Thursday, March 26, 2015

About A House: Building One Of The First Sustainable Homes In The US

Blogger's Note:  We recently sat down with sustainable building expert Richard Woods, CEO of Albany Woodworks, to see what inspired him to build a green home for his family nearly 40 years ago.


(Above): Richard built his home from quality re-purposed and recycled building materials four decades ago at a time when using new man-made products like carpet and vinyl siding was the norm. 

Richard, tell us about your current home and what led you to build green in a time when most people were not yet fully aware of the numerous benefits of sustainable building. 

Richard: The story of my house, is the story of my life.  Before our children were born my lovely wife Judith and I bought 20 acres of pine forest on a river in Southern Louisiana.  We loved the natural splendor of the property, far from the city and untouched by development.  So when it was time to add a house to the property, Judith and I felt it should fit in with the natural beauty and charm of it's surroundings.  To achieve the natural look we were going for, we decided to utilize as many recycled materials as possible in building a home for the family we hoped to soon raise.

In the early days of building our home, before we grew into the 10,000 sqft. manufacturing facility Albany Woodworks is today, would have "crowbar and hammer" parties with our friends would come and help "clean" the wood for our home.  We began by gathering materials including wood that was going to be sent to the landfill from the demolition site of a 150 year old barn.  Next Judith and I found a book that was very informative to our building process, Design With Climate by Victor Olgyay. This helped us devise an overall concept for our home and gave us a great starting point.

For our southern locale it was recommended that we make use of any existing natural shade provided by our beautiful wooded property. We integrated an open floor plan with the center of the home designed as a vaulted column to vent the heat and used wide over hanging eves to help shade the walls. We chose metal as the best roofing for our location, and than began the long process of building and then expanding as our project budget would allow.  We made a decision to not borrow any money to build the house so the project was in one phase or another for twelve years before it was completed. 

(Above): An interior view of Richard's home.  The theme of sustainability continues throughout with re-purposed windows, simply turned on the angle to become a diamond-shaped focal point to the design and reclaimed antique heart pine and cypress are utilized here for for solid wood flooring and architectural details.
In this process Judith and I learned many new skills including how to best utilize old lumber, which I believe is the most beautiful design element in our home. We were surprised when people loved our house just as much as we do!  Guests to our home began saying that they really liked the look of our house and wished they could use antique building materials in their home. With children on the way, and needing a more substantial income, Judith and I decided to start a business recycling, refurbishing, and constructing products, mostly furniture, from old growth "antique" cypress and heart pine.

That was 38 years ago.  Since then, not only did Judith and I raise our family in this beautiful sustainable home, we also started a business of providing this same high-quality antique lumber to customers for their homes and businesses.  We of course didn't know it at the time but this was the birth of a green movement that is now world-wide and it started, in part, in our own backyard.  We still love our "antique" house,  it's unique beauty was the inspiration for us to open Albany Woodworks, which we feel blessed to share with our family, friends, and community.