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Expert Interview: Green Building with Joel Fraley of Neil Kelly Co.

Posted by Paige Thomas ~ April 2, 2009

Seems that everywhere you look green building is the talk of the construction industry. While some contractors and companies just talk about it, others have dedicated years to learning about the industry and growing with it.

The Neil Kelly Co. based in Portland, Oregon has been dedicated to the green movement for many years. Spearheading a green construction focus in the West, the company can claim to have built the first LEED certified building in the West. Being a model for green excellence takes a dedicated team, and I'm lucky to be able to feature an interview from one of them, Joel Fraley. Joel is a great person to interview on this topic since he has both experience in the field and knowledge from being an active member in professional associations for the green building movement.

Joel has been a designer with Neil Kelly Co. for the past four years. Prior to that he ran his own business designing and building custom furniture and interiors. He first got involved in green building in the late 1980s as a carpenter working on historic renovation projects. Joel is currently on the Steering Committee for the Portland Metro HBA (Home Builder's Association) Green Building Council. He has also been a member of the US Green Building Council since 2001, showcasing his dedication to the movement.

If you've been wondering what going green in your home is all about, Joel has got your answers:

1. How do you define "green building," and why do you think it is so important?

The definition of green building is to significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of homes on the environment and on the homeowners. Green building continues to increase in popularity and importance as we deplete our natural resources and energy costs continue to increase.

We have also learned the importance of a healthy indoor environment as it relates to our overall well-being. Many construction products contain chemicals that can be harmful to people with environmental allergies and decrease indoor air quality.

2. What are the best ways that a homeowner can make green choices during their next remodel?

Focus on ways to improve energy efficiency, first and foremost. Concentrate on sealing air infiltration and improving indoor air quality, improving insulation and the efficiency of your mechanical systems. We offer a Home Performance audit that will spell out the costs and benefits of these projects in great detail. This is the best way to make a direct impact on your energy bill.

When it comes to specifying products for your project, do your homework and make sure that you are choosing products with a proven track record of environmental responsibility. Due to the increasing popularity of green building, many manufacturers are marketing their products as "green" simply to increase sales.

(Neil Kelly Co. Custom LEED Home - Photo via Green Talk)

3. Many homeowners think that choosing green materials and techniques will only add money to their budget. From your experience, is this a true statement?

No. Many projects that were considered cutting edge a few years ago now enjoy mainstream acceptance. Examples include compact fluorescent light bulbs, no formaldehyde added building products, recycled content tile and countertop materials, cork and Marmoleum flooring, dual flush toilets and many others. Public awareness of these products continues to increase demand and lower prices. You can make a real commitment to sustainable products without affecting you overall budget.

4. What is the most interesting green building project you've worked on?

Our "company retreat" outside of Telluride, Colorado was a vacation cabin built entirely of construction materials salvaged from other projects, which would normally end up in the landfill. I also worked on several Earthships, which use passive solar, old tires, aluminum cans and other recycled materials for their construction. 5. What green products and materials for the home do you use or recommend?

Neil Kelly cabinets are made using responsibly forested woods, no-added formaldehyde agriboard case/drawer materials and low VOC glues, adhesives and finishes.

Whenever possible, we will often reuse existing materials or fixtures and work them into the new design.

Other products we specify include Marmoleum and cork flooring, recycled concrete or porcelain countertops, quartz countertops, dual flush toilets and many others. We also use a lot of salvaged woods for countertops or trim.

6. What is the best piece of advice you can give a homeowner considering starting on their first green home improvement project?

First and foremost, concentrate on the improvements that will add the most long term value to the house. Consider getting a Home Performance audit so you can address the specific areas that need the most work. When it comes to choosing products, buy local whenever possible to support your local economy and reduce transportation. Do your homework and make sure the products you select are truly sustainable and have a proven track record.

Thanks for sharing all your green expertise, Joel.

Got green building on the brain? Here are some past "green" posts you might like:

Falling Rain = Falling Utility Bills: Rain Catchment Systems Green Home Gift Guide Breathe Better: Home Air Quality

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