Green building’s surprising energy savings

New-home design that can also help environment, improve health

"Use common sense to make sense." It sounds like Ben Franklin, but the speaker in this case is David Johnston, a green-building consultant in Boulder, Colo. His Ben Franklin-sounding aphorism, he said in a recent interview, has proved to be a useful, shorthand way of explaining sustainable green-building principles and practices. Although these have been embraced by more and more home builders, there is still much confusion among the general public as to what exactly makes a house green. One way to keep things straight, Johnston said, is simply to remember to "use common sense to make sense." For example, Johnston is regularly asked if a green house is one that is petroleum-product-free. His common sense answer: "If you eliminate everything that contains petroleum, you can't enjoy the accoutrements of a 21st century lifestyle." All the heating and cooling equipment and standard appliances contain plastic, he pointed out, adding that "even something as basic as a toilet has plastic...