The Basics of Building and Living Green, Part I

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

“Building and living green is more than just screwing in an energy efficient light bulb or buying Energy STAR kitchen appliances,” says Galina Kanevsky. “These things help, yes, of course, but there are many ways to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle in the home.”

Kanevsky should know about such things as an architect and principal of GnG Design+Build, located in upper Westchester, which dedicates itself to green and sustainable principles.

The first time I heard about a house for sale that was designed and built “totally green,” I must confess that I had only a sketchy idea of what that meant, even though I was already involved in real estate. Some years went by without my having to educate myself further because I never again encountered another totally green house.

But because of educational programs and certification in green practices offered by the National Association of Realtors and state associations, the real estate industry is betting that we’ll all be living green and sustainable someday. Maybe not in our own lifetime, but someday.  It’s inevitable.

“So far, our generation has learned how to recycle and to compost, and that’s a start,” Kanevsky told this reporter recently. “It takes time.”

When I asked for more information about the basics of green design, she referred me to her firm’s brochure which identifies them as: maximizing energy efficiency and reducing energy costs in the home, maximizing the use of daylight, providing a healthy environment for the occupants of the space created, preserving existing landscapes, minimizing construction waste, and utilizing materials with high recycled content.

As an example in her own home, she said that she was considering installing solar panels to produce energy for her heating system, but when told that she would have to remove several large trees to do so, she settled for a percentage of energy savings by working with her supplier to accommodate her wishes to preserve the environment as well as save energy cost.

According to Kanevsky, the concept of building green is not new. Many of its elements were developed in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, but totally lost by the Middle Ages. Here in America, interest in green building was revived during the Clinton administration because of the energy crunch at that time. 

In 1998 a green building certification system called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to improve performance in building design in terms of energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of natural resources.

To achieve all that might seem like a tall order for someone wanting to build responsibly, but the most direct route to achieving green objectives in a new or already existing home is to identify an architect who is schooled in these disciplines.

“Obviously it’s easier to accomplish sustainable living when designing a project from scratch, rather than adding green elements to an older home,” Kanevsky said, “but every step toward a more sustainable living environment helps.

“Our objective is to educate as well as design and build to make our plan fit the lifestyles of the home owner,” she said. “It’s a relationship among the owner, designer and builder in deciding what level of green is to be achieved, what it will cost, and what it will save,” she said.

The process of learning more about the family starts with an extensive interview with the client, and that can be a very personal kind of journey. “We are designing and building a place for clients to raise their children,” Kanevsky said. “Their home must reflect how they function both as individuals and as a family to live a more fulfilling life. I ask such questions as how they eat breakfast, what do they do after they shower, what is their work schedule, and how do they spend their weekends? Then, it’s the architect’s job to create the space to accommodate their lifestyle.

“We educate our clients about which designs will help them live happier and healthier lives. For instance, we site their homes to maximize daylight, and we plan more open interior space to improve circulation and the quality of air. And because we’re encouraging clients to live smaller for energy efficiency, we like to design multifunctional spaces,” she said.

After the interview or series of interviews, the next step for Kanevsky is to create a preliminary schematic to which the client can add ideas. Usually she supplies at least three schematics for discussion and final selection of features.

The next step is the design development stage in which the cost can be roughly estimated because the square footage is known. And by the time of the final design, the client has selected all systems, materials, and appliances to be incorporated into the home, and a final budget has been determined.

But what about those costs? Haven’t we all heard that green building is much more expensive to achieve?

Kanevsky says the upfront additional cost for green and sustainable design has been greatly reduced in the past five years because of the greater availability of green materials. “Five years ago, it might have cost 20 or 30 percent more to build green,” she said, “but today that extra cost has been reduced to 10 percent. 

“Remember, making that effort to design ventilation, lighting, heating and cooling around green principles is all about living a healthier life,” she concluded. “And that is the most important benefit.”

Part II, next week, will focus on the specific language and materials of green living.

To know more about designing green for the home, Galina Kanevsky can be reached at:  or call 914-432-5871.

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® (, affiliated with Coldwell Banker, and a marketing practitioner ( For questions or comments about the housing market, or selling or buying a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.