Going green: Building for the future | SierraSun.com

Going green: Building for the future

David Bunker

Photo by Josh Miller/Sierra Sun Straw bale will make up the interior walls in the house near Donner Lake.

The Town of Truckee has developed a committee to encourage it, and a new, Truckee-based association is promoting it across the Sierra Nevada: But what exactly is “green building”?According to the Sierra Green Building Association, green building incorporates environmental design, renewable materials, and energy efficiency into construction. These are the methods that are experiencing a boom in Truckee. Design that utilizes the sun to warm a house, uses material like rice straw for construction, and employs water-efficient appliances are all part of green building.Two new groups are on the leading edge of the movement in Truckee. The town has developed a committee to recommend changes to the draft General Plan to encourage green building. And the Sierra Green Building Association, which came together two years ago, is advocating environmental design within the Tahoe region and into the Sierra.

“What we are seeing is a complete paradigm, a complete change in the building industry,” said Scott Terrell, planning director for the Truckee Donner Public Utility District and member for SIGBA. “[Green building] makes so much sense that it is almost happening overnight.”New home builders may not integrate all of the design alternatives, but many will opt for at least one of the possibilities, said Terrell.”I think that we’re just going through this process of learning and seeing what works,” said Terrell. “As we learn more about green building we find that more people are coming onboard.” Green building has economic, environmental and human benefits, advocates point out. Darcey Donovan, a member of SIGBA, said the initial construction costs may be higher, but a straw-bale house with passive solar design could easily cut energy bills in half.

Passive solar design orients the long side of the house toward the sun, and builds an overhanging roof that lets the sun shine into the windows during the winter when it sits low in the sky, but blocks the summer sun that sits higher. The inside of the house needs enough mass to absorb the solar heat and enough insulation to trap heat inside or buffer the interior from summertime highs, said Donovan.The lighting and improved feel of a green home is usually enough in itself to justify the added expense, said Terrell.”What happens is these homes are so comfortable to live in and work in that people really enjoy being in green buildings,” said Terrell.

Donovan, who has engineered two straw-bale homes for Truckee, is also convinced that environmental design is poised for strong growth in town. “I think that green building will definitely be pretty prominent in Truckee’s future,” said Donovan, owner of Ecoengineering. Green building is popping up everywhere in town, like the new, cutting-edge Alder Creek Middle School, which relies heavily on solar lighting and has low-flow water fixtures.”We’re going to see some exponential growth in this industry,” said Terrell.