Unfortunately, I'm not talking about the green stuff you can spend at the store; but, ultimately, the good green things that we do for our planet such as saving trees and reducing landfill. This is where the professional remodeler can do more for the earth than all his recycling efforts at home. After all, he's actually recycling an entire house.

For quite some time we have lived in a throwaway society. Disposable this and that, from shopping bags to diapers. This may have led to the current acceptance for disposable homes. Old houses are getting torn down and dumped in a landfill while the construction of their replacements churns up more forest and virgin materials. We've all watched as our suburbs sprout new "McMansions" where the old homes once stood. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 136 million tons of construction and demolition waste goes into landfills each year. That comes to about 2.8 pounds per person every single day!

Granted, there are plenty of old homes that can't be saved. The systems and structure just wear out over time and the labor costs for repair go way beyond the monetary cost of the replacements. It's always easier to build "from scratch" with new construction from the ground up, and certainly it removes a lot of headaches. In fact, most home builders would rather tear down and start anew than have to deal with an aging structure, leaky pipes, and outdated electrical. There's just too much time and frustration involved in repairing or supplementing the old stuff. Many builders tend to estimate remodeling costs to be higher than replacement costs if asked for a comparison. After all, who wants the added difficulty of dealing with unknown existing conditions and a homeowner in residence during the remodel? Tear it down and build new! It's a lot easier. That's been the attitude for some time.

Fortunately, there are still some brave knights out there who will tackle the tough remodeling jobs, salvage those old studs, and straighten the swaybacked ceilings for the sake of saving the old place. Usually it's because the owner still likes much of the house, the location is good, the neighborhood is sound, and the place has history. Or maybe he just can't afford a new replacement. And, beyond our insatiable yearning for new, most of us realize it's a shame to waste that which can be repaired. So we labor on in the trenches, every day salvaging another piece of the original fabric and preserving our resources as we reshape our homes and remodel instead of replacing.

It takes some steadfast resolve to stay in this business, and perhaps it's because of an appreciation for the work of those who labored before us. For many reasons, the greenest building is the one that's already built, and remodeling means that the original energy and resources will not go to waste. For the remodeler, there may not be as much green in the contract, but for sure there remains more green on the planet.

-- Dick Kawalek, a registered architect for more than 30 years, is founder of Kawalek Architects, in Cleveland. rck@rktekt.com.