by Eileen Weber
Less than a year ago, Fairfield residents Kraig and Suzanne Schulz finished renovating their home. They built it using insulated concrete forms (ICFs). They chose environmentally friendly products and energy-saving appliances. They installed compact fluorescent lightbulbs and energy-efficient windows. But all of that came with a pretty steep price tag and not without a few problems along the way.
According to a New York Times article dated March 5th, Petz Scholtus, a Belgian woman living in Spain, renovated her 18th century apartment to be “environmentally responsible on a shoestring.” However, being green on a budget is sometimes easier said than done.
Scholtus wrote a blog about her adventures trying to be eco-conscious while not squeezing her piggy bank at the same time. She reused plastic jugs as the outer shell for floor lamps. Her living room is decorated with beanbag chairs made from automotive textiles, magazine racks fashioned from antique drawers fitted with castors, and low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint on her walls. She also transported her belongings from the old apartment to the new one by bicycle. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)
Scholtus is not alone. In this country, blogs abound with nightmare renovations as well as stories of happily-ever-after eco-friendliness.
In Brooklyn, NY, Phyllis Bobb and her husband have their own web site about living and renovating green. They’ve done a few different properties over the last decade or so. They also have links to other green sites and moderate a forum for topics like sustainable living and salvaging furniture.
“The first renovation started in 1994. We weren't even aware of a ‘green building’ movement, but we make a few eco-friendly decisions, mainly due to lack of funds,” said Bobb in a recent e-mail. “On the second renovation, we used pricey reclaimed flooring and got a salvaged tub, but most of the stuff in that house was new because it was a newer home.”
Bobb went on to say that she doesn’t consider herself a green person, but somehow became one along the way. If they dismantled anything from a project, they’d set it curbside rather than throwing it out.
“We bought the third and fourth houses in 2004 and 2005,” she said. “Both are Victorian and we want to keep the period detail intact. So, actually, we became green due to budget and historic constraints.” They also resurfaced existing cabinets and bought salvaged items like tubs, light fixtures, and hardware.
“I think many New Yorkers fall into the eco-friendly trend for the same reasons I did. Budget. Historic detail,” she said. “And it doesn't hurt to be green.”
But while Bobb and her husband chose to be DIY-ers, many consumers seek out the qualified contractor. This can be a more daunting task than most people realize. Many contractors have not caught up to the growing interest consumers have in building green. And, many contractors say they are green but, unfortunately for the homeowner, turn out not to be.
The New York Times noted in October 2006 and November 2008 articles that more than a few homeowners with their own green challenges. In particular, Josh Daniels of Carmichael, Calif., and Katie Ginsberg of Chappaqua, NY had expense issues as well as finding a qualified contractor.
Daniels researched green building down to the paint and countertops he planned to use on his renovation. But for him, finding the right contractor was more of a problem than he imagined.
“It was really hard to find a contractor familiar with ‘green’ building, so we just tried to find someone who was willing to use greener products,” Daniels was quoted as saying. “Even that proved to be a little bit challenging.”
Ginsberg renovated her home office over the garage. She noted that is was 10% to 15% more expensive than if she’d used materials that weren’t environmentally friendly. She was quoted as saying the foam insulation was more expensive than fiberglass and the recycled glass and stone mixture for the countertop was pricier than granite.
She also used low VOC paints as well as bamboo flooring, a sustainably-grown product. But if you’ve got an eye toward green, bamboo flooring has it’s own carbon footprint to deal with. The material is harvested and manufactured in China. The product is then shipped thousands of miles to its destination. Sustainable product, yes. Environmentally-friendly, maybe not so much.
Anjali Hansen, the Environmental Building, Education and Policy Consultant for My Green Cottage, a green home designer based in Reston, VA, has had her own blog entries about renovating her 1940s colonial in an environmentally-friendly way.
“When my family expanded and I needed a larger home, I really wanted one in keeping with my belief in the environment,” noted one entry. “I looked but was unable to find any green homes in the area—nor could I find any green expertise among local builders.”
Hansen, who lives just outside the Washington, D.C. area, has chosen to go for LEED certification with her renovation. In 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System. The system is based on a series of standards that buildings must meet in order to certify that their construction is environmentally friendly and sustainable.
According to an article dated February 25th in Hansen’s local newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, she is hoping for a LEED Gold certification on her property. "What I love about LEED is it ensures a high building quality," Hansen was quoted as saying. "If you do LEED, you have to adhere to their standards [and not the contractor’s]."
For her project, also chronicled in The Washington Post, Hansen says she is proud to note that all of the “materials from the house will be reused in some way.” She said they took great efforts to keep construction debris out of landfills.
Much like Phyllis Bobb did with her renovations, the Hansens tried to reuse a lot of the old materials like floorboards, spare bricks, doors, and hardware. All of their new appliances are energy-saving and the old ones were donated elsewhere. They’ve also installed geothermal heating that has a system of pipes and drains underground. Their construction is scheduled to complete by the end of this month.
As noted in a previous article on this web site, Barry Katz, a green architect and builder in Westport, believes that soon it will become commonplace that all homes, new and renovated, will eventually be made more energy-conscious as a standard.
“People will assume that this is the way things will be built,” said Katz. “Just like people assume they will have central air.”
With any luck, Katz will be right. The more green we try to be, the more green we will become.
Photos courtesy of Phyllis Bobb and Falls Church News-Press.