Going Green on Buttercup

Not too long after I got into homebuilding, I became interested in how to create more efficient homes with less waste and toxic chemicals. I had been to a few green building workshops, but most of what I learned came from books and magazines. There are a few very affordable things that I picked up and incorporated along the way.

Stephen Guesman, from Greenworks Design/ Build who I mentioned in an earlier post, suggested that I use blown cellulose insulation instead of fiberglass in my walls. Blown cellulose is made from recycled newspapers and because of its density, reduces air filtration and can make the home 25% more energy efficient. The cost is basically the same as fiberglass, so I think it’s a great, greener alternative that any insulation contractor should be able to install.

A very important factor in indoor air quality and energy efficiency is how tight the building envelope is. As they explained at one Southface workshop I attended, you want fresh air intentionally coming into your house through a ventilation system, not through leaky windows and other leaky areas. Because then your air quality is affected as air is pulled through construction materials that often contain harmful chemicals and your heating and cooling system has to work a lot harder to do its job.

I used blown cellulose in the last two homes that I did, and the family living in the second home, says that their energy bill has decreased significantly, even though their previous home was much smaller than the newer home.

If you are doing a remodel or new construction, it’s amazing the difference it can make just to use blown cellulose insulation in addition to using cans of spray foam (can be easily found at Lowe’s or Home Depot) around the windows and doors and sealing air duct joints using a product called mastic. Mastic is a sticky gooey material that can also be found at Lowe’s or Home Depot. You apply it using a putty knife or paintbrush to the “thickness of a nickel,” and it keeps conditioned air from escaping into unconditioned areas where ductwork is usually located. They also make little foam gaskets that can seal around electrical outlets, another place where air can sneak in.

Although I don’t have the exact statistics and it depends a lot on how bad things were before, I would estimate that just those things combined with using fluorescent or LED lights could cut your energy bill in half (or more) for an investment of probably no more than a hundred dollars and a few hours of labor! And if you aren’t doing a remodel or new construction, just changing out your lightbulbs to fluorescent lightbulbs or LEDs and using the mastic on your ductwork could make a huge difference!

More to come this week on other small, affordable changes that I’ve incorporated in my Buttercup house! 🙂

David Lee

David Lee is a knowledgeable and experienced local builder who has graciously offered to work with me on this project. He is currently the only builder in Alabama to have completed the Passive House training, and I’m incredibly grateful for his help. If it weren’t his expertise and assistance, things would be significantly more difficult, and I would feel much less confident in my ability to build a certified Passive House.

David and I met in January of this year at a Southface green building workshop that was offered at the old Alabama Power building in Birmingham. Southface is a non-profit organization based out of Atlanta that promotes energy-, water- and resource-efficient workplaces, homes and communities throughout the Southeast. They’re a great resource and have been very active in educating professionals, as well as the public, about sustainable design and practices. They offer tours of their eco-office in Atlanta and also provide support and consultation for anyone who wishes to implement sustainable ideas into their projects. Check out their website at:


Not too long before the Southface meeting, I had seen a blog by a couple who had built the first Passive House in Utah. You can see their blog at www.ourpassivehouse.org. I loved the idea and their home was beautiful, so I contacted the couple to get more information. They were very responsive and told me that their architect had been the main person responsible for the Passive House design. I inquired about the training but never heard back and felt for the moment that it was a little out of reach due to the time and cost involved.

So when I ran into David at the Southface workshop and he mentioned that he had completed the Passive House training, I was very excited. It took me a few months, but eventually I contacted him, and we met for lunch to discuss ideas and the different projects we had each worked on. David was very open and willing to include me in any design meetings for projects that he and his partners were working on.

At the time, I had begun looking for a property to build another home for myself, but I had no concrete plans in the works. I knew that my current home was more than I could afford and maintain long term, but I wasn’t sure how things would play out.

Several months earlier, my friends Casey and Andres Azuero told me about a property that was available in the Avondale area. I looked at the property but wasn’t sure that it was an area where I wanted to live. I kept an eye on it, though, talked with several of the neighbors, and eventually decided that it would be a great fit for me. It was a small, reasonably priced lot, which meant I wouldn’t have too much to take care of, and it was within biking, if not walking, distance of nearly all aspects of my life.

David and his business partner, Gary, went to look at the lot with me, and we talked about the possibility of building a Passive House on the lot. After doing all my due diligence, I decided to make an offer. We negotiated a little on the price, and I bought the property in June of this year, using a home equity line of credit that I have on one of my other homes.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to have met David and appreciate that he is so willing to work with me and include me in his endeavors. Here’s a short bio about him and his background:

David Lee began his career as an engineer and later went on to commercial construction, building schools and hotels. In the early 1990s, he found his true passion in historic restoration and the design/ build of custom homes. He had been a proponent of energy efficient buildings since the 1970s and became intrigued by the comprehensive results of the Passive House concept. He participated in the Passive House certification program and is currently working on two Passive House designs. His company is Casey/Lee Builders a subsidiary of Conroy Road LLC. Feel free to contact him with any questions or inquiries at leeconsult@mindspring.com or 205-229-1245.