The Beauty of Green Design

All designers and architects know that style and substance are not mutually exclusive, but in the specific realm of green design, the focus for most remodeling firms is on the building science component of green.

November 30, 2008

Gardner/Fox Associates reused the stone from the original arched entryway (top) to construct part of the two-and-a-half car garage addition.

If there's one thing this year's winning projects in the Best of the Best Design Award competition proved, it's that form and function can come together with beautiful, award-winning results.

All designers and architects know that style and substance are not mutually exclusive, but in the specific realm of green design, the focus for most remodeling firms is on the building science component of green. A less-publicized but highly relevant aspect of green, especially for remodelers, is reusing materials and installing sustainable products.

Green innovations have been made in many building product categories that affect the aesthetics of a project, from flooring to countertops to cabinetry and more. With this increasing number of beautiful options that are produced with sustainable materials, it makes more sense than ever to specify these products in a project. Rarely does it take a life-cycle cost analysis to sell these features, because they cost little or no more than any of the non-green options.

Reusing materials has a dual positive impact on a remodel. Because the materials don't get shipped off to a landfill, it's good for the environment. And because new materials are not purchased for the renovation, it saves money for the client and reduces the overall demand for the production of new building products, which uses our natural resources.

Nowhere is reusing materials more appropriate or readily encountered than in historic restoration projects. In this year's project of the year, Gardner/Fox Associates removed many materials from the 1893 shingle-style Victorian and then reused them to complete the whole-house historic restoration.

Gardner/Fox reused the original stone that formed the historic home's gothic arched entryway to build part of the addition for the project. Although architect Alex Rice would have preferred to keep the stone structure part of the new design, structural engineers determined that years of run-off from an open downspout had eroded the existing mortar to dust, rendering it near collapse. So, the entry was carefully dismantled and the stones were power-washed and used to construct the front and side elevation of the 30-foot garage addition (see photos at right). Gardner/Fox actually didn't have enough of the original stone to complete the addition, but fortunately they had enough to make the turn from the front of the house to the side before using the closest matching new stone they could find for the back of the addition.

Another example is the second floor sleeping porch, which had been neglected over the years but was restored to its natural beauty as a master dressing room using original materials.

“I knew that we were going to get a lot of bang for our buck if we took the original details and puttied them and painted them and restored the sleeping porch to how it was originally,” said Rice. “It's probably the best detail in the house, and we got a lot of pressure just to cover it with new windows. But you have to kind of hold your ground on the important items, but not irresponsibly.”

Reusing materials doesn't always have to be confined to historic restoration or even the same project. Remodelers can look for opportunities to salvage materials from older homes they're remodeling to save and use in future projects.

Eren Design and Remodel makes it a standard practice to reduce the impact of their work on the environment whenever possible. That was apparent in their Platinum Award-winning kitchen (see page 27), in which the company created an island countertop from salvaged wood from the floor of a 1790s schoolhouse.

Eren's owner, Janice Donald, is on a mission to educate her clients that green can be beautiful.

“When clients talked about green, there was nothing about beauty; it was all about smartness, whether it be capturing rainwater or the type of insulation or windows,” said Donald. “It was never about pretty product, because frankly they didn't know there were any.”

Another Platinum Award-winning remodeler that incorporated reused materials with significant aesthetic and environment impact was Orion General Contractors. Orion used 90 percent of the barn's original materials for its whole-house green remodel including a kitchen island countertop made from the slate removed from the patio on the property.

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For more on the ongoing innovation in the marriage between residential green design and aesthetics, visit these sites.
Architecture for Humanity

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