Going from Training Wheels to Green Expertise

Training in ecological design and construction can take many forms. Three experts with unique perspectives on green remodeling outline their strategies for building skills and confidence.

May 31, 2008

Training in ecological design and construction can take many forms. The professional certification programs described last month will not transform a novice into an authority, but they can be a component of a broader educational program. In this issue, three experts with unique perspectives on green remodeling outline their strategies for building skills and confidence.

The Remodeler's View

Michael Strong is vice president of Houston remodeling firm Brothers Strong. A couple of years ago, the company launched a start-up, GreenHaus Builders, to build LEED-certified homes. His advice: "Take every class, do every Webinar, go to every conference and read everything you can. It will eventually sink in."

Strong says he recommends the AIA Gulf Coast Green conference. "It's great for hot-humid climates, and you get to rub elbows with the design community. Overall, West Coast Green and the NAHB National Green Building Conference are the best for residential green."

The Experienced Architect

Lecturing extensively around the United States, Eric Corey Freed, principal of Organic Architect, a San Francisco-based design and research firm, has met thousands of building professionals eager to move into the green field. This doesn't surprise him. Anything less, he says, is shirking professional responsibility.

What does perplex Freed is why so many builders are waiting for the perfect client to call.

"That's like waiting for a client to say, 'Design something beautiful or code-compliant,'" he says. Instead, he advises, "Go out and start doing it."

If you can't muster the confidence to go for it, hire a consultant who will teach you how to design and spec instead of doing it for you, he says.

For in-depth or hands-on training, Freed, who has 15 years of experience in green building, refers people to the Energy & Environmental Building Association's Houses That Work seminar (various locations); solar classes at the Solar Living Institute (throughout California); courses at Yestermorrow Design/Build School (Warren, Vt.); and summer workshops at Ecosa Institute (Prescott, Ariz).

Freed serves on the advisory board of West Coast Green, and calls its San Jose, Calif. conference his favorite. In addition to his own book, "Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies," he suggests David R. Johnston and Kim Masters' "Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time."

From the Educator

As director of education for NARI, Dan Taddei was part of the group that developed NARI's Green Certified Professional program. He says remodelers need to view their education as a two-part process. Stage one is gaining a mastery of building science. Stage two is learning how to implement that knowledge.

To enter the field, he advises:

  1. Find the closest green building/remodeling program and get involved. Many green building programs are based in cities, counties or states due to varying local conditions and climates. Check with your local associations or municipalities.
  2. Start doing green projects.
  3. Attend regional green conferences.
  4. Decide which certification route you want to follow.
  5. After you get certified, find a niche that works for you, such as building performance or high-end green kitchens, and specialize there.


This is an exciting but awkward time for remodelers, marked by a profusion of training options but little certainty as to which will survive the test of time. Try not to get frustrated. Instead, figure out how you learn best — via the printed word, visual materials, formal classes, or tinkering — and then customize an educational program to suit yourself. Above all, design a program you'll enjoy. Fun is the best motivator.

If you have ideas or comments, e-mail the author at GreenRoomDept@mac.com

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