Green Living and Building
Article - Interview by Andrew Jenner of Page News May of 2007
Bonnie Kaufmann, LIFE Counselor, Builder,
L.I.F.E. Advocate and Family Counselor,
Author, "LIFE Planners", "Soul Tied To God",  "Chutzpah Living"
Special Needs Community Developer,  2004
Builder(Retired Class A, Virginia),  1986

President Taking Care of,  1996
Taking Care of Business Inc. 2,000
A Better Choice Inc 1984

By Bonnie Kaufmann
Frontier Earth Homes
Logs to tires, earth to stones
Build yourself or have custom built for you

Michael Reynolds Earth Homes
This home is built with recycled tires from a dump

Learn More about building homes with tires

Green Living starts with more basic steps like recycling, not wasting fuel to mow grass and plant natural scapes with water gardens, ground covers etc.  Not driving when you can walk.  Using less and wasting less water.  We can go on and on......

But Green Building Is the Biggest Step.    I aim to change the landscape of America - With More Green Building One Community at at time - and taking the job of Taking Care of Seriously.

What is Green Building  -  Getting Back To Basics by:

Bonnie Kaufmann, Green Builder in Luray, VA  22835

USA Luray Primitive History Park


                    Interview with Page News Staff Writer - Andrew Jenner

Mr. Jenner asked Bonnie Kaufmann to provide answers to his questions for his article on Green Building for his News Article.

 envelope buildingWhat is green building

Bonnie Kaufmann provided the answers to his questions and the additional following information submitted Wed. May 09, 2007:


What is Green building....  Green building is the practice of: # increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use and harvest energy, water, and materials, and # reducing building impacts on human health and the environment,# through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal the complete building life cycle...  from the dictionary.

What is Greener Building? Thinking out of the box and getting back to basics using many sorts of green (recycled and/or natural) building materials out there.  Some materials are ready made of recycled natural materials you can purchase.  Other green building materials like tires and bottles are free and man made recycled items used for what some also consider green building because recycled man made materials like bottles, and plastic containers that because they are used to build and save on lumber are still saving the environment.  Examples of a natural recycled products with natural plants is bamboo, For example bamboo flooring is getting popular. There are also modular and/or panelized and solar home packages built with all kinds of man made and/or natural materials with off grid ready heating, lighting, and sewage systems that allow you to live 365 year round with gardens in your home utilizing sewage waste and used water to maintain your year round vegetable garden in your dwelling that requires little if any heat or cooling and can be designed in any style or look you want to imagine.    Green building can look like other house plans or be very creative and individual in many ways in and outside.


There are custom or packaged green and/or solar home plans for cob, various styles of machine rammed earth, straw bale, tires or bags of rammed earth.  These are all energy saving and some actually harvest and save store energy for later heating and cooling in a off grid very natural way. 


Planning a green building dwelling spot requires knowing how natures elements work on the place you plan to build, especially the sun, wind and moisture that their own ways of working naturally in the spot and overall environment that you’re planning to put your house on. 


I prefer the word dwelling because it explains the importance of the house – that is planned to utilize all of nature’s elements to enhance the dwellers quality of life.  We as humans also are all about energy and how our body gains or loses energy.  It’s not just about earth energy savings, but more importantly about improving our health and our community well being while saving money we don’t have to work as much.  The Green building dwelling also requires less money to maintain, insure, as green building is also more about sustainable building that is stronger to withstand earthquakes, high winds, erosion, hurricanes, invasion of unwanted elements. Green building is giving back to and not taking away from the environment and you. Building a structure that does not enslave you but serves you with a better quality of life.  I call it Back to Basics  - ABC Building - A Better Choice. (My Builders license name was A Better Choice Inc.)

All new and existing structures can utilize green building materials and concepts.  More than anything green building in my opinion is simple and just looking for ways to save energy and purchase recycled materials to build or improve on a structure that is of natural and/or man made recycled materials.  Incorporating all possible ways for solar concepts that when finished are very pleasing to the community eye, requires minimal heating and cooling assistance, low maintenance and allows people to notice a lifestyle difference.     Infrastructure green building is not noticeable to the eye.  There are more fundamental green building concepts and much more drastic green building concepts and that are built more of natural and than recycled materials such as earth or straw built homes.  Some die hard green builders will not use anything that is not natural like tires or plastics – anything manmade.  Then there are green builders that use everything they can find from the garbage and create beautiful homes that you would never think was birthed from the dump.

green building, types of materials, man and natural made
The floor is various sawed parts of trees and of course logs and stone to build this structure.

