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November 2016

“All Natural” or “Man-Made”?
Do You Know Which is Better for Green Building?

Are you someone who buys organic produce and favors clean eating for your family? Do you seek out "all natural" products or less-processed foods when you shop? Then you might also be interested in how the concepts of Green Building can be incorporated into your home maintenance and remodeling projects.

Image: ways to go green

The elements of green building

There are many ways in which remodeling projects or materials can be "green" with the most recognizable being energy efficiency and its subsequent cost savings. Other considerations include the use of alternate energy sources such as solar; minimizing waste and landfill use; and the use of environmentally friendly materials that may be renewable, biodegradable when disposed, locally sourced to reduce transportation requirements, or non-toxic (and therefore healthier for people with allergies or chemical sensitivity issues).

But one thing you might not be aware of is that building products with more processing are not necessarily harmful to your home or the environment.

“Man-made” products can also be “green”

Many building products today are "engineered" which is just another way of saying "man-made." But that's not bad in terms of being environmentally friendly, because most of these products are made from natural materials in ways that actually preserve resources. They combine elements to make the most of the positive features of each. Many engineered products are alternatives to wood and help to prevent the widespread clearing of trees for building purposes.

Fiber cement siding photo courtesy CertainTeed.
Fiber cement siding photo courtesy CertainTeed. 


Maybe you pick "vinyl" as a way to listen to music, but it's not what you want as a siding material for your home. Engineered wood siding uses wood strands compressed and coated with resin to keep out moisture and protect against weather damage, fungus, and termites. Fiber cement siding is made from a mixture of Portland cement, cellulose or wood fiber material, sand, and other components. It resists warping, harsh weather, insects, and rot, as well as being fire-resistant, making it an ideal siding choice for homes in wildfire regions. Both of these products use wood wisely and have little negative impact on our forests.


We love the classic appeal of hardwood flooring. Its reputation for warmth, character, and long-lasting beauty is well-deserved. If you decide on solid plank wood flooring, look for certification by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) on any wood product you buy. That means it's a sustainably harvested product.

Another flooring alternative is engineered wood flooring. It's not fake wood, but is made of several layers of plywood with a veneer of natural wood on top. This makes it a more sustainable option than solid planks, because it uses less wood. Choose carefully, though, because quality can vary widely depending on the veneer thickness. A high-quality engineered wood floor with a thicker veneer – between 2mm and 6mm – is very durable and can even be refinished. It should also carry a FSC or SFI certification for sustainable harvesting. One great feature of engineered wood floors is that they can be installed over a concrete slab or in a basement, where solid plank floors aren't appropriate.

Cambria® engineered stone quartz surface
Cambria® engineered stone quartz surface. Photo courtesy Cambria 

Counter surfaces

Granite is a beautiful, strong surface for counters, and there aren't many downsides to selecting it for your kitchen. There is an environmental consideration, however, and that is that granite is a product of mining operations and needs to be shipped as large slabs. While most of our granite comes from northern Minnesota, within about 60 miles of the Twin Cities, and doesn't require the environmental impact of long-range shipping, there is another counter surface that is worth considering.

An alternative material, quartz, is an engineered stone that starts with about 93% crushed natural stone and combines it with 7% pigments and resins to make an attractive surface that rivals a granite slab in performance. Quartz is non-porous, and resistant to stains, acid spills, mold, bacteria, and heat. Engineered stone is mined, like granite, but it can be shipped as smaller chips and then fabricated into slabs at various manufacturing facilities.

If you're thinking about remodeling your home and are concerned about the environmental impact of the products used in the process, talk to us! We can help you make decisions that can give you a beautiful home and also contribute to a greener future for us all.

Maintenance Tip: Change Furnace Filters and Inspect Your Heating System

Your furnace should be inspected once a year. By getting it inspected now, you can catch minor problems that could potentially become major ones in the winter. Not only that, but proper maintenance adds years to your unit's life and helps it run more efficiently. Also, change or clean filters monthly or according to the unit's instructions. If filters are not changed often enough, they can become clogged. This forces your heating and cooling systems to work harder and less efficiently to maintain airflow, and increases your energy bills. In the long run, it can also damage your equipment.

The Canadian Rockies – last June
The Canadian Rockies – last June. 

What's the Story?

There are so many things to consider when you are picking products... It is not surprising how remodeling gets complicated. We have talked a lot about green building in both this newsletter and our printed newsletter, but the bottom line is will it last a long time, be "healthy" to live with and give you the aesthetics that you desire. As I noted in our last newsletter, if we build a home to last 150 years, let's make sure it meets these 3 criteria.

Photo: remodeled shower
Fun shower we just completed. 

We have been working hard on our outdoor projects as we take advantage of this great fall weather. Last month we showed the effects of rain on a job site and wow, we would be wallowing in mud in both projects if not for the warm dry weather.

Photo: project demolition   Photo: mudroom construction
Walls up and demo underway.    Future mudroom. 

We also are doing a large job on the interior of a home in south Minneapolis – changing the stairs to the basement and the second floor in addition to remodeling the rest of the first floor. Lots happening!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

John Sylvestre

Until next month,

John Sylvestre
Phone: 612-861-0188

Sylvestre Remodeling & Design