Quick and Easy Green Remodeling

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For a lot of remodelers, the idea of green is overwhelming. There's a wealth of information out there, but at the same time it can seem like if you're not doing it already, you're too far behind the curve. According to leading green remodelers, the best way not to be swamped is to take it one step at a time.

October 01, 2008

For a lot of remodelers, the idea of green is overwhelming. There's a wealth of information out there, but at the same time it can seem like if you're not doing it already, you're too far behind the curve. According to leading green remodelers, the best way not to be swamped is to take it one step at a time. Don't try to do everything at once; instead, pick one or two things you can do to green your projects. Then when you've mastered those, add something else.

“You don't have to go to extremes to be doing green remodeling practices,” says Jason Stone, a principal with Sage Homebuilders in St. Louis. “You can find things that are easy to do green.”

With that in mind, here are what leading green remodelers label as some of the easiest things to do to remodel green.

Low-E windows like the Gorell 5100 are an easy green upgrade.

Low-E, Argon gas-filled windows

You may not think of it immediately, but these windows are one of the easiest ways to go green. They reduce heat gain by reflecting light during the summer and help keep heat inside during the winter. Simply making that your standard replacement window can save homeowners money and reduce their reliance on heating sources that produce greenhouse gases.

High-efficiency furnaces

Another area where it's easy to sell homeowners is the energy payback. If they are going to have to replace the furnace anyway, why not pay a little more to get the savings back on energy bills? As utility bills continue to rise, anything that cuts energy use will be an easier sell to clients.

Low-VOC paints & finishes

This one's not so much about saving the client money — in fact it will cost them more — but improving their general health and comfort.

Many people (especially those with asthma or other respiratory problems) have negative reactions to the volatile organic compounds found in most finishes, so using products with no or low levels of VOCs can go a long way toward improving indoor air quality. Depending what type of paint you're looking at costs, could be $30 or $40 more per gallon, so you have to balance the desire of the client to get the best price versus any health concerns.

The Karsten Rockton dual flush is one of several water-saving toilets on the market.

Dual-flush toilets

These are just what the name implies: toilets with two flushes, one for liquid waste that uses less water (usually 1.0 or 0.8 gallons per flush or gpf) and one for solid waste that uses more (1.6 gpf).

These offer an obvious savings over pre-1992 toilets that used around 5 gpf, but they are also a nice alternative to the required low-flow toilets, (which typically use 1.6 gpf for every flush), allowing homeowners to regulate their own flushing needs while using even less water when possible. And if you're really ambitious, you could try pitching the zero-water urinals some companies have on the market now.

Low-flow fixtures

Just as with toilets, a number of faucets and showerheads are available that reduce water usage. If you're dealing with a home with pre-1992 fixtures, your client could realize a 25 to 60 percent water savings by switching to low-flow fixtures.

Reconfigure first

Can you find a way to get what the owner wants without adding space? A lot of times when clients want more space, they actually just need better-designed space. A smaller home will use fewer materials and less energy to heat and cool.

Buy local

Without changing anything else, if you increased the amount you buy from local manufacturers, you'd be reducing your impact on the environment.

Transportation of materials is one of the biggest ways a product affects the environment. If you can get products made down the road instead of across the country, that can make a significant difference. Buying local is also good for the area economy, and with rising fuel prices, transportation costs are only going to increase.

Make your company green

Besides incorporating certain types of products into your projects, you can change the way you operate to make your company more green.

Some simple examples:

Allen Associates in Santa Barbara, Calif., subsidizes employees' purchases of hybrid vehicles and also offers incentives for employees who use alternative methods of getting to the office such as public transportation, carpooling or riding a bike.

McCutcheon Construction of Berkeley, Calif., has instituted a composting program for food waste in its office.

• The Newman Co. in Riley, Ind., donates products to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for reuse in projects, benefitting the community, the environment and the company's bottom line — it reduces dumping fees by 20 percent.

Thompson Remodeling of Grand Rapids, Mich., (one of many remodelers who has done so) has implemented in-office recycling programs and focuses on reducing paper waste by “thinking before printing.”

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