Green Building can include many ways and types of materials.... but it all boils down to utilizing our resources to bring us desired results before we start our building plans.  So we have all the natural elements possible - considering first the dwelling location and position with sun and wind, kind of windows, kind and thickness of walls, what recycled building materials, location and building materials maintenance factors with the demographic weather history, and most important of all our individual desired lifestyle all researched and pulled together to build the most cost effective, community pleasing and least expensive structure using natural ways and means - for building the structure and dwelling in the structure for cleaner and healthier living and contribution/savings and protection for our environment.

The traditional stick built house life span is about 30 years..... If you compare that to houses made of earlier building styles by our earliest settlers in Europe - they are into the thousands of years of existence now - and with little maintenance.  Most are made of some form of dirt, natural grown materials other than trees and many are built with various forms of clay and earth elements and stone.

What is it that makes people feel good about a structure that is not negatively affecting the environment?    Some think only of the building materials - I think that psychologically - appearances and the aesthetics of a structure - especially the place we plan to put our dwelling is most important when we consider green building for our home.  For example - we may not see the recycled plywood or thicker walls in the green structure going up - but we would see a miniature rain forest in the yard from roof runoff and storm water instead of cement curb and guttering.  The roof that collects water and runs it into a garden, or a roof that grows sedum and ground cover - that effects the air we breathe and our environment - in many ways.  I could go on and on... with sidewalks that are Green and softer on the feet that bicycles and wheel chairs can maneuver on.  Green building is more than building with recycled and natural materials - it's also planning for a greener, healthier quality of life for our lungs to breath, bodies to be in contact with and our eyes to see and our whole being and children to dwell with more beauty of nature to enjoy.

Standard built homes can also add green quality to an existing home and the persons having to look at the community driving by. One way I recommend to everyone is to start adding more evergreen trees that will not affect the foundation as close as you can around the house to break the west winds and insulate.  Plant deciduous trees that shade the southern side from sun that can be easily pruned that will protect and break winds and not become a threat to your roof.  Plant ground covers instead of grass. Direct rain spouts into miniature gardens that act like rain forests or water a vegetable garden. Just implementing some simple green solar landscaping concepts can drastically increase the value of your home, reduce heating and cooling expenses and improve your quality of life.   Putting recycled wood flooring into a home is a step towards a greener home within the concept.  


Our subdivisions could use less concrete and pavement – with more softer landscaping and natural ways of enhancing our roads walkways with permeable earth absorbing materials instead of so much pavement  and concrete…. That are by code and do allow the fire truck and handicap persons, and bicycles to drive on.  It's all in more Green minded  planning and development for the real effective green secondary roads, parking, buildings and community concepts and principals that drastically make a beautiful difference that brings more value, dollars and satisfaction to home dwellers that last more than a lifetime. 

The community has many ways to do greener planning and development once they understand the concept and get the authorities to hear what they want....    Everyone wants a more beautiful greener community with less stress. Who wouldn’t get excited about visiting a town that doesn't look like every other place they drive to or through? A Greener community is good marketing.  Page County has a chance to protect build on a natural green caverns statement with green building by nature we have already in Luray.


If we started marketing Green building communities and not spend as much on pavement around homes or cement curbs and cement guttering – the price of housing goes down and the value of the home goes up with more trees and green basins, swells and landscaping that helps the environment.  People love to see more greenery and soothing natural settings of scenery outside their windows.

Green community, street or subdivision planning is also like green building - using more recycled materials and using what makes our community looks more natural. It's not traditional and it's out of the box thinking.  It requires discretion, consideration and communication - with the zoning authorities. 

I'm looking to build a community that has a Primitive Luray - Frontier look and not look just like any other community.  Luray is famous for Caverns - how primitive can we get and isn't that what Luray is about?  Luray History is about more primitive than frontier times - we have so much to brag about that is considered Green development today.  Green building has to become more of the plan and requirement to protect our community before it's too late.

