Affordability – What Can We Not Afford To Do?




When it comes to building, the term “affordable” is often indirectly associated with low-cost, low-income projects. Not million dollar home-type projects. What does “affordability” really mean? It can’t possibly mean the same thing for everyone. Most often though, its definition is directly associated with monetary value. But why do we restrict “affordability” to monetary value? There’s so much more.

When I consider affordability in building, there’s a deeper, transcendent meaning; one that relates to survival. The degree to which our life-building decisions affect not only ourselves, but everything around us, should be considered part of any “price” we place on development. Everything we do, every decision we make. Every choice has a global implication. There are prices we pay beyond the sales tag – the hidden costs that aren’t so hidden anymore.

If we choose to purchase the lumber for a project from a locally sourced supplier, then we eliminate the materials brought in by truck, train and tanker (even if it was sustainably harvested). Instead of choosing a tropical wood that has left a global imprint in its travels from source to use, we choose something grown in our own backyard. We know where and how it grew, how it was harvested and how it was delivered. By choosing local, we have the power to determine the impact we want to make and to what degree.

Affordability can also be measured in terms of energy, time and peace-of-mind. By building a home with the whole world in mind, we are required to consider so many affordability options. A carefully considered project addresses all issues up front, in order to have the project progress as seamless and ethically intentional as possible.

For me, the term affordability is synonymous with “common sense”, an immeasurable, renewable resource.that we all have the power to produce and promote. And we can do this, we must do this, with every single decision we make. With the stakes so high, we can’t afford not to.


The Real Cost to Build

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recycled content

When setting out to build a house, many questions are asked along the way. The most common and often the first is “What is the cost to build?”

It’s a valid question, but not the only one, as the same question will rarely prompt the same answer. People include different items when quoting a client as to their cost to build, and there is no universal standard or set parameters to arrive at this figure. Some include non-structural items such as landscaping, appliances, carpets, window coverings, and original infrastructure like power and water. But there are costs beyond the obvious material and labor costs.

Something to consider (always!) are the intangible costs associated with every choice made. And quite often, it’s the environment that suffers, in order that we save a few bucks here and there. Most people (unknowingly) choose to use materials that are toxic to manufacture, because it’s good for the bottom line. Yet we must make that choice with the awareness of what the side effects are. How is the manufacturer’s power supply generated? Wind-generated electricity? Coal? Where do the raw materials come from? Are they recycled locally? Or are they sourced from another country around the world by way of diesel tanker ship, railroad, and then truck? What actually goes into the parts that make up our new homes? What is their impact both locally and globally? What about our health?

When I set out to create the first SAK House (Sustainable Affordable Kustom) my goal was to consider all of the costs that go into constructing a building, which go beyond the cost of concrete, lumber, and nails. It includes more than just the labor, sub-contractors, and designers. It includes costs that aren’t always measured in cash. We must calculate the environmental costs, that is, the compromising of our only air supply, our limited potable water supply, our disappearing arable land, our forests, our natural world. Our construction habits and patterns take a toll on our planet. But they don’t have to. Thankfully, there are alternatives readily available for every material, component and system used in construction. There are options that can help mitigate the environmental costs.

By identifying all of the costs (fiscal and environmental) incurred in a project, we are able to realize savings through efficient planning. For example, in utilizing high quality finishes, we limit long-term costs required for upkeep and maintenance. By maximizing our insulation values, we are able to save money in heating and cooling for years to come. By sourcing renewable or recycled materials manufactured locally, we can secure our future on this planet.

These aforementioned items comprise the “real” cost to build. So be sure to look at the big picture before you start hiring and spending. This is exactly what we try to address at GBC before you spend your money on things that will make you sick, will make the planet sick and will limit the Earth’s ability to provide humanity with the necessities to survive and thrive.


The Need for Sustainable Building

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As we look to the future, we find ourselves in challenging times.
No one would question that. As we continue to develop, build,
renovate, and carve out new spaces in order to accommodate
our growing population, we acknowledge the need to be
environmentally wise in relationship to the construction and
operation of our homes and buildings. Whether in an off-grid
location or the middle of a city block, there are a number of
considerations that should be addressed before design of any
kind takes place.

Why is that?

Once a structure is defined, it is difficult and expensive to
accommodate features that might lead the process to a more
eco-conscious conclusion. The more research and consideration
we take in defining our future living environment before we break
ground or knock down walls, the more successful and gratifying
the end result.

In the coming snippets of ideas, I will delve a bit deeper into the
features and factors that make one’s construction journey an
informed, responsible, and engaging one. Detailed subjects will
include the importance of water conservation and purification,
waste generation, energy efficiencies, toxicity in materials and
other sources, the carbon footprint factor, affordability, material
selection, and more.

The bottom line is that the more factors we take into consideration
during the planning stages, the more intentional our final structure
will be. When all potential options are explored, an informed
decision process, along with a healthy, sustainable, efficient
building, will result. In the long term, this approach will lead to a
healthier environment and healthier inhabitants of our Earth.