It's Not Easy Being Green

Home Inspector with Helm Home Inspections

I've been thinking about this for a while.  There is a lot of hoopla regarding green building and green lifestyle these days.  There are certainly many levels of greenness and I applaud you for whatever level you have reached.  Unfortunately, being truly green is a lot more complex than it might seem on the surface. 

Let's start with transportation.  When we think of green, we need to take into consideration the carbon footprint for sure, but we also need to take into consideration the use of resources (after all, we do live in a finite world) and how long will it take that new green product to become a net gain for the environment.   You buy a new Prius.  This is very green because it gets very high mileage.  Not green immediately.  How much steel, oil (including all the plastics) and polution was used/caused in its manufacture?  How much oil was used in shipping it to the USA and then to your town?  Compare this with a ten year old high mileage vehicle  (since emission standards have not improved in this time I will not talk about that).  The manufacturing costs (polution, resource use) have nearly been amortized.  In the beginning, at least, the ten year old vehicle will be greener than the new Prius.  How long will it take the Prius to catch up? In this blog I'll not talk about public transportation because the nature of most of our work requires private transportation (there is probably very little green about private transportation).

Food use and production; where does your food come from?  Is it shipped halfway around the world?  Is it a result of industrial monoculture farming (relying heavily on oil for fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and harvesting)?  Truly green food is both local and seasonal. We eat what is produced in our local area, when it is produced.  If you want it to be green, you also have to take into consideration the treatment of the land and animals that you eat.  If the land is being despoiled with petroleum based chemicals, if the animals are treated as production units (feed lots, cages, etc.) it is not green.  Even if it is organic, if it's shipped from far off, it's not green.

Local economies; A green economy is one that is sustaining of the locality.  If your buying your goods and services from the big box stores/national or international chains, you are not sustaining your local economy.  This is not green.  Buying local circulates the money local.  Buying from chains sends the money somewhere else. 

What is a truly green house?  The analogy written above about the Prius fits here too.  Can we find truly sustainable wood products?  Not with todays knowledge.  There are certainly some small, local mills and timber operations that strive to do sustainability, but on a national level it is pretty grim.  Building to LEEDS standards is certainly a large step in the right direction, but is only a step. Where do the materials and products for future housing come from?  What is the carbon/resource footprint of future housing?

This post is not meant as a pooh poohing of green building and practices.  It is only meant as a thought provoker.  I am thrilled that our industry is beginning to take these things into consideration, and I know that all of us fit somewhere in the continuum of green; either not green, partially green, predominately green (I doubt that there is anyone in this country that is 100% green; we do, after all, live in an industrial society).

Thanks for reading this screed.  I hope it provokes thought and action. 


David Helm, Helm Home Inspections

Washington Licensed Home Inspector #272

WSDA Licensed Structural Pest Inspector #69844

Posted by

David Helm, Inspector, Helm Home  Inspections Bellingham, Washington  Licensed Home  Inspector #272                                                       WSDA  Licensed Structural Pest Inspector  #69844                                                                                    

Chris Fisher
Your Virtual Assistant - Concord, CA

Excellent post David.  I agree, it's not easy being green, but it is something we have to continually think about.  Personally I have been focusing on local food and local businesses when shopping.  I'd love it if I never had to drive, however that's just not possible.  Thanks for all this food for thought.

Nov 17, 2009 10:14 AM
John Secor
EXIT Real Estate Results - Winter Springs, FL

David - thanks for well thought out post!  Going green should be a goal that all of us aspire to in every aspect of our daily lives.  I'm no tree hugger but I believe in leaving my sons and hopefully my grand kids with a cleaner planet.  Amazing that all American's can't pull together to solve environmental issues and lead the world rather than ridicule the science that IMO confirms the obvious.

Nov 17, 2009 11:27 AM
Terry Haugen STAGE it RIGHT! 321-956-2495
Stage it Right! - Melbourne, FL

David, WELCOME to TLIR, thank you so much for joining.  I agree with everything you say, so much so your blog has been featured in The Left is Right!

Nov 17, 2009 11:51 AM
Dan Sanley
La Mesa, CA

David, you shed some new green light for all of us.  That's putting these public blogs to good use.  Thanks for that.

I think there is one way all of us can make an immediate contribution.  Most all of us us paper products, esp. TP and PT's.  Much of what is being produced is devastating to our environment.  Not so much the U.S. as probably Canada and other countries who (for now) have an abundance of trees and water.  Yes, it takes lots of water to produce paper products.  That water also becomes contaminated with they add perfumes, coloring, and or bleach.  So many trees are being destroyed at the same time.  This can all be stopped if we only buy paper products made with recycled paper, and recycled paper that is not bleached, colored, softened or enhanced chemically. 

Also sounds like we should all  try to be a little more careful and "buy American", or better yet support our local markets.  Good advice.

Nov 17, 2009 09:15 PM
Michael Eisenberg
eXp Realty - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Real Estate Guy

Oh what a complex world we live in if only it were easy if only all the answers made sense to everyone the same way

Nov 19, 2009 04:13 PM
David Helm
Helm Home Inspections - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp

Chris, yes focusing on local is a very positive step toward total green.

John, I've just made you an honorary tree hugger.  Your attitude is exactly the same as the staunchest environmentalist.

Terry, Thanks for the kind comments.

Dan, Thanks for the comments.  It's easy to buy 100% recycled toilet paper, and it is just as soft as any others.  My old septic system actually appreciates this stuff because it breaks down easier.

Hi Michael, We haven't talked in a while.  I agree completely with your sentiment.

Nov 20, 2009 02:49 AM
Linda Mae Croom
Topock, AZ
(928) 768-3040


thanks for the inspirational info...

I really do need to become more 'green' in my thinking and habits...

Speaking of toilets... My entire systm is plugged today and I have to call a plumber to "snake" it... I am switching to the 1005 recycled as well...i hope my septic system appreciates it as much as yours does.

Nov 21, 2009 06:40 AM
Terry Haugen STAGE it RIGHT! 321-956-2495
Stage it Right! - Melbourne, FL

David, there are so many little things we can all do.  Recycled TP and paper towels are a no brainer.  CFL's expensive but worth it.  Non-toxic cleaning products, worth the cost.  If everyone in this country did just three small things, we could make a huge impact!

Nov 21, 2009 12:19 PM
David Helm
Helm Home Inspections - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp

Linda Mae, I'm sure it will.

Terry, Yes there are many easy things to do to make an impact, on the planet, on the local economy and on our own health.

Nov 22, 2009 10:32 AM