Kitchen Remodeling East Greenwich RI
East Greenwich, RI
East Greenwich, RI
New Life for an Old Kitchen
Eric Loebel and Ruby Gates are no strangers to the concept of sustainability. Eric works for a publishing company that borrows its name from Celilo Falls, on the Columbia River east of Portland, Ore. The falls were silenced when The Dalles Dam was built in 1957, causing the demise of the Columbia River's once-abundant salmon population. Ruby recently left her position as a global marketing manager for a large corporation to create her own marketing business supporting companies that offer sustainable products and services.
So when it came time to remodel the kitchen of their Portland-area home, which was built in 1913 in the Old Portland style (also called the Foursquare style), going green was a natural choice.
From the start, Eric and Ruby knew they wanted to incorporate certain elements into their green kitchen remodel. Bringing more light into the dark kitchen was essential. So was opening up the kitchen to the back yard, since the room had no existing back door. The use of energy-efficient lighting and appliances, as well as non-toxic building materials, was a given. And Eric and Ruby wanted to ensure that once the original kitchen was demolished, the waste materials were recycled properly, and didn't wind up in a landfill.
Building the Team
Eric and Ruby had one benefit right from the start - they already knew of a green builder and remodeler they could trust with their project. Eric had met David Heslam, the president and owner of Portland-based Coho Construction, a couple of years earlier through business contacts, and brought him in to oversee the kitchen remodeling project. An award-winning green builder, Heslam and his team incorporate sustainably harvested lumber, salvaged materials and products that use recycled content into their projects as much as possible.
The homeowners hit a snag, however, when it came to hiring an architect. Although Eric and Ruby interviewed several architects for their project, they couldn't find anyone who shared their green vision and understood their needs. "We explained what we really wanted was a place to sit and hang out as a family," Eric says, "but everyone kept recommending a bar/entertainment area."
At Heslam's suggestion, Eric and Ruby decided to bring in a certified kitchen designer (CKD). The decision saved them thousands of dollars in the design phase of the project. But because the CKD didn't have specific experience with sustainable design, it meant more time educating for Eric, Ruby and Heslam.
One of the best ways to ensure the success of a project, Eric believes, is to follow the design/build model, in which "everyone involved in the project - owner, architect, interior designer, contractor and subcontractors - sits down together at the very beginning and walks through the entire project," Eric explains. All participants come to the table wearing their sustainability hats, so questions, concerns and learning curves can be easily addressed right at the start.
Ruby adds that, when remodeling or building, there is always a need to weigh various building options against certain decision-making criteria, such as aesthetics verses price. Green remodeling adds a third element, she notes - the need for sustainability. "You can no longer just go with the easiest, the cheapest or the lightest," she says. "It becomes much more challenging." To ensure the project's success, the homeowners and contractors must buy into this aspect of a green remodeling project right at the beginning, she points out.
Design for Daylighting
The original kitchen didn't have access to the backyard and the lighting was poor, so the room was dark and uninviting. "It got to the point that we avoided the space altogether," says Ruby. From the beginning, she and Eric knew they wanted to open up one of the exterior walls to improve daylighting and provide access to the outdoors. The remodeled kitchen now includes a set of French doors, which serves both purposes.
Daylighting is the use of natural light to illuminate a room, reducing the need for electric lighting and saving on energy costs. But it also increases the need for energy-efficient windows. Heslam recommended windows and French doors that exceeded Oregon's code for energy efficiency. Eric and Ruby chose double-pane windows with low-e coatings. They were so pleased with the resulting lighting and thermal comfort in the kitchen that they plan to install similar windows in the upstairs bedrooms.
Now, thanks to improved daylighting, Eric, Ruby and their two teenage daughters spend much more time in the kitchen, which is no longer the dreary place it once was, especially during Portland's renowned dark winters. In fact, the two teenagers often do their homework at the kitchen's custom-built island, made of wood sustainably harvested from Pacific Madrone trees, which are berry-producing evergreens native to the West.
