Remodeling? There are lots of environment-friendly options.
You’re a homeowner who either needs to build a new house or make some major changes to the one you have. Then consider this statement from a recent presentation to the Remodelers’ Council by local nonproft green|spaces: “It takes 20 to 30 years for the emissions from building operations to outpace the embodied energy and emissions from the building and construction of a building.
In other words, staying put and going green is likely your best option if you’re concerned about the environment and your role in it. Luckily, there are many more options out there for the potential “green remodeler” and many of them more than pay for themselves in the long run. Remember “reduce, re-use and recycle”? Turns out that in the remodeling world, that mantra has increasing influence.
According to local builder Ethan Collier of Collier Construction, which specializes in environmentally sound construction, “We are building homes entirely differently than we did 20 years ago. We can create the same sort of home that now that uses about half as much energy as it used to.”
Changes in home building/remodeling materials can mean a great deal not only for energy savings, but also can lead to better health, less waste and, ultimately, a healthier planet. Paints with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are now commonplace; wood harvested in an environmentally sound manner can be sourced easily. Hint: look for the FSC label on wood packaging. This is wood that is independently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which—importantly—tracks the chain of custody of any wood products carrying the label. You can even re-build your home entirely from recycled asphalt roof shingles and other urban-industrial wastes using RamRockCompression-Formed Masonry, a local green building startup and semifinalist in Silicon Valley’s 2014 Cleantech Open, saving thousands of tons of waste from local area landfills.
Making the whole house green
Tim Swafford, owner of Swafford Construction, named “Remodeler of the Year” multiple times by the Home Builders Association, highly recommends that homeowners request the free energy evaluation provided by EPB. “From doors and windows to insulation and heating/ventilation, they will recommend the best ways to become energy efficient before you make your remodeling decisions,” he says. He notes, “We look at the whole ‘envelope’ of the house; what will benefit the homeowner the most in the long term in energy savings.”
Swafford also points to tile and metal roofs as a major way to become more environmentally friendly, a view soundly reinforced by Randy Troope, Jr. of RT Construction, LLC, a company specializing in new roofs. “Right now, only a small percentage of our clients are asking about green roofs, but it’s growing,” Troope says. “These type of roofs are a higher-end product, but their longevity—about 40 to 50 years— is far higher than a typical asphalt shingle roof,” he says. And not only do these type of roofs result in savings over a period of time, but they are energy-savers as well, he says. “They reflect heat in the summer and help contain it in winter. There are also tax credits that may be available for installing these types of roofs.”
Remodeling clients are often surprised to learn that both tile and metal roofs can be adapted to match virtually any style of home—and the range of products is constantly changing. “Even if the product is brand-new to the market, we can accommodate it,” Troope says.
Walking on green
Major advances have also been made in the flooring industry, says Chattanooga Flooring Center Manager Rhonda Gay. Like Randy Troope, she says only a small percentage of clients come in asking specifically for green products, but among younger buyers, the percentage rises.
Those looking for carpeting are often directed to Mohawk SmartStrand offerings,which are made from renewable resources and come in a huge range of styles, colors and price points, from $14 to $35 per yard. She adds that another area green shoppers should look at is carpet padding, which now includes a range of green-certified options, some made from recycled materials that need replacing far less often—lessening the burden on landfills.
Gay recommends that people looking to replace or install hardwood floors take a look at bamboo or cork flooring. “Cork is something many people don’t think of at first, but it’s renewable, does not emit gasses in the home, and is currently being farmed so that there is little impact on the environment,” she says. However, it’s worth noting that architect David Bergman, a cork fan generally, adds this information: “As the wine industry has moved from cork to plastic and metal stoppers, demand [overall] for cork has actually fallen. But, there some negative factors to look at as well. One is transportation. Cork is grown in Spain and Portugal so, like, bamboo, it has to travel quite a distance…That distance translates to a carbon footprint. When looked at that way, a strong argument can be made that a responsibly harvested (or, better yet, salvaged) local wood is more eco than cork.”
For bath and kitchens, tile remains the go-to choice for the green remodeler, and there are more options than ever, Gay says.
Kitchen and bath green
What about those top-of-mind home remodels, kitchen and bath? Frank Baker, owner of Stone Source, a local company that creates kitchen and bath surfaces, prefers to use to use porcelains that are sourced from local areas, keeping transportation costs and emissions down. He also uses recycled quartz on many projects. “Our clients like to make environmentally responsible choices if they’re easy to make,” says Baker. “More products and options are coming into the market, and prices are dropping.” There is now a market for the bits and pieces of granite that Stone Source discards, he says. “Every week, someone from a company called Takin’ for Granite picks up our unused materials and recycles them into road pavers and other useful products.”
Tim Swafford notes the increase in requests for countertops made from recycled paper and glass. And as far as bathroom fixtures, low-flow, extra-low-flow and super-low-flow toilets have been around for years now, in many cases mandated by new environmental laws governing construction. But if you think your phone is “smart,” check out the winning entry in the 2012 Bill and Melinda Gates “Reinvent the Toilet” contest. Created by a team from CalTech, the toilet disinfects waste (and composts it), is non-polluting, and is also of course ultra-low-flow. Consider replacing that avocado green relic of the ’70s in your bathroom with one of these babies, or its currently available brethren.
Don’t forget green furniture
“Reclaimed wood furniture is full of character and charm,” says Rena Keller, a buyer for Southeastern Salvage, which is currently featuring a whole range of reclaimed wood pieces from India.
“Reclaimed wood comes from timbers, doors, windows, and decking rescued from old buildings, houses, warehouses, barns, fences, wagons, ships, and docks left along the streets, shorelines and empty fields of India,” she explains.
“People are buying several pieces at a time. In fact, we’ve ordered 40 more containers of this furniture; it’s proving very popular and we intend to continue to carry it.
“Industrial styling is the hottest new trend in interior design,” Keller notes. “Its unpolished character offers a quality you just can’t find in new wood. Its popularity comes from its unique appearance, contribution to green building, history of the wood’s origins, and physical characteristics such as strength, stability, and durability.”