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Delicious Living

Why I do what I do: Dale Johns, carpenter and green builder

Dale Johns learned to build in his father’s carpentry shop near his childhood home. But Johns learned to green build in Vermont during the 1970s, when the environment was becoming a hot issue. Luckily, it still is. The consciousness that Johns developed during that time led to a successful career in sustainable building. Earthrise Homes, his company in Boulder, Colorado, specializes in additions and new homes, with a focus on environmental building strategies.

Q. How did you first get involved with carpentry?

A. My father was a hobby carpenter. While growing up I played with tools in his shop; while he made cabinets I made tackle boxes. When I was in junior high I became interested in the American Colonial period and connected with the hand tools used during that time. I began to practice making dovetail joints, using dowels for connection points, and using a hammer and chisel and a handsaw instead of power tools. I was drawn to the simplicity of the style and the purity of the product, principles I still value in my work today.

Q. Why did you become interested in green building?

A. It was the early 1970s when I became a carpenter, and the ethics of that time resonated with me, compelling me to integrate them into my work as well as other areas of my life. I stayed away from plywood, worked to make the homes superinsulated, used nontoxic finishes like natural oil, and recycled 200-year-old beams. These techniques correlated with my concern for the environment and the sustainability of our planet.

Q. What keeps you inspired as a carpenter?

A. These days building green is important to me, but I also believe balance is crucial to any project. Not everyone can build a 100 percent green home; I work with my customers to evaluate which options will work best for their projects. I screw down floors instead of gluing and nailing them to stay clear of the toxic adhesives and to give floors longevity and durability. I also use water-based floor finishes as much as possible. But there is a range of choices that people can make: bamboo floors, cotton insulation, low VOC paint—all of these things make a difference. For green building to work, it has to be accessible and understandable; the bottom line is that we are all working toward a basic human need for shelter.

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