As discussed in part 1 of this article, remodeling, by its very nature, is "green" in that you are reusing and improving existing infrastructures. After that, remodeling green calls on many of the same products and techniques as any other green building process. Here are three examples of remodeling projects that showcase the many ways eco-friendly details can make all the difference in existing homes.
Hazel Tookes' century-old home had countless problems. The downtown Madison, Wis., dwelling had had little maintenance in more than 30 years, and the work that had been done was mostly remediation of fire damage. Its biggest problem was energy efficiency. The home had very poor energy usage, high heating bills, and no insulation. Plus, it used knob-and-tube wiring and had pest damage, asbestos, lead paint, damaged flooring, drafts, and more. It was time for a makeover.
As part of a philanthropy project with the Madison Area Builders Association, Abe Degnan, vice president of Degnan Design Builders in DeForest, Wis., was co-project manager of a $100,000 remodeling project to provide Tookes with a home that both met her aging-in-place needs and demonstrated green remodeling techniques.
The greenest way to do it, Degnan says, was to cut the building down to its bare studs, recycling the wood and metal, and install new wiring and insulation. They used spray foam insulation for the ring joists and attic penetrations, installed R-50 cellulose insulation in the attic, and went from R-1 insulation to R-15 on the walls. In all, they reduced air infiltration by 51 percent. With solar hot water collection and a hybrid heat pump instead of a steam boiler, the owner is expected to save around $1,000 per year on her energy bills.
The team also put thought into the finishing touches. They installed recycled-content gypsum board and textured it with low-VOC products. They chose locally made cabinetry built with low-VOC MDF, and almost all lighting in the home is compact fluorescent. Degnan says that while Tookes didn't know a lot about green remodeling in the beginning, she "was thrilled with the change in her home. She was thrilled with the energy changes, but also happy with the improved indoor air quality."
The remodeler was given one simple request for the 500-square-foot project in Berkeley, Calif.: "I want the healthiest home possible." However, the space, an apartment wing of a house built in the 1940s, provided a variety of challenges that turned that request into an extensive structural renovation that improved the quality and healthfulness of not only the unit, but the entire house.
Remodeled as a 625-square-foot in-law suite for an ailing mother living with her son, the below-grade wing at the front of the house at first seemed merely outdated and dreary, according to the remodeler, Odin's Hammer of Berkeley. But when the contractors started deconstructing wall and ceiling surfaces, they uncovered mold, dry rot, and structural problems caused by poor quality construction and undetected water intrusion.
Beyond the basic repair work to fix the structural and moisture problems, the remodeler made a variety of changes to make the space more comfortable. Once dark and poorly insulated, with just small windows in the foyer, the in-law unit now has a larger foyer that is daylit by south- and west-oriented operable floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors that look out on a new patio and garden. Cabinets, instead of a clinical white wall, now divide the bed area from the kitchen area. Insulated walls and ceiling make the room more comfortable and quiet, and radiant floor heating warms the room without stirring up allergens.
The project went even further to incorporate energy efficiency, renewable energy, resource conservation, and indoor environmental quality. The occupant chose to install a photovoltaic system for use by the entire house, with its electricity meter visible to passersby. The apartment includes a tankless water heater and several Energy Star appliances.
The project reused some existing materials, such as trim, flooring, and interior doors, and the remodelers recycled 80 percent of the construction waste. Cabinets, interior doors, trim, flooring, and shelves were either salvaged or FSC-certified. The finishes and adhesives were low-VOC. Details count when you're constructing the healthiest home possible.
When Kristin Leimkuhler and her husband decided to remodel their 1894 Berkeley, Calif., Victorian, the biggest green feature on the project was Leimkuhler's commitment to saving a 110-year-old building, "instead of demolishing it and starting over, which might have been cheaper and easier," says Michael McCutcheon, president of McCutcheon Construction, the detail architect and contractor for the project. The Leimkuhlers wanted to preserve the historical exterior of the house as much as possible, while at the same time making it more energy efficient.
The home had collected various hazardous materials over the years, including layers of lead-based paint and asbestos-covered ductwork. McCutcheon replaced the lead-painted siding and interior trim with new materials and used professional asbestos abatement to rid the home of hazardous materials.
To improve energy efficiency, McCutcheon installed radiant floor heating using a dual boiler system that also provides hot water for the bath, kitchen, and laundry room. He used energy-efficient lighting where possible. Old windows were replaced with double-paned units featuring low-E glazing. Large windows with a southwest exposure receive passive solar heat, and a concrete floor acts as a heat sink to hold heat in during the day and radiate it into the home at night. The project also included operable skylights that vent the entire house, cooling it without air conditioning.
Photovoltaic panels were prohibitively expensive at the time, but the owner added a conduit in preparation for adding them at a later date. The plumbing fixtures and several doors came from salvage yards and Internet sources such as eBay. Existing doors and other features were refurbished when possible instead of replaced. McCutcheon also helped the owner choose unseen green materials, such as engineered lumber instead of beams from old growth trees, and Greenguard-certified insulation and formaldehyde-free cabinets. The owners put a premium on practical decisions that saved money in the long run.