Recycle and Reclaim
Ruby and Eric saved on remodeling costs by doing their own demolition. They were able to divert most of the old kitchen building materials and appliances, such as Formica countertops, cabinets, the dishwasher and the electric stove, from landfills. They accomplished this by contacting the Portland Oregon Rebuilding Center ( http://www.rebuildingcenter.org ), one of over 500 recycling centers across the United States and Canada diverting tons of building materials from landfills by collecting and then reselling reusable products.
Just as the old building materials were recycled, materials for the new kitchen were reclaimed from other sources. In fact, Heslam says, other than installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances, "the main things you can do to ensure a green kitchen remodel are to use salvaged wood and low-toxic finishes."
Finding salvaged materials such as wood is not as simple as making a trip to your local home improvement center. Instead, it takes a bit of legwork. After some research, Eric located salvaged fir bleacher board removed from a high school. He planned to use the wood for molding in the kitchen, but procuring the wood required a bit of patience. "When I was ready to buy it, it wasn't right there on demand," he says. After some delays, he was able to finally purchase the wood.
To prevent delays to the remodeling process, Heslam recommends tracking down any salvaged products and materials during the design phase and, when possible, procuring them right away.
The homeowners love to tell the story of how their cabinetmaker ran across an abandoned fir grape arbor on the side of the road and reclaimed the wood to build the kitchen's fir cabinets, which coordinate beautifully with the home's interior. It is a perfect example of salvaging materials and saving trees, with a bit of luck thrown in.
Say No to VOCs
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic vapors released into the home from common household items such as carpets, cabinetry, finishes and paints. Keeping those toxins out of their home was paramount to Eric and Ruby, who note that there is a connection between the products brought into a home during a remodel and the home's indoor air quality for many months and years to come.
The homeowners chose paints and finishes with zero or low VOCs, as well as formaldehyde-free insulation. For the cabinet interiors, they used an innovative, newly introduced hardwood plywood called PureBond from Columbia Forest Products. The decorative composite wood panels are made with a soy-based adhesive that is free from urea formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.
Advice for Green Remodels
Having successfully completed their own green kitchen remodel, Eric and Ruby are able to offer some advice to other homeowners considering a green kitchen remodel. For instance, they note that homeowners should be prepared to educate the contractors who are working on the kitchen remodel about green and energy-efficient practices. Both Eric and Ruby feel fortunate to have worked with Heslam, but in the instances where Eric and Ruby subcontracted some portions of the project on their own to keep costs lower, they discovered that educating the subcontractors required time and energy.
"There are just a lot of components you have to self-educate yourself about so you can then articulate details about those components to whomever is working on your kitchen," Ruby says.
For instance, the cabinetmaker Eric and Ruby hired was resistant to using the PureBond panels for the cabinet interiors. It turns out that the formaldehyde-free panels were heavier than the typical panels he was used to, and he was concerned that might cause a problem when installing the upper cabinets. But Ruby and Eric were able to convince him that the panels would work in their installation, and pointed out that the health issue was very important to them.
Eric and Ruby's final bit of advice to other homeowners is this: Don't fret too much about going green with every aspect of your remodel. Eric and Ruby learned there is a range of green, and your kitchen remodel doesn't have to be a perfect model of sustainability.
"I think that is where people get tripped up," Ruby says. "They think, "Let's just go completely green,' but it is much harder than you think it is. You have to be creative," she explains, and identify those aspects that are most important to you while balancing such factors as cost, durability and sustainability.
Understanding what sustainability means is a different journey for each person, Eric and Ruby note. Having a team of designers and contractors who understand the world of building green will certainly result in a smoother path to creating a more durable and healthier home, and help the environment as well.
Tracy Fox writes about energy-efficient design, healthy building materials, and sustainable design and building practices. Her firm, Foxline Design ( http://www.Foxlinedesign.com ), is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and provides consulting services to consumers and design professionals.