Luray Caverns is the biggest Green dwelling that I know of??? Home to primitive Indians and an earth home structure - with history all about how nature can protect and take care of people - I believe it's also an emergency shelter.  To me that's Getting Back to Basics - Green Building...  a concept of a natural looking Luray that people are hungry for.  Luray wants more tourism - why not draw people with the concept of more Green Building with more natural looking planned communities and some earth structures.  It wouldn't cost more taxes to build and would bring in more tourist tax dollars to spend for the betterment of the community.

USA Luray Caverns, Green building, planning development and Tourism...
It's so valuable what we have in Luray - we need to protect and get our authorities to take the necessary zoning changes to protect our natural primitive history and make it part of our Heritage and look for ways to bring our own style of Luray back to our communities like Luray, Stanley, and all our little burgs and small developments of Page County. 


We have so much Page County could brag about ... from before the settlers... many previous generations in our community, that we need to be bring back - with green building planning and development within our planning and development plans for our urban, town and county planning ordinances.  Page County shopping centers - all look like every other US highway byway shopping strip.... that doesn't have to be.

People going on vacation are looking for – something pretty and beautiful to ease their minds and make them feel welcome, warm and fuzzy.    Luray has everything everyone would want – and can still protect it.   Caves, Nature, Primitive and War History and how we have stayed natural and Green is something to brag about in Page County.Luray has unique history from Stanley, and Stanley from Shenandoah.  If we can get our main streets history back intact to its unique style - and protect them from looking like the next town's Main Street and other communities across the US - then Page County would have more to offer and people to talk about that is productive and brings good things to our daily living. 

If Page, Luray, Shenandoah, Stanley  wants more tourism - it has to protect and develop history scenery for tourist that incorporate green building concepts and get a reputation for more natural and green thinking community and gain back what it use to be.  Market it and be proud of it


I think Luray has lost – much of its nature and green primitive building history that can still be re-created.  Luray isn't known only for its artist - Luray has much more history that no one has promoted with the primitive settlers - Indians, beaver and fur traders, mountain men - and the first dwellers in our lands.  They knew all about Green building and how to utilize nature to their advantage when building their homes.  That’s something to brag about and tell people that come to Page County.

Before the Revolutionary War, and then certainly civil war – we have it all ... where other communities have only a few history moments to re-create with their statues and museums - our whole county can be a museum with the right planning - history research and implementation - to bring people from all over the US.

Where else can people still find spots of the Shenandoah and forests close to a town that still has the original buildings that also incorporate green building concepts?  We can preserve to keep the look and also bring back our primitive history heritage - beyond the heritage festivals.  Why not Primitive history on Main Street - and why not communities built to look more like primitive history landscapes and parks for the dwellers?

Stop allowing everyday builders and developers of strip malls, fast food or commercial buildings go about their same plans and designs - without requiring them to start making structures look more like a green building process in Page County – Especially in Luray - the Historic Real Luray. 


Page County and our towns are so rich yet so poor?  The solution is realizing our assets of Natural Green ways to develop and build with the potential of incorporating our History to bring more tourists that want to more green and feel impressed after they've visited Page County.  And most likely want to come again.... because they know we'll have more green for them to look forward to seeing next visit.

Wouldn't that be something for Luray to have a Green Building reputation and talk about?

Primitive History Park is currently planning

8 lots in a Private Gated community off Learning Park Road.  Our goal is to have the roads be designed for low impact - so the water will drain into rain gardens for each house and avoid the traditional looking curb and guttering.  The kind of houses we are looking to have built on the property by lot purchases are Solar and made of recycled materials - which is what the covenants will require.  Some - we hope more solar than not.   If you visit my web site look at the link

I'm planning to build houses that can run on and off the Grid System - being totally operational if there was no electricity, sewage lines or town water available.  This can be done very easily - and by each home owner with plans we will provide them to choose from.

Our goal is that this is going to be a Dwelling Park - not a traditional subdivision - where it looks like a park and the dwellings fit in as natural looking and more primitive looking outside - with all the luxuries amenable inside including indoor gardening and bath houses - for Healthy and handicap living with as many natural resources to be incorporated inside the dwelling as outside.       For persons to have an indoor rain forest in a bathroom that is not traditional bathroom - but a bathing indoor solar swimming or bathing section as a part of their dwelling.  It's all about getting back to basics - and healthy living - for Wellness - starting with the environment - the kind of setting with roads, parking, yard, entrances, views, and storm water management to benefit the dweller and our community.   How we can resource all the natural amenities into a natural dwelling structure built with the idea of bringing the outdoors inside - with smart building - and building a structure that will endure hurricanes, and bring the climate naturally inside to keep warm and/ cool air flowing and being cleaned with oxygen greenery all around.

