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A Great LeapFrog Forward in Building with FSC-Certified Wood

02/23/09

By Michael Wilmeth

Stephen Aiguier, the president of Green Hammer Building Contractors, is emphatic: “For me to build, it’s paramount to use certified wood.” Green Hammer is the first and still the only North American general contractor to obtain a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) chain-of-custody certification, which allows it to use the FSC label on houses and furniture it builds. Aiguier has also been instrumental in developing his region’s green building supply chain, including a warehouse for sustainably harvested wood, run by the Portland, Oregon-based Sustainable Northwest.

LeapFrog House, near Portland, Oregon
Graph courtesy Green Hammer Construction
LeapFrog House, near Portland, Oregon, is this year's winner of the Designing and Building with FSC award.
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It’s not surprising, then, that this year’s Designing and Building with FSC Award went to a Green Hammer project, LeapFrog House, a 2,000 ft² home with an adjacent 600 ft² studio apartment. The house, built near Portland for Charlie Weiss and Katherine Lawrence, raises the bar for the four-year-old award by using virtually 100% FSC-certified wood (the exceptions: a tree removed to make way for the house was made into stair treads, and salvaged bleacher seats were milled into trim).

Aiguier is glad for the recognition in part because, while he acknowledges the importance of energy-efficiency—LeapFrog House was certified as LEED Platinum, and he routines builds to LEED standards—sustainable forestry and wood is where his heart lies. Wood is a “feel-good product,” he says—warm, beautiful, natural—which makes it hard for people to connect it with the terrible impact logging can have. Even in the Pacific Northwest, Aiguier finds, many people don’t see beyond the narrow bands of intact forest commonly left along roads when timber cuts are underway. “It would make you sick to your stomach to see what we do to our forests, even in this country,” Aiguier says. He is quick to add that there is also a lot of excellent forestry in the Northwest, like that practiced by Zena Timber near Salem, about 50 miles from Portland, the source of framing lumber for the award-winning project (and, as it happens, managed by Lawrence’s  cousin Sarah Deumling).

Green Hammer has a sister business, Urban Timberworks, that salvages city street trees for lumber and furniture. Aiguier is happy to salvage lumber from buildings, too. Otherwise, he says, FSC-certified is the only good option. “It is the only standard out there that lets me know where a stick of wood comes from and that it was responsibly harvested,” he says. Without this kind of attention to where his materials come from, Aiguier says, he couldn’t look a client straight in the eye and say he builds green houses. 

Getting most wood building products with FSC certification isn’t difficult, Aiguier says (trim moldings are still tough), but sometimes Green Hammer runs into resistance from clients looking to trim the budget. Aiguier admits this is frustrating, since he estimates that using FSC-certified wood adds at most one or two percentage points to the cost of a project. While it may lack the excitement of a highly visible green element such as a solar array, he says, it lasts for the life of the building and gives a lot of green bang for the buck. He also notes that at times, FSC-certified wood can be purchased directly from local producers for less than the cost of non-certified wood from larger distribution channels.

Green Hammer got no such resistance from Weiss and Lawrence, however. Weiss says using local FSC-certified wood was important to them because it supports the local economy and promotes healthy ecosystems, and that he thinks anyone in his region who doesn’t choose such wood is being short-sighted. He adds that because they sourced whole logs, they were able to have the house’s lumber milled to order, minimizing waste. Weiss and Lawrence are sufficiently convinced of the merit of their design (which they developed with professional design help from architect Kathy Kremer) and of Green Hammer’s approach to building that they engaged Green Hammer to build a house of an almost identical design next door to them, and two more using a similar design on the rest of their parcel. 

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com

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