Green Remodelers Chehalis WA
B&D General Contractors Inc.
|Crews took special care to preserve an impressive Douglas fir tree while renovating this Dutch Colonial home in New York.|
Remodelers are meeting the challenge by offering a wide range of green options. They’re relying more on local products, for instance, and using paints and stains with low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). They can upgrade a home’s insulation, improve indoor air quality, and install tankless water heaters or energy-efficient appliances, as well as help reduce heating and cooling bills. And many are continually looking for ways to increase their green offerings.
While the concept of green remodeling is still fairly new, a growing number of remodelers are turning green. To find out what they’re doing and how their services can benefit homeowners, we talked to three contractors, in Texas, California and New York City, who specialize in green remodeling and asked them what’s involved in a green home renovation.
Proving that green remodeling has a place in large-scale renovations, Duce Construction
incorporated environmentally friendly practices and materials into the home’s 2,200-square-foot addition.
Michael Strong, vice president of the Houston-based remodeling company Brothers Strong, doesn’t force any particular “shade of green” on his clients. Instead, he lets them choose from a smorgasbord of green elements that Brothers Strong can include in remodeling projects.
This approach makes sense: Some homeowners are green pioneers, interested in rooftop solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. Others consider low-VOC carpeting and double-pane windows as the height of green living. Brothers Strong caters to clients of both types, and all those in between.
At Brothers Strong, clients can pick and choose from a menu of green options that will transform even the largest remodeling project into one that has at least some eco-friendly features. “We try to start with the easy-to-understand and lower-cost options,” Strong explains. “We let our clients define what their priorities are. That way, going green isn’t too intimidating for them.”
At the affordable end of the scale, Brothers Strong offers such options as low- or zero-VOC paints, which do not emit toxins into a home’s indoor environment. Up the scale a bit, the company can install properly sized and ventilated fans in bathrooms and laundry rooms, which move air more efficiently and don’t dump moisture into a home’s attic. Even quarter-turn shutoff valves for sinks and commodes, and water supply lines made of durable stainless steel fit into the easy-to-understand, easy-to-pay-for category of green products.
Sometimes, green remodeling is as simple as offering durable products that last longer than their more traditional counterparts, Strong says. The quarter-turn shutoff valves are a good example. They’re easier to turn than traditional valves, so they won’t break in your hands like those that require complete turns.
Some green elements can save homeowners money. One example: Strong often applies radiant-barrier paints to attics during remodeling jobs. Radiant barriers — usually a highly reflective paint, foam or sheathing — can significantly reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss, lowering energy bills throughout the year.
These simple products take much of the unneeded mystique out of green remodeling. “People look at these types of products and they get it,” Strong says. “Do they add a few bucks to the project? Sure, but we’re not talking about the cost of setting up a solar [energy] system here.”
Late last year, Brothers Strong took on a large-scale remodeling project, turning a one-story wing in a Houston home located on a golf course into a two-level addition. The project was a big one, and exemplifies the company’s approach to green remodeling.
|A water-conserving Japanese soaking tub and a pre-built sauna were part of a recent Harrell Remodeling project.|
Crews also installed a tankless water heater, high-end Energy Star windows, and properly sized and ventilated bathroom fans. All told, these green elements added less than 5 percent to the cost of the remodeling project, Strong notes.
A growing number of Strong’s clients are willing to take on this extra cost to add green elements to their remodeling projects. “As the world becomes smaller, we learn that it is increasingly difficult to deny the environmental impact of our choices,” Strong says. “We can’t just deny that we have an impact on our world. If people can afford to spend the requisite dollars to offset that detrimental environmental impact, why wouldn’t they ask for these green elements?” For more information: 281-469-6057 or www.brothersstrong.com .
Salvaged wood, low-VOC paints and insulated windows make for an eco-friendly home office.
Mountain View, Calif.
To Iris Harrell, owner of Harrell Remodeling, every remodeling project has the potential to be a green one. That’s because Harrell is always striving to replace traditional construction materials and techniques with environmentally friendly options.
