Successful green remodeling comes down to education and compromise

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Successful green remodeling comes down to education and compromise

Remodeling a home is challenging for the building professional as well as the homeowner when the family lives in the house while the work is going on. Often the remodeler and the homeowner have to work together to plan and complete the project. Sometimes homeowners want to incorporate green aspects that won’t work for the project, and it’s up to the remodeling contractor to sort out the situation.

Andy Ault, a certified lead carpenter and owner of Little River Carpentry in Maryland, spoke about his experiences in helping homeowners undertake green remodeling at the 2010 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

“You have to balance everyone’s needs, you have to talk it out with the homeowners and everyone on the team,” Ault said.

In looking at planning a retrofit, Ault said it’s important to understand the entire lifecycle of green products. It’s important to not only look at how a product influences the performance of a home but also how it’s made and how long it will last.

“You have to do what’s right for the environment but don’t do it at the sacrifice of something that’s going to end up in the landfill 15 years from now,” he said.
In planning a green remodeling project, Ault recommended looking at a house as a complex system. “What is done in one area may have unintended consequences for another aspect of the home,” he said.

He compared adding green upgrades to putting a Ferrari engine in Ford Model T.  “The problem is you often get a very ugly very, expensive wreck,” he said. “But if you also install the right brakes, then the car stops as well as it goes.”

The same thing can happen in a home remodel if any of the systems are overlooked. For instance, a homeowner wants to tighten the building envelope to control heat loss and air movement. “But now you’ve trapped air in the home and you have to think about indoor air quality,” Ault said.

In working with a homeowner on a remodeling project, Ault looks at four major systems of a home, in this order:

Geography :  “If you’re building a new home, the lot is the most important thing. If you’re doing a retrofit, you have to respect the existing architecture. You have to understand where the home is, what direction it faces, what you may need to change about the overhangs, things like that.”

Structural: “A rammed earth house may work great in New Mexico but it’s perfectly worthless in Michigan. You have to respect the structural aspects. People read about a certain system and want to build their addition in that way, but I have to tell them I can’t build that for you in this state. I’m in the Mid- Atlantic region where we have a mixed-humid climate that is just vicious to build in. You have to be on your toes to know what you’re designing in that market.”

Systems: “If you have a super air-tight house you don’t need a huge mechanical system. Or if you can use radiant instead of forced air or you can use less plumbing, or if you’re using solar thermal you don’t need as big a water heater. The structure will tell you a lot about what kind of systems to use.”

Aesthetics: “Too often homeowners start with the aesthetics, but that’s stuff you can go back and change. You have to know the systems first before you pick out recycled glass tile or a sustainable bamboo floor.”

The remodeling contractor has to educate the homeowner to take the most effective approach for the project.

“One of our jobs as professional in the industry is to guide and coach and refocus the homeowners when they’re doing the retrofit work,” Ault said.

(Photo courtesy of Brock Builders)??


Topics: Building Green, Remodeling

Companies: U.S. Green Building Council

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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