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This Green House

Air Date: Week of

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Because our new homes are so much bigger, we need more wood to build them, and that is wreaking havoc on ecosystems around the world. Bruce Gellerman talks to Dan Imhoff, author of "Building With Vision," about the new home-building products available so we know when it’s necessary to use wood and when it’s better not to.


GELLERMAN: Well, I have another interesting statistic here from Mother Jones: to build the average new home, it takes 13,837 board feet of lumber. That's a lot of lumber. And lumber is something that's near and dear to author Daniel Imhoff. His new book is called "Building with Vision--Optimizing and Finding Alternatives to Wood." And Daniel Imhoff, joins me. Thank you very much.

IMHOFF: Thank you very much for having me.

GELLERMAN: So, how many trees does it take to build one of those big new houses?

IMHOFF: Well, back in 2000 when the average home was 2,080 square feet, I think the rule of thumb was it took 44 trees. Now, that 13,800 board feet of framing lumber is not all the wood that goes into a house. There's also sheathing, about 6,000 square feet of sheathing plywood, about 2,500 square feet of siding and an additional 3,000 square feet of roofing material and flooring as well.

GELLERMAN: Not to mention the cabinets and the decks.

IMHOFF: Yeah. When I did the research for building revision a few years ago, we were building six decks a minute and I mean a deck is, basically, as soon as you build it, it begins to weather and to take a lot of abuse. So a huge amount of materials go into it and you can make some good decisions.

GELLERMAN: But I did see some of those artificial woods that are made out of plastic bottles, you know, recycled bottles and that was very expensive.

IMHOFF: Well, I think the inherent logic in that, in the composite plastic materials and there's a number of them out there, they've been out for a while now so they're beginning to get a track record and I believe that they're beginning to evolve some of the inherent design challenges in that material. The thought with a plastic composite is that it's going to last a lot longer and it's going to require less maintenance, less staining or sanding or painting that decks require.

Actually, a new product that I learned about called Timbersill and it impregnates the wood with a silica, actually glass, so that nothing can get in. Insects can't get in and it won't rot. So, it kind of crystallizes the wood.

GELLERMAN: In your book, you talk about finding alternatives to wood. What could I use? I mean, could I build a home out of cement or bales of hay, I've heard that?

IMHOFF: Um, the wall systems. If you went for a wall system like you just described, let's say cement, for example, some kind of really, really well-insulated house, there are a number of interesting products out there. One that I particularly thought is interesting is called Rastra, recycled styrofoam planks that are ground into tiny beads and then they're mixed in a slurry of cement and they make these huge building blocks that fit together and then filled with cement and they create a really thick-walled, well-insulated, beautiful building that's stuccoes inside and out.

GELLERMAN: I have to build an extra bedroom to my house and I'd like to put in maple hardwood floor. My builder says, "you know, why don't you get one of these pre-fabricated floors." What do you think of that?

IMHOFF: Well, I think linoleum is a fantastic material that's pretty undervalued and they used to call it the 40-year floor. It's an agricultural product. It's a flax seed based product.

GELLERMAN: You mean there's no petroleum in linoleum?

IMHOFF: No, not that I know of. The Italians have fantastically beautiful designs for linoleum. There's a product called Marmoleum that people should look into for flooring or also for countertops. It comes in a really wide variety of colors and designs. It's really long lasting and so I would absolutely consider linoleum.

GELLERMAN: Daniel, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

IMHOFF: I really appreciate your interest.

GELLERMAN: Daniel Imhoff's new book is called "Building with Vision--Optimizing and Finding Alternatives to Wood."

[MUSIC: Richard Warner "Eagle Dance" Quiet Heart/Spirit Wind (Enso) 1996]



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