For instance, Harrell uses exterior plywood for a home’s interior subfloors. This type of plywood is stronger, more durable and holds up better to long-term stress.
She relies on paints with low or no VOCs, installs formaldehyde-free insulation in the homes her company remodels and always tries to send as little debris as possible from her remodeling projects to landfills, preferring instead to send old appliances, countertops, lumber and other materials to schools, the Habitat for Humanity program or local agencies that might need the materials.
Harrell does this because she believes in the benefits of green construction. But she’s also meeting the demands of her remodeling clients. For years, Harrell says, she tried to organize consumer workshops on the benefits of green remodeling techniques, but the interest wasn’t there. In the last 12 months, however, the workshops have attracted larger crowds.
“I think people are getting more concerned about the health of our planet,” Harrell says. “Green construction, whether you’re building a new home or remodeling an existing one, is [now] considered the appropriate thing to do. It won’t be too long before green is the norm, and we won’t be talking about green building anymore. We’ll just be talking about building.”
Harrell is employing green techniques while remodeling her own home in Portola Valley, Calif. The project, which was about 70 percent completed in late February, is a major one: Harrell is extending her house under a large hill to add more space. Her company is remodeling the kitchen, adding a third bathroom, and moving walls and ceilings.
The project provided ample opportunity for Harrell to perfect her favored green techniques. “We’re going to be living here for 20 years, at least,” she says.
“We want to make sure we get everything right.”
|A Houston remodeling project included |
installation of low-E, double- pane Energy Star windows. (Above and lower-right)
But the project also has some unique green features. Harrell is installing gas fireplaces that operate by remote control as alternatives to traditional wood-burning models. These units take the chill out of a room quickly — usually in about five minutes — and consume far less energy while doing so. She is also covering the upper roof and part of the home’s lower roof in solar panels. The panels will generate all the electricity the 4,000-square-foot home uses.
European rolling shutters on South-facing windows will shade the home’s interior during the hottest part of the day and further reduce energy costs.
“Some call that repurposing, and it’s a big part of green remodeling,” Harrell says. “It’s about finding new homes for products that still work.” For more information: 650-230-2900 or www.harrell-remodeling.com .
The Cutting Edge
Duce Construction Corp.
New York City
John Messerschmidt admits that it sounds trite, but he really does want to save the environment. That’s why Messerschmidt, project manager for New York City’s Duce Construction Corp., incorporates as many green elements as possible into his company’s residential remodeling projects.
“We’re always trying to be on the cutting edge of all technologies,” Messerschmidt says. “We install solar panels in our projects. We’d do wind if it was more viable here in New York City. We want to do our part to increase awareness, to save the environment. A lot of people have built houses the same way for 35 years. You know, ‘If it was good enough for my dad, it’s good enough for me.’ But we are always coming up with new ideas, new ways to build that will save on resources. We try to be at the forefront of that.”
Green remodeling doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, he notes. Duce, for example, installs cotton insulation in the interior partitions of clients’ homes. This insulation, basically made from recycled blue jeans, is superior to the traditional fiberglass version, Messerschmidt says, because air does not penetrate its cotton matting.
Green can also mean a commitment to the natural environment surrounding a home. The company recently took on the renovation of a 2,400-square-foot home in the Bayside neighborhood of New York City. The large project included the construction of a 2,200-square-foot addition and 800-foot wraparound porch, second- and third-floor terraces and extensive landscaping.
Special consideration was given to a towering Douglas fir tree behind the home. Crews with Duce did not want to damage the tree, and did not want to replace it. So to save this impressive fir, crews maintained a 10-foot distance from the tree during the construction period to avoid damaging its roots. The tree still stands proudly behind the home.
Messerschmidt expects more builders to follow the example of Duce and other green-focused remodelers. It’s what the market is demanding, he says. “Green is getting more and more popular. People are realizing that the environment is an issue. Right now it is a choice consumers can make.” For more information: 212-316-2400 or www.ducecc.com.
Dan Rafter wrote about Innovative Homes in the January/February 2008 issue of Smart HomeOwner. He’s based in Chicago, Ill.