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Living in a Greener Home: An Interview with Joanne Chappell-Theunissen if Howling Hammer Builders, Inc.

By Joanne Chappell-Theunissen

Tell us a little bit about your company and its foundation.

Howling Hammer Builders, Inc. is a Mt. Pleasant, MI based company and was formed in 2000 as a result of a shift in the Mission and Goals of its owners, Mike & Joanne (Jo) Theunissen. Prior to starting HHB, Mike and Jo were building homes and remodeling under the company name of Theunissen Homes.

In late 1999, after seriously considering what was happening in the world of residential construction, we made the conscious decision to move into Green Building, focusing on high-performance homes with accentuated attention to quality and detail. As baby-boomers ourselves, we felt a strong desire to provide the kind of home our clients would be proud to own, and could live in for the rest of their lives. We focus on environmentally conscious building techniques and pay close attention to the client's needs (both current and future) and apply as many "universal design" elements into our plans as possible.

We believe that part of Green Building is making sure that a home is properly designed to allow its owners to live there well into their senior years, making the home much more sustainable.

Howling Hammer Builders, Inc. is a full-service design-build firm. We specialize in both custom built homes and remodeling, always with the specific needs of our clients in mind.

What are some of the services your company provides?

We offer full services related to residential home construction and remodeling as well as design services for both interiors and exteriors.

We're happy to provide a free consultation to homeowners or prospective home owners to discuss options related to remodeling or building a new home.

What are some examples of energy efficient design elements that follow your green initiative?

At the onset, we use computerized home design software and advanced framing techniques to enable us to minimize construction waste. We design and plan our new homes to comply with US DOE Energy Star standards, and we plan our remodeling projects to meet as many of the standards as possible based on the scope of the work. Our homes are air sealed and insulated beyond normal building code standards, and we plan the heating/cooling systems accordingly. We take into consideration the clients' lifestyle when deciding on the water heating system to ensure we're using the most energy efficient system possible. Task lighting is designed to make sure the home is properly lighted for how it will be used, rather than simply based on old-fashioned typical placement.

What are some alternative energy solutions that can help me save money and pursue a greener lifestyle?

Energy savings need to always start with a properly constructed building envelope. That means great care must be taken to air seal a home preventing "wind-washing" of insulation which can reduce its effectiveness.

Heating/Cooling systems should be evaluated based on the location of the home as well as the clients' lifestyle and needs. Geo-thermal systems, heat-pump air handlers, and radiant heating systems are just a few of options that should be evaluated. There is no one "perfect" system because the type of home, use of the home, and the type of heating fuel available all need to be considered. Solar and wind remain outside the reach of most homeowners due to the large upfront financial investment, but we continue to watch as the technology improves in the residential market and hope to soon see the opportunity to take advantage of them as budgets permit.

Household water heating often is costing much more than necessary. Again, the lifestyle of the client and the configuration of the home need to be taken into consideration and an evaluation should be made of the appropriate water heating appliances. Options include: small point-of-use appliances for bathrooms and kitchens, tank-less water heaters, and super-insulated water heaters.

Incandescent lighting should be avoided and replaced with compact fluorescent or LED.

What are some of the benefits associated with the concept of Green Building?

Green building is so much more than simply saving energy and money (although that's a very large component). When planning a "green built" project we consider: energy conservation, materials & resource conservation, indoor air quality, water conservation, sustainability and global impact. A green built home is more comfortable and safer for its residents than a traditional home built to the average building code.

By properly air sealing and then supplying controlled/filtered intake air, it's possible to better control the indoor air quality; and the use of green building materials minimizes the off-gassing of volatile chemicals. The home also remains more comfortable when the heating/cooling system is properly sized and installed because those troublesome hot/cold spots are eliminated.

By focusing on water saving fixtures, we reduce the amount of water used in the home and the amount of energy needed to heat the water used.

By staying vigilant as to the resources used in the building and/or remodeling project, green building also significantly reduces the waste normally seen in a construction project. Recycling on the jobsite is an important element which also reduces waste. We avoid putting anything into a jobsite dumpster that could instead be recycled or reused.

And, of course, a heavy focus is placed on making sure the home uses as little energy as possible for heating, cooling, and appliance use.

What are some easy renovations I can make around the house that promote a greener lifestyle?

The easiest thing to start with is the home's lighting: replace any incandescent lights you still have with LED or CFLs.

Develop a recycling center for yourself to encourage daily use. If it's handy, it'll get used much more often. If you have space inside the house it's best, but a designated area in a garage or back porch that's easy to get to will also work.

Older toilets and bath fixtures can be replaced with newer water-saving types. The new fixtures have been properly designed to use less water without having to sacrifice efficiency.

Make sure the filter on your furnace is cleaned often. Most people forget about this, and a dirty filter makes the furnace work much harder and thereby it's a lot less efficient. You should also make sure the AC unit on the outside of your house is kept clean and free of any debris.

Do you have any general advice for someone who wishes his or her home were "greener"?

Start with the small steps mentioned above. You should then contact a remodeler who understanding green building/remodeling and ask for a consultation. There may be a number of things that can be done to your home that will fit you budget and lifestyle to make your home "greener", healthier, and more maintenance free.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you or your company?

You can contact us through our website: www.howlinghammerbuilders.com, or call our office at (989)772-2300.

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About The Author

Joanne (Jo) Chappell Theunissen is a licensed residential builder with extensive...

Phone: 989-772-2300

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