Going green in construction ranges from simple alternatives to sophisticated techniques. At Tryon Farm, all pond houses have green roofs that can include planted moss, sedum, and grass, cutting down heat gain and controlling and filtering water runoff. Gary explains that a green roof can absorb as much as 100 percent of the first inch of rain, depending on the diversity of plants used and the depth and make-up of the soil; flash flooding from overwhelmed sewer and water systems occurs from that first inch of rain. Plant materials filtering out such heavy metals as lead and copper and reducing nitrogen runoff means those pollutants are reduced in the Earth's waterways.
Dawn and Gary's daughter Grace is fascinated by the "ghost wood" story Gary told: People were ripping "ghost wood" from Montana's historic ghost towns for new projects. But plenty of wood was available from forest fires - massive timbers charred on the outside but inside dense and hardened from the heat. Now Montana Ghost Wood sells the good wood from charred timber. "It was a matter of educating people to use that forest wood and preserve the ghost towns," says Gary.
On his Burns + Beyerl Architects Chicago office roof, raised beds feature ornamental trees up to 16 feet tall; Chicago is working towards a mandate of green roofs for 50 percent of all buildings.
The ReUse people of America is a not-for-profit that deconstructs buildings and salvages the materials for use in new buildings. Beyerl's firm uses as much of it as possible. Another salvageable: lannin stone dating from use in the 1800s, headed for a landfill, is great for garden walls. Says Gary, "It's beautiful!"
But a concerted national effort may be the way to educate the public and professionals to expand such green efforts. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a nationwide initiative developed by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. Originally for commercial use, the concept has also evolved into a system devised for residential construction that includes energy efficiency, water and materials savings, quality of the indoor environment, and other categories.
"(Burns + Beyerl) has a house nearing completion in Chicago that will have a LEED silver rating," Gary says with pride. "It's made use of reclaimed materials, has a geothermal system, and sophisticated insulation design to minimize heat loss."
So why doesn't everyone know about LEED? "The program is essentially all around us, but encompasses an overwhelming amount of information for the professional to absorb," explains Gary. Still, he says, "Awareness for the public is the bigger challenge because it too encompasses so much. Hybrid cars, wind farms, solar panels, fluorescent light bulbs, water conservation, and CO2 emissions are all part of the bigger picture of trying to mitigate the detrimental impact of civilization upon the natural balance of the planet."