Structures can be built with tires rammed ( with earth, straw bales, mud, rammed earth bricks, logs but - have thicker walls and envelope air circulation (this is a green building concept recycling air around the house building a house in an envelope fashion)  in and outside that allows the structure to breath and be climate controlled using circulation and more natural means - rather than expensive oil, gas, electricity to the extent possible.  Thicker Walls - positioned carefully to utilize the sun and elements to our advantage incorporated into the planning and positioning of the dwelling just with some enveloping methods can make a standard home much less expensive to live in and a greener home - by using recycled materials and the natural elements to enhance air temperatures and quality saving energy, money and perhaps add years the dwellers life span.

- do you live in a green house yourself?  No... I've done what I can to utilize the elements around my home and have turned my yard space and farm into a naturally maintained park and nature sanctuary, Critter Park with mini rain forests.  Saving as many trees, keeping them groomed and sometimes having to replace them after storms.  I've also maintained our wetlands and look for ways to improve - gradually on our farm  water shedding as a licensed land disturbance operator to help reduce soil erosion and increase more miniature rain forests and wetlands as a bird sanctuary community.

 I've also incorporated ceramic insulation and hear reflection paint on my structures on my farm.  There are many ways - just using basic applications with evergreens and technology together such as the insulation paint - with a high R value approved by the building codes that can actually reduce air penetration noise and keep heat in or out with depending on your objective.  Same with solar glass applications that are becoming more popular.  There are very exciting new ways to insulate a home without having to cut into the budget or the walls and to blow or staple traditional insulation.  On some rooms - I've even used book shelves and attractive storage units and other type of wall hangings to insulate exterior walls.  Currently I'm in the process of planting as many evergreen trees around all our structures on our farm and planning on building either a rammed earth house soon for our retirement.  

There are many things a homeowner can do to make their current home greener, improve on air quality inside, reduce heat loss and air conditioning costs and also bring more natural looking environment to their landscaping.  There is a vast availability of recycled materials one can purchase or use creativity and also have a very attractive home.

 Green landscaping alternatives
I've also killed all the grass in my yard - planted clover natural blue violets and put landscaping that draws more of nature and does not require as much maintenance - especially mowing.  I'm in the process of killing more grass now and planting more clover and natural ground coverings.

- what got you interested in green building?  Why do you think it's an important thing?
As a builder in the 70's I worked on Georgetown Town houses in DC and many older institutional structures around the Capital.  It was so interesting to see how they built structures more solid and actually more solar then they do now.  They were built much stronger to last a long time - not how they build houses today in 30 days for a stick built 2,000 sq. ft house.  

Everywhere I travel - I always study how structures are built and it's a natural process my mind goes through analyzing what and how various styles of building could be incorporated together and save so much money and labor.  I've always noticed and been disappointed in how much wasted materials and labor there was in designing the traditional bulky and fancy structure across our metropolitan area and every town USA.  It's the roof cuts and lines for dwellings that grow get each year - with more and more floor space that are eating up our beautiful landscapes in my opinion ...   If you think about what a person from another planet must think if they landed in any small community in USA east coast.  Including Luray - Every community looks like the next community. So much heat radiating in the summer -  dirty sidewalks, parking lots and streets?  What cumbersome places to drive and figure out which is the right way to go when you just want to get groceries?  We all know we need less stress and get more healthy and have less to maintain - with less quality time in our days. 

What have we become??? Why so much unnecessary expense to a homeowner - with so much dirty STUFF all around that is not pretty to look at or maintain?  We've become such consumers and wrapped up on the usual - we can't see all the beautiful natural alternatives out of our own forest Stuff we've been building since World War II..   We need to step back and ask where we are and where do we want to go from here?

