We found that choosing the right builders made all the difference to our project.
That may sound obvious, but we found that our builders' commitment to renewable energy
was as important to them as the quality of their work.
We first met our builders at a house site that they were constructing for a friend
of ours. We had met this friend by chance and he invited us to go and see what his
builders were doing.
The builders' commitment to energy efficiency was clear - right from the start. Most
of them were living in their own self-built solar homes. They had also been commissioned
to build a solar-powered house that was off-the-grid.
Their commitment to being energy-efficient was just part of their mission. They sought
out the best deals for us and made it a priority to find raw materials locally. Our
specification was that local was best, provided there wasn't too much difference
As a result, our flooring, decks and shingling are from sustainable wood produced
here in Maine. Also, our granite kitchen surface is from Deer Isle - right down the
road from us.
One of the slightly unusual features of our construction project was that we paid
our builders on a time-and-materials basis. Most construction projects are on the
basis of a fixed price contract, with a built-in markup on all materials and services
bought in. Instead, we paid our contractors by the hour, and paid at cost the materials
and services they bought. This gave us a lot of flexibility and control over costs
and procurement decisions, but we need to monitor progress against costs closely
to ensure the project stayed in budget. We would only recommend this method if
you know and trust your contractors.
Our top tip: Ask your builder if they have ever built an energy efficient home. Even
if they haven't had the opportunity to do this, they may still be committed to your
project. A good sign is if they have tried to be energy efficient in their own homes
or offices. If you get a blank look, move on.