Remodeling Trade Secrets

If you have a Trade Secret you would like to share, e-mail Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet at

August 31, 2007

If you have a Trade Secret you would like to share, e-mail Senior Editor Jonathan Sweet at

Green's not the word

Sometimes the best way to sell green is to never use the word.

Harrell Remodeling in Mountain View, Calif., gives frequent presentations on green remodeling to groups in the area, from city councils to business organizations.

"We've been giving consumer workshops for three or four years now, and for the first couple of years we couldn't get anyone to come," says President Iris Harrell.

But now, people are responding. The change came when the company stopped putting "green" in the title.

"Now we stress things like 'low-maintenance longevity' and energy efficiency, and the response has been great," she says. "I think people don't have an understanding of what green means, but everybody wants products that are easier to take care of, are going to last longer and are going to save them money."

The talks are usually one to three hours and cover a variety of products that will help homeowners improve the longevity of their homes, which is, after all, an important component of green remodeling.

"Rather than let green be the leader, we position it as 'This is something you should consider for all these other reasons, and, by the way, it's green,'" Harrell says.

Reduce and reuse

One of the greenest things a remodeling company can do is reduce the waste that goes from job sites to landfill.

For R.E. Construction & Maintenance Services in New Castle, Ind., reusing building materials is a top priority. About 20 percent of the company's waste finds another life, whether in a new project or for some other use, says company owner Stephen Robinson.

"I can't see throwing away perfectly good materials when we can find someone who has a use for it," he says. "It doesn't take up landfill space, and I'm not paying to get rid of it."

When the company is working on a project, Robinson asks the clients what they want the company to do with the materials. Sometimes they will have another use for them, but if not, he asks them if it's OK for the company to reuse the materials.

"They always say yes," he says. "They're usually enthralled by the fact that it's going to get a second life."

Sometimes the firm uses the materials in a paid project, but most of the time, they are donated to a family or organization in need.

"We store a bunch of it until we find someone who has a need for it," Robinson says. "We're just looking to match a need to a need and do some good."

It pays to drive green

Many remodelers practice green building techniques on the homes of their customers and then drive off in their gas guzzling V-8 SUV. Not Neil Kelly, a longtime green remodeling firm in Portland.

The company reimburses employees who drive economical and environmentally friendly hybrid cars at a higher rate than the norm to motivate its employees to be green themselves.

"Our project managers drive their own vehicles, but we give them a reimbursement fee every month, and our folks developed a table for different vehicles and reimbursements that go all the way up to a Prius or a hybrid that is based on emissions and mileage combined," said President Tom Kelly. "The standard reimbursement is $400 a month, they get about $525 for driving the very best vehicles we're able to identify."

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