A little head banging

We have been working on our window design for a while now, tweaking the details and making sure every component of the design has been thought through. We are choosing glass that allows minimum heat transmission while allowing maximum day lighting. The size of the windows and placement of casements has been carefully considered to allow maximum ventilation and light. We have also decided to frame the windows with wood, which will be a better insulator than steel. So the job this week was to work on getting FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) wood for the framing. This would ensure that the wood was sustainably harvested, without disrupting the natural habitat. Easy, right? Well, read on. This is a great study as to why living sustainably can be such a challenge.

First, we asked Jim Kelly of Kelly Windows to check on the price difference between using FSC wood and traditional wood for the windows. He came back with a figure – $805 – which was great, but he had a concern. The FSC people had told him that in order to buy this wood he would have to be certified and we, as the buyers, would need certification too. WHAT? This didn’t make sense. First, what type of certification were they talking about, and why would an end user need any sort of certification to use their product?

So Tom called up FSC to clear this up. The high point of the conversation happened up front – no, we did not have to be certified to buy FSC wood. Good. Then Tom asked how to use the site look for some FSC pine, as it didn’t appear obvious. He was told that the search engine on the site only recognized the Latin name of the wood. Wow. But, OK, we’ll play the game. So while still on the line with the FSC rep, he typed in the Latin name she supplied, and found only one company that sells FSC-certified pine wood, and they were in Missouri. That’s a problem, as it doesn’t fit our mission of helping people make more sustainable choices easily (which usually means locally). So Tom said, OK, let’s just look for any lumber that is FSC-certified, and see if we can come up with a local source. They found 2 entries, one in Missouri and one in Charlotte, MI. When Tom said that this was not of much help, the FSC rep recommended that we just call each of these companies and find out from them if there is anyone in the Detroit area that sells their product. Again I say: WHAT? You have got to be kidding! One last helpful suggestion was to get on their site, put out a request for pine wood, and see if anyone writes back.

Now here’s the thing that can cause you to make your way over to the nearest wall and bang your head against it – at the end of this excruciating conversation, the rep mentioned that you can find FSC-certified wood at your local Home Depot. So, Tom inquired, why didn’t Home Depot come up in the search results? Because their site only lists custody-chain-certified locations, and Home Depot is just a certified retailer. Apparently they can sell the stuff but can’t advertise it, so it won’t pop up on the FSC site. At the end of the conversation Tom suggested to them, with admirable restraint, that they might work on the search engine – just a thought.

So that’s the wood. The glass was a different story. We contacted Guardian Glass, a local company, to see if we could order triple-paned, silver-glazed glass, which allows minimum heat transfer but maximum light transfer. They told us that this glass was sold only in Europe, not here. So we went to Cardinal Glass, located outside of Milwaukee, with a plant near Fort Wayne, Indiana, and they agreed to do it, but said that, in essence, they didn’t like to do it (not on their regular production schedule).

There you have it. Materials has proven to be one of the harder aspects of this renovation process, mainly because we are pursuing materials that most people are not requesting, and so we are often up against systems that are giving us some push back. There are stories like this behind nearly every material we have taken apart or requested for the finished building, and I certainly can see how some people finally give up and just take whatever they can, or surrender to the dumpster. We are fortunate that we have the time and resources to keep pursuing what we want, and I hope the work we’re doing on this building can translate one day to real help for others here in Detroit trying to do the same thing. I’m now thinking that our job will be to minimize the head banging.

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