Q&A: deep green home remodel earns EarthCraft Platinum

March 12, 2014 | by Gary Wollenhaupt

A mid-century brick ranch in Atlanta underwent a sustainable renovation and earned the coveted EarthCraft Platinum renovation certification.

Built in 1963, the three bedroom and three bathroom house with a split floor plan and a finished basement was treated to a thorough renovation to provide sustainable, eco-friendly living for its next occupants. 

EarthCraft is a green building certification program designed to address climate, energy and water issues unique to the southeastern United States.

Atlanta contractor Joe Thomas of Elemental Green led the project for this extreme makeover as a way to demonstrate the possibilities of sustainable renovation. Thomas shared his green renovation experience in an exclusive interview with ProudGreenHome.com

Why did you choose a remodeling project to achieve a certification?

I was renovating the house to resell it, and I think it’s a whole lot easier to remodel it and get it certified than to convince a client to do an EarthCraft renovation on their own lot.

How receptive has the market been to a green certified home?

A few real estate agents are familiar with EarthCraft, and more are familiar with the name only. One lesson is that there will have to be more education required to tap in to the green home market that I understand from market studies is there.

The model for my company is to buy homes and do green renovations and I’m trying to stick at price point at or below $300,000. That’s based on a market study of millennials, who are really a market that is just coming into the home buying age. And by the market study at least, they care. The idea is to tap into that market.

See a slideshow of the Earthcraft Platinum green remodeled home

How do people respond go the green aspects of the house?

Fortunately this house is attractive beyond its EarthCraft status. Some of the selections we made such as the recycled glass countertops just to look cool. To most people's eye they think they are cool and they don't necessarily care whether it's a green product or not. We choose things that really read like luxury items and yet they are green selections.  If we have to fool people into buying green homes, we will.

How much did achieving EarthCraft Platinum add to the cost?

Overall it's possible to do it with not that much additional cost. With EarthCraft, there are some behavioral things like recycling, that don't have a cost associated with them. From there you can economize the additional costs and you can pick and choose to keep it as cheap as possible.

But there are still some items that were a premium, like the recycled glass countertops, like any sort of FSC certification for cabinets, there's a premium on that. Is it’s a balance where you want to spend the extra money.

Where did you invest for high performance in the home?

We spent about 30 percent more on the HVAC equipment than on the standard system. We put in an 18 SEER and 9.5 HPSF heat pump. It has a variable speed blower, and two-speed air conditioning because there’s a finished basement. I wanted zones and I wanted it to be variable speed, and there’s also whole house dehumidification and fresh air ventilation.

How well does the home perform?

In the final test it ended up at 4.5 ACH/50, air changes per hour, and before the work it was about 14 ACH. So we had a phenomenal improvement in the air tightness of the building. It’s hard to say how much energy it will save, I shy away from making promises like that.

How extensive was the renovation?

The house was distressed. It had been rented for some time, and the last tenants were evicted. It was a wreck.

So we took it down to studs. We had planned on moving interior walls and started doing that, and in the end the decision was whether we were going to remove the sheetrock from the exterior walls and that gave us the opportunity to do insulation.

We wanted to save as much as we could but it made sense to gut it entirely. We were able to recycle a major portion of the materials that we pulled out, about 40 percent overall.

We did not get points for recycling on this project because there were a couple of thresholds where you have to have separate dumpsters to get points, but in the spirit of it we were able to recycle a lot.

What are some of the high-performance features of the home?

  • Icynene spray foam in the walls on the main floor and roofline
  • Attic is conditioned space, with pull-down stairs and decking for storage.
  • Energy Star lighting fixtures and bath fans
  • Energy Star appliances from Samsung
  • Low-VOC paints
  • Recycled glass countertops by Vetrazzo in kitchen
  • Wellborne Cabinets manufactured within 500 miles
  • Recycled marble counter top in bath room
  • GE hybrid water heater
  • Used salvage wood flooring to redo the floors
  • Windows exceed Energy Star ratings
  • Plumbing fixtures from Kohler and Delta are WaterSense certified
  • Daylighting with SolaTubes

We worked hard to make everything was stylish so we weren’t just selling energy efficiency and EarthCraft, we wanted to make sure that even if didn’t buy it for the certification they would still buy it.

Are green home certifications gaining traction in the market?

We saw many projects that were so close to meeting the standards and the people were just not bothering to do it. The designation may not be as important to people now but as it becomes more recognizable even more of that approach will be integrated into the way people build and renovate.

There’s a lot of home flipping going on now unfortunately and I was looking for a way to distinguish my product from others in the market.

Read more about green home remodeling.


Topics: Building Green, Certification / LEED, Energy Audits, Energy Star, Home Design & Plans, Insulation, Remodeling, WaterSense

Companies: Southface Energy Institute, GE Appliances, Icynene Inc., Kohler, Delta Faucet Company, GE Appliances



Gary Wollenhaupt
Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky. wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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