I also spent a lot of time with commercial design building firms as a consultant - and always felt that places like office buildings and Hospitals were too regimentally structured and designed - with no style or warmth.   I was sometimes called in to lower the budget when it came time for finishing the larger projects - on wall finishing, floor finishing and of course that lead to different a totally different look by the time I was done cutting the more expensive hard finishes trim materials applications and installations.  Winchester Hospital for example - I was fortunate to be able - to give input behind the scenes to get the budget down when it came to completing the inside - and it's not your traditional looking hospital - the savings were immense - when they got down to the basics - and kept it much more simple it became more pleasing and comforting to the eye.

Houses can also be built Green to be more pleasing to the eye outside Too.  Often dwellings are built for egos more of a monument type dwelling for others to see outside and to look a certain way to make statements to outsiders.  The dwellers inside find themselves with so much to maintain and their quality of life is the pits... because they can't relax seeing all the dirty windows or necessary maintenance they have to get to.   That isn't what house building was in the past... it was more focused on the dwellers needs and a more substance that was lovely to look at outside.  Does every neighborhood have to look the same? 

Where is America today in building compared to Europeans? Where is our style? There is no uniqueness or art anymore in our building of our middle class communities with the homes builders build.   If you compare a home built by a homeowner and a builder - you can tell the difference most every time. 

Today if you're on Main Street, Court Street, the local bypass or neighbor hood looks like any other community - they all look much the same.  

People always talk about bringing in tourism.  If Luray had more green building and green planning and development - fundamental deep green in our community - I know there would be more tourism.  What do people have to look at once they've visited Luray Caverns?

Luray needs to plan and build something that has character from the history of the community and that is to live in that also brings healthy quality of life and makes you feel warm and fuzzy.  It can also be much more basic and cost effective -  You're talking about two totally different kinds of thought in planning and building.  Deep Green or just green building?    To me deep green building and proper Community Development.  That brings people wanting to come to the community, keeps people wanting to stay longer - that equals tourism and more tax dollars.

It was after World War II - the suburban – veterans (now senior generation) parenting the 77 million baby boomers  - subdivisions became very popular  - starting in Long Island, New York in the potato fields....  and then it's keeping up with the Jones's from there.  How much you can one impress the neighbors with keeping up with the Jones's...   The trend is turning now....  More and more people are researching location, taxes, health care, safety and quality of life and starting to understand green building that requires less heating and cooling expenses.  Houses that are not as likely to blow in the wind or burn to the ground.

I think Today - Green building is becoming more popular because people are starting to get their priorities straight.  Saving money in heating and cooling and living secure is again - getting back to the basics again.... in every way they can.    But where can they start?  How is there to help them?  Where can they go?  That is the biggest problem - then when they decide it's their goal - it's not so easy to find an engineer that knows what they're in for that will take the gamble to take on the project.... to try to hurdle all the code road blocks.  If you're planning a subdivision with road and development for submissions for approval - with the officials that are not informed and are gate keepers - holding up progress - that is even more problem some.  Even when you try to communicate with them - it becomes very painful to say the least. That has been my experience and I'm working hard to get people to hear with an open ear - knowing they have the ability to make a difference and sometimes people also have agendas that are not in the communities best interest, but the government's best interest.  

It has always been my goal to combine technology and basic building techniques for a less expensive built home that is more attractive than traditionally built structures.  I use to have dreams of how I can build structures that are self sustaining that served energy and quality of life to the people living in the dwelling - instead of costing them to live in it.  A good investment is a that serves and protect it's dwellers - not enslaves them.

Anything I can do to make me see those warm and fuzzy curves and earth tone colors that are real and natural around me, with light reflecting and twinkling that make me feel alive - that is rejuvenating - makes me feel safe and solid and closer to the earth.  Smells, sights, sounds, and how things feel when you walk no them or enter into a room - affect your quality of life in more ways than we use to realize.

Green building - real green building brings more healing and a nurturing place to rest your feet and look out a window and be able to relax and not worry about maintenance tasks every where you look.    I think that's what people are looking for - many feel like we're consumers.... and consuming constantly - but instead - want to start putting back - returning back to our environment.    That's what green building is really about. 

