Green building architect: Insulation is sexy

Oct 20, 2011

If you want to build a new home, you want an architect who can take your lifestyle and design a home around it. When it comes to building an environmentally-friendly house, you might even want someone who challenges you a little.

I was at the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference earlier this month to moderate a panel on America’s oldest net-zero energy home. That house happens to be here in Michigan and owned by Matt Grocoff. Matt wanted me to meet one of the architects leading the green building movement. His name is Eric Corey Freed.

As we talked to Freed at the conference… I wondered if people knew what they were getting into when they decided to build green…

“I think most people just assume I’m going to slap solar on it and be done.”

Solar. Yeah, it’s the sexy add-on that everyone seems to want. But Freed says solar is way too expensive unless first the house is built to be as energy efficient as possible. That means basic things… like proper insulation… which is not so sexy.

“Well, I think insulation is sexy, frankly. I mean, I think everybody should get naked and roll around in it. Not in the fiberglass! Because that could hurt. Maybe the recycled cotton one, that’d be pretty cozy. But remember, to me insulation is like chocolate: the more you have the better it is. So just bring it on.”

Freed used to spend a lot of time trying to educate his clients, explain why he’s using certain materials. These days… he doesn’t do that so much.

“I just force a lot of things automatically. It just seems stupid to ask permission, ‘Is it okay if we don’t put cancer-causing products in the building? Is that alright? Is it okay if we make an energy-efficient building?’ You just start to feel like a moron after a while, asking that question. So, I just stopped asking. And so now every project gets a whole slew of things automatically and everybody’s happy.”

Freed says --hey--he’s a professional… they have to trust him. But, there are some limits.

“If we’re going to do something that’s going to affect their daily experience - composting toilets –which are great, by the way- I have to ask them. Because, otherwise they’re going to be a little freaked-out the fist time they go to the bathroom.”

So, Eric Corey Freed has to find a balance with his cutting-edge ideas and what a customer feels he or she can live with.

On the other hand, Matt Grocoff is trying to get everyone to start fresh. Start questioning all the things they do that affects consumption at home.

“Eric’s limited by right now he’s got to convince a client with a certain amount of budget. It’s easy to convince someone to put in motion sensor light switches, to put in LED lighting, to put in insulation and all these other things. It’s much harder to talk to people about what’s next. What I want to do is have people look in every direction. Why am I using a freezer when outside it’s already freezing. So, if we look back and say, ‘Wait. People used to store their fruits and vegetables in a root cellar. That was free energy.”

Grocoff says it’s not always about the latest gadgetry… sometimes you just have to think about what you’re doing.