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.