Green Fringe

by Heather Rae

Reading the New York Times Real Estate section is like pulling off the toenail of your little toe. In a world where the price of habitation climbs into the cool millions, this sweet torture leaves you bleeding and worrying for your sanity. You don’t really need the toe or the toenail, and they would have been better off left alone. And now you hurt.

Last week’s “Living Here” section of the paper was somewhat less torturous and kindled some hope in the desert – which is closer to the “here” in “living here” than the streets of New York City. It featured seven straw-bale houses. The hollow stalks of straw bales provide excellent insulation and are ideal for climates like those also ideally suited for second homes – Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and British Columbia. Common features include passive solar, radiant heat, solar photovoltaics…and views. I imagine buyers of second homes do not wince reading New York Times Real Estate section.

Up the east coast, The Boston Globe Magazine ambled into “Your (Green) Home” with three articles on green residential construction (an outlandish earth-berm and two of the “oh-it-looks-normal” urban and suburban variety). A separate article on “earth-friendly, money-saving fixes from paints to appliances” (“Is it Worth It?”) is good, but nothing you wouldn’t find on any green builder supply or architectural website or in magazines like Natural Home. What’s most interesting about this issue of the mainstream Globe Magazine is the complete absence of advertising for the green products and services referenced in the articles.

This past week, This Old House sent a Sneak Preview of an article on their first-ever green renovation project. The energy-efficient lighting section is very good and the section on green products is great fun — complete with links to product suppliers — but if energy efficiency is the heart of green (and it is) then this particular old house renovation, however beautiful, has a weak heart. I need to see the heating and cooling specs.

I would have seen more of green, energy efficiency specs at an exhibit on green architecture at Bowdoin College – a mile away from my well-insulated rental in Maine – had I even known about it.

“Homes built to those standards are significantly more energy efficient than conventionally designed homes, according to MaineHousing Director Dale McCormick. ‘By making these designs available to the public, as well as homebuilders, architects, and contractors, we hope to encourage the development of more green housing in the state,” McCormick said. “Green housing is not only more energy efficient, it is also environmentally friendly, compatible with its location, durable, and healthy for the occupants.’”

This past week, a colleague in the energy technology marketing field was at the NET2007 (New and Emerging Technologies) conference in Orlando, Florida. Orlando was also the site of the 2007 International Builder’s Show held last week. The National Association of Home Builders, a sponsor of the Builder’s Show, posted a press release on its website two days ago, “Builders Embrace Green Building To Save Energy, Conserve Resources” My landlord is on the board of NAHB, so I go easy here. The highlight of the NHBA show, so my NET2007 mole tells me, was the Kohler exhibit where models showered in skin-colored bathing suits behind glass. That’s men standing around ogling. So, what else is new? From the displays at the show, its awards and the press release (despite its assertion to the contrary), not green building. The green building action was over at NET2007, not at the builder’s show where green building is as fringe pulling off a toenail.

Other goings on this week
Ellen Goodman’s, “No Change in Political Climate”in The Boston Globe: “On the day that the latest report on global warming was released, I went out and bought a light bulb. OK, an environmentally-friendly, compact fluorescent light bulb…it was either buying a light bulb or pulling the covers over my head…I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say the global warming deniers are on par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future…I don’t expect that this report will set off some vast political uprising. The sorry fact is that the rising world thermometer hasn’t translated into political climate change in America.

“American University’s Matthew Nisbet is among those who see the importance of expanding the story beyond scientists. He is charting the reframing of climate change into a moral and religious issue – see the greening of the evangelicals – and into a corruption of science issue – see big oil – and an economic issue – see the newer, greener technologies.”

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.