That feeling is very important to me - with my upbringing as a carpenter - and loving natural environments like water flowing, things growing, smells and sights of blooms and trees.  As a builder I'm no longer wanting to build structures where you have to worry about air leak from a electric outlet and wasting heat....    The more you know about green building and plan the details of greener building - the more you can realize how easy it is to make changes that are each and Better Choices.  Who wouldn't be able to rest more in a more natural and solid dwelling and inner and outer environment where nothing else matters but just being for the moment and feeling peaceful - like you're back with nature?

- how long have you been involved in it?  I've been researching Green and Solar building for about 10 years seriously.        If it's been a long time, have you noticed changing trends over time?  I'm noticing that since the 2000 year anticipated computer crash crisis that came and went without a hitch - and since 911 that there is much more technology being developed to help people purchase more affordable solar and ways and means of building or modifying their current dwellings.

But the kind of green building I'm working towards is much more solar, lifestyle changing - out of the box....

People today are not talking about their real concerns with what they live in or where they live.  People are researching and wanting to utilize technology to start have all the fundamentals of a secure, less expensive, healthier community setting and dwelling that is less expensive to heat and maintain that is solid.

To me proper green building is much bigger than how to build a house  - but starting with the setting - the planning of the roads, the storm water and roof rain and how to position the dwelling - so that we can use all the elements to our advantage - rather than just put up a stick built house that has not been designed to take care of the people as much as it was designed to shelter and sell and move to the next door house to sell to the next person just looking for shelter - without even considering any quality of life - in or out of the community when purchasing the most expensive and most impacting aspect of their whole life...   Their home.     I'd like to be a bit more smarter and use all I can to make the home take care of me the best it can without so much more unnecessary expense and yuck - that does not bring me any comfort or safety than if the dwelling was thought out just a bit more green building concepts for money savings, more security and without losing any luxury.

Luray has a chance before we get too much more building going on - With all the knowledge we have now - to be more conducive to people's needs - and not wind up looking like every other community without sacrificing safety and quality.. and keeping within codes - so everyone can benefit as a community - within community planning codes - using much better discretion as a community. 

I'm wanting to build a Luray model small community with some property I have in Town that will bring back the Primitive History of Luray, Naturalness of it's beauty, and most importantly bring people together - that are looking for a better quality of life with more settings around the community that bring healing, wellness, recreation, and comfort without causing the cost of the structure to be more costly than necessary.  

The usual public and Town requirements for cement, pavement and labor for curb and guttering that is not at all necessary. It's not good for the environment and there are better ways that still meet code to accomplish with more natural means.  The traditional way is outdated and - just jacks up the price of a house when a person purchases it.    Not to mention the more cost to maintain it - and it brings no quality of life improvement to the neighborhood or to the dwellers. 

I'm having a lot of friction with the local Luray Town authorities with my out of the box private subdivision they want to be public.  Why I don't understand?

Luray in my opinion has too many people with authority that do not appreciate what community living should be all about.

Proper community and dwelling planning is nothing more than using common sense, getting back to the basics, discretion and a lot more care of wanting to Take Care of the People's needs are first rather than trying to generate more tax dollars for people to pay.

If they got smart they would get more tax dollars from tourism by capitalizing on Green Building Concepts with our History – and give people more to take back home with them. 

All the studies are out that prove that it's smart investing all around with green planning with more natural and historic dwellings specifically unique to that town's history and community draws more green dollars in every way.

Green building and planning is more beautiful, structures last longer, Green and historic community planning draws tourist dollars and is a better quality of life for everyone.

Are people more willing to embrace green techniques now than they used to be?  Willing to Embrace Yes - Knowing about it to embrace is the problem I see. Decision Makers in development and building planning and zoning are not moving fast enough... For example - my engineer is trying all he can to get a simple plan presented - a private small subdivision with plans for a Permeable - private road.  He's been warning me for last two years - how difficult it is to get local administrators to consider anything out of the box.  The Town Manager is insisting the road can't be private - yet it already is and also in a private subdivision. 

The people in authority need to understand how they can gain - they need a reason to make it a priority and not fight persons requesting discretion and green concepts.   I believe a lot is because they are too busy to re-learn concepts, ways and means on how to develop and build our communities Green for what is a big task.  There are a lot of local codes, state of Virginia and VDOT.  The town does have discretion.... on some rules and guidelines and many can be changed.    Getting the community involved is very imperative and necessary. The authorities need to hear from the community... in a very big way.

