular panels, typically made of sound-absorbing (acoustical) materials, is another option. A dropped ceiling consists of a grid of lightweight metal strips that are hung from either exposed beams or a drywall ceiling, which hold the panels in place without screws or adhesive. This allows for easy access to any wiring or ductwork underneath, as well as easy replacement of any panel that needs it. Acoustical panels reduce the amount of noise bouncing around within the room, while also limiting the amount of sound traveling through the ceiling to rooms above.

For a green option, Tectum interior ceiling panels are made of wood fibers that are bound together without chemicals and come from Aspen trees grown in FSC-certified forests. The air-drying, low-energy binding process uses only sand, limestone, salt, magnesium oxide (from seawater), and water that gets recycled after use. The finished panels don’t off-gas at all, and are non-toxic enough to be added to compost piles for soil amendment. So not only do you get a quieter room, for a healthier indoor environment, but you get it without hurting the outdoor environment either! And for even further reduction in the noise coming out of the room , take a look at QuietRock Soundproofing Drywall.

3) Durock Cement Backerboard
If the room you’re building is a bathroom or kitchen, or any other room where high humidity and spilled water are common occurrences, you’ll need to use backerboard –commonly called “blue board,” because a common brand is (you guessed it) blue. Backerboard is typically used underneath tiles even in dry areas, where it acts as a surface stiff enough to keep the surface from flexing and pushing them off—and in wet areas, it provides a layer of water-blocking protection for the framing and surrounding rooms.

Durock cement backerboard is not only resistant to moisture, but mold as well, protecting the room’s air quality. And concrete is so durable that it’ll be a long time before you have to replace it, which saves the waste of valuable resources. And it’s even made of recycled materials—it’s 10-20% recycled fly ash.