How Green is Green?

About six months ago, I had some work done on my house.  Some of the beams holding up the structure were rotted out from water damage and there was no insulation between the garage that sits under the house and the first floor.  I wanted to make sure that however I handled the project, that it was green.  However, how green is green?

No matter what types of products we used, at the end of the project my carbon footprint would be reduced. That was certain, since I was insulating an area that had not been insulated before, and which let in a lot of cold air during our long New England winters.  As a result, the major decision was whether or not to splurge on a full on greenovation.


  • Contractors in my area didn’t seem to be on the sustainability train. During the bidding process, I met with several contractors, none of whom had heard of denim insulation or low VOC paints. One was vaguely aware of cellulose insulation, but for the life of him could not understand why I would consider paying more for it.  This posed a problem since we all know that finding a good contractor is nearly impossible, and when you get one that is highly recommended by people you know and available when you need them you have to snatch them up.  My dilemma was whether or not to search for a green contractor who was unknown and my or may not be available, or use a non-green contractor who I knew would complete the job on-time and on budget.
  • There’s a lot of conflicting information about what products are safer and more effective. I did some online research and found a lot on conflicting information about how much better denim and cellulose insulation were as compare to fiberglass in terms of R value and safety.  While denim and cellulose are touted as safer, some sites I read said that fiberglass is just as safe if installed correctly.  No matter what, my house would be more insulated than it was before the project.
  • Where to source green materials. In my area, there are starting to be more places to source green materials ( and, but six months ago, I didn’t know where to find then.  My contractor looked totally stumped when I suggested he do it and having just started a new job I didn’t have the time to do it either.
  • Cost. Because sourcing was an issue, I couldn’t make a good comparison on cost.  However, from the vague information I was given by one contractor it would be 20-30% more for cellulose insulation.

The decision:

After a lot of soul searching, number crunching, internet research and talking to friends and family, I chose a contractor based on recommendations who was priced competitively, reliable and does great work.  He was fantastic.  His guys showed up on time and the work was high quality and his price competitive.   I also chose to let the contractor use fiberglass insulation and regular waterproofing materials, plaster and paint.


In the end, I have been happy overall with the outcome of the project.  My house was much warmer this year as a result of the insulation, and I no longer have a garage that floods when it rains or snows. More importantly, my house is on a solid foundation and not at risk for falling down.  However, if given it all to do over again I would have pushed my contractor to use green materials.  The main reason for this is the off-gassing from the heavy duty sealants he used in the garage.  One evening during the project I came home and the fumes had seeped into the house and were pretty overpowering.  They were so bad that my upstairs neighbors considered staying in a hotel for the night.  Even now, six months later, I still wake up in the morning with burning eyes.  In hindsight it would have been worth it to spend a couple thousand dollars more to have more peace of mind and to be free of the effects of the harsh chemicals.

When I think of my original question: “How green is green?”  in this case the answer is that it was not green enough!


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