The required system of submitting plans with the authorities involves certain steps and it is important to understand the steps and what has to be covered for review within those steps.  The engineers people hire are the key persons that can start to make a big difference.  Ask if the builder architect or engineer you're working with - do they do green building and development? They are the ones that the authorities look to for quality control and what can and can't be done... Then it's up to the authorities to use discretion - also asking questions - HOW CAN WE MAKE OUR COMMUNITY LOOK GREEN?  How can we protect our image with our historic background to bring in tourism?   So we don't have Luray look like every other community?


Anything different put before a decision maker is much more cumbersome to want to think about doing anything out of the box.    There is much to understand with the code to begin with - then cover all your bases to make sure you're not stepping on other persons concerns and also cover environmental issues and most of all you have the people to deal with - that also don't know what they don't know and be prepared to answer all the questions.  Engineers have a tough job and require a lot more respect as to how they impact communities with their work.   Those in authority with planning and zoning are always having to answer to someone that is complaining - no matter what they do.  They also need much more appreciation and support. I've found Mr. Potts to be open to information I researched about national surveys from Ed McMahon - and his publications known among those seeking Greener urban, community development and building.

Ed McMahon of Urban Land Institute in Washington DC discusses in his publications the root of what community development plan should consider.  What is different about our community?  What assets do we have?  What do we want our community to be remembered or noted for in the US - What is our history, where did we come from and where are we going with who we are in our community?

What kind of statement does Luray want to make to people that drive through or stay a day or a week?  What do we have to keep them in our community?   

Most important - we need to put ourselves in a position of asking how do you want to improve your quality of life?  How do you want your community to look like 50 years from now and most importantly - how do you NOT want it to look like?

Then you can consider the more fundamentals - such as the details of  how  you want to get there.... all staying within the current codes - using common sense and discretion - so we are always improving and not causing any negative effects - then what can be bad to make changes that the authorities have discretion to do.  For example - a paved road or a road that is able to absorb water and look green and still allow a fire truck to drive on it and also be plowed for snow?

I want to build a house out of rammed earth using recycled tires - that will make people think of Luray Caverns and earth homes - mountain living - living with nature.   I also want people to want to come to see my quality of life - and share how others can live a better quality of life - on and off the grid system if there was an emergency.

I want to see builders consider more about alternative community development in Luray.  Which is a better investment for the home owner and the community?  To embrace this kind of thinking will require many people to speak up in our community and help those in authority to understand and know that people will certainly embrace it - Especially when it effects the pocket book and brings more tourism and brings more tax dollars without sacrificing our beauty and cost of living and home value to the community.

-  most people don't know about or understand the concept.   More public awareness and Yes.. I believe there needs to be a  leader in the community to make an absolute statement and help people get excited about Luray and anything that brings better beauty, helps reduce heating and cooling costs and helps them feel better about the kind of house they are building, subdivision they are planning and community they are developing.

Why do you think this is?
- What's the most difficult aspect of green building?    After getting the concept understood in the community and especially with those in planning, zoning authority... then the next hurdle is finding the right people to help you... that are not going to just sell you green building stuff... labeled green building.  

The concept of green building is various depending no who you talk to?  An architect, an engineer, landscaper, builder, interior designer, the zoning administrator or the planning commission?

Many ways green building is not much different from our traditional structural stick built dwelling....  depending on who you talk to or to what degree they think it's enough.  In the USA when you google on the internet.  Green building is really so much more  about recycled building materials that are used to build traditional looking homes.  I like the more fundamental...  green building that has much more style and requires artist and creativity like the older homes in Europe.  Many are earth homes, solar homes, adobe, and envelope structures with natural materials that is real green building in my opinion - like they built homes centuries ago - but with more technology and research on how to do it better now. 

Green  Building compared to older built homes

You also have to understand what you're after... do you want builders that are selling green building concepts with recycled plywood that is just more and different kinds of lumber - different kinds of roofing and thicker 2 by 6” walls and thermal - solar windows.  I don't consider that green building or are you looking for Solar - much more radical earth type homes, or straw bale with mud, adobe, or other very attractive and easy to build structures you can build yourself like a recycled tire- rammed earth home?

>From my perspective - when you mention Green Building to me means Getting back to Basics... and  requires very simple up front cost depending on the materials of choice - most of your cost is going to be labor  when you're considering  recycled materials available such as tires with rammed earth or straw bales mixed with bonding mud.

