There’s a common myth most people believe about creating green homes. “They think being sustainable means spending more money,” says Robert Wisniewski, an environmental engineer and director of sustainable design at Newark-based Lincoln Park Redevelopment. “But if you are smart in your home design and frugal in the product choices you make, you can have a very energy-efficient building that is healthy for the environment, healthy for the occupants, and affordable to operate.”
Green building is not rocket science, he says. It is not about new, sexy technology. “It is about the thoughtful assembly of off-the-shelf products.” And as he has helped builders and farmers create sustainable spaces in the state’s largest city, he is bringing his message to contractors, builders, and green-concerned homeowners.
Wisniewski will present “Green Building,” a four-session course starting on Tuesday, March 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Mercer County Community College’s West Windsor campus. Cost: $105. For more information, call 609-570-3311 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The class is part of the college’s construction management program and is geared toward those people who want an overview of the best practices involved in creating ecologically focused building designs. “We’ll establish a framework of how buildings have been built in the past and why it worked,” Wisniewski says. “Then we’ll focus on where we have become more of an energy consuming, resource consuming building culture. I want the construction people and designers, and even homeowners to know how our current building practices affect our environment.”
The Green Building class will introduce people to the latest specialized construction methods that produce sustainable, environmentally sound homes. Wisniewski will talk about how to select eco-friendly building materials, solar technologies, and natural finishes.
The Lawrenceville resident, who has been building with recycled materials and sustainable construction throughout his career, says the class will focus on several key issues.
Think local. Wisniewski says that creating a building that has very little impact upon the environment requires considering the impact you cause just by buying the building materials. Buying local helps. Materials bought within several hundred miles of a construction site usually require less energy than those that must be trucked across the country. Most are also more efficient than using material that exhausts energy in the manufacturing process.
Energy efficiency tips. “There are many things you can do when building a home, or updating an older home, that will help you reduce your energy use,” Wisniewski says. “One of the best things you can do is reduce the air leakage in your home. You can invest in a $200 foam gun to seal your home and reduce your heating bills by 20 to 25 percent.”
Government help. State incentive programs and grants help builders help their customers. “The state has some excellent financing programs for people who want to be green,” Wisniewski says. “What’s exciting today is that there will be even more money available to support sustainability,” thanks to the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Barack Obama signed into law on February 17.
Get certified. Any builder can apply for certification from one of several non-profit organizations that have established standards for sustainability and green construction. These standards define the construction techniques necessary to earn a level of sustainability.
One of the more common certifications for a building comes from the U.S. Green Building Council, which offers LEED Certification. That program lets builders earn points for their “greenness” based on a site’s location, design, use of resources, construction material, and other criteria.
“This class talks about issues that affect a LEED rating, but it doesn’t certify anyone,” Wisniewski warns. “Rather, we’ll show people how to look at a house as a complete system. I don’t focus on any one material or energy issue. I make sure people realize they have myriad options. How you put those options together can create a green building, a sustainable home that is comfortable to live in.”
While green building has become more of a hot topic in recent years, Wisniewski has been practicing the trade for 14 years. After growing up in North Brunswick, where his father was a diesel mechanic, Wisniewski earned a bachelor’s in environmental science engineering from the University of Delaware. “I got out of school and traveled the country,” he says. “That gave me the opportunity to learn about sustainability and building with recycled resources from many people.” At one point he had his own design/build construction company in Colorado and California.
Since returning to New Jersey several years ago to help a friend turn an 18th century farmhouse into a sustainable home he has worked at the state Department of Community Affairs Green Homes Office, and recently joined Lincoln Park Redevelopment after consulting to the nonprofit for two years. The non-profit developer owns 11 acres in Newark and is turning the space into an eco-village.