BOG Cover

Depending on your lifestyle and what makes you feel warm and fuzzy?

A solid log cabin - which is going to cost more up front in materials - is also green building and some will cost much more than others - with more recycled lumber for finishes.  Those will be more expensive - so will any structure that requires newly purchased materials - the gas to transport and the labor to recycle and produce the manufactured green building material is all part of the extra cost you have.

If you want to save more money.. research and do more research.

To me Green Building is more about utilizing all the elements such any recycled materials, earth, water, sun, trees, hillsides, and any thing for the structure that is going to contribute back to the environment and not cost more to maintain or take away from the environment..... like soil erosion - oxygen, greenery and natural resources to the previous natural setting.     With the least disturbing ways and means and elements utilized to build it.  Build it so the dwellers can also contribute back to the environment by utilizing the sewage to grow and oxygenic greenery inside or outside?  Is the roof going to collect the water to re-cycle or grow greenery?  Is the Sun going to be able to heat the floors and walls of the house without having to burn fuel? 

Is the floor going to radiate strength back into the home with warmth without having to spend more money sanding and maintaining it including insulation?  Most of all - is the dweller - going to have a cleaner, safer, better quality of life in all the parts of the dwelling - when resting, sleeping, bathing in the dwelling - that is easier and less expensive to maintain - inside and outside?    What materials are going to bring a good sense of well being to the home dweller that was recycled and utilized to help protect our community from contamination of more waste problems?   

If we used 10 % the materials we throw away to build houses - it would cost the communities much less in many ways in the short and long term and especially the home dweller less expensive to build.  It's the changing of thinking that is holding up progress... In many cases the home is less expensive to build - only more labor costs - depending on how fast and soon you want to live in your home.

IN Mexico - There is a couple that built a tire - rammed earth home in 3 years that is appx 7,000 Sq. ft - by themselves - completely by themselves by hand all recycled materials.  They now run a B&B. 

Average cost of a stick built home can run from a very basic and fundamental 85.00 to 125. a sq. ft depending on inside trims flooring, cabinet and finishings and how many roof lines .. to 250. a sq. ft. or more for more fancy dwellings - with stone, block, brick etc... all the variables make a big difference in the cost of the house.

The exterior walls are a major expense - after the infrastructure inside framing.   How many load bearing walls - depending on how large of a room - roof you need to support.   What are the engineered approved materials that can be used... needs to be also shared across the US to the building inspectors.  The codes and engineered specs have to be reviewed carefully and show by code on plans for all your supporting walls.

I'm very attracted to earth rammed home for dollar to dollar savings and finished product.  They're more labor intensive - but much less costs in materials than a traditional home - dollar for dollar and they are much more attractive with all the warm and fuzzy eco aspects that bring more value and a better quality of life to the dweller and community.

Is it the greater up-front cost?  Not necessarily - again depending on the choice of building materials.  a cubic yard of cement is about $100.00 and that is expensive.  The other very important hurdle is getting the zoning and planning people that have all the authority to want to hear and take the necessary time it takes to make the required changes in the codes - that will promise better quality structures and planned communities.   That requires more time than they have.... when so many other things take priority... and I'm finding that out myself now... with my small project.

I am really interested in talking more about specifics about your development, but if you don't feel comfortable getting into specifics before you have a plan ready to present to the Luray Planning Commission, I understand.  In that case, anything general you'd care to add about green building would be helpful.

Green building and earth homes are what I'm building - I think it's going to be very attractive and newsworthy when people hear about us in Luray.  I also believe it will that attract the kind of people we want to have come to Luray? Persons that appreciate nature, recycled and natural ways to build a solar home that can operate off the grid  - homes built out of tires rammed with earth that are lovely to look at with art and creativity.

Mountain Earth Ship

Mountain Home Tire rammed earth home design by

Visit I'm developing with my project.  Let me know if I can help further.

Bonnie Kaufmann

May 05, 2007
From Andrew Jenner


Have a good weekend,

Andrew Jenner
Staff Writer
Page News and Courier
PO Box 707
17 S. Broad St.
Luray, VA 22835
May 05, 2007
540-743-5123 (phone)
540-743-4779 (fax)