Reuse, recycle, remodel

by Peter O. Whiteley


A flatbed truck pulling out of Hayward lumberyard in Salinas, California, carries familiar-looking building materials--siding, insulation, studs, and beams--destined for a home construction site. But something is different. The siding is wood-textured fiber cement, the insulation is made of salvaged cotton blue jeans, and the studs are certified to be from a sustainably harvested forest. Resource- and environmentally friendly building--also known as green building--is gaining popularity in the West. Now even the commonest materials such as carpet and paint have green options and are being competitively priced.

Green building is about reducing environmental impact, whether in remodeling a home or planning a community. It's everything from energy-efficient and health-conscious design to using salvaged materials. There's no "green" architectural style, either, so you can still follow your personal taste when it comes to creating your home's look. Here's our guide to using earth-friendly materials.

Respectful remodel


The story of Kristin and Kenan Block's renovation of a 1904 Seattle home is one of research, road trips, and recycling. Their goal was to add a master bedroom on a new third floor and to extend and remodel the kitchen on the first. They wanted to keep all of the new features in character with the age of the house and specified that the remodel be as green as possible.

From the front, the new third floor is simply a gabled extension of the dormer. Serendipity and a collector's eye were key elements in outfitting the interior. The Blocks found the long kitchen sink at a salvage shop during a vacation in Vermont, and they lugged back the folding train-compartment sink--the highlight of the guest bathroom--from a Portland store called Rejuvenation, which specializes in salvage, house parts, and reproduction lighting.

Most of the interior and exterior materials are recycled or salvaged, including the beams, fir flooring (which was remilled), siding, cabinets, sinks, bathtubs, decorative sash windows, antique leaded glass, and interior doors.

Kristin sums up: "I think we saved money buying recycled products, but we sometimes spent more trying to get them installed."

DESIGN: J.A.S. Design-Build, Seattle ( or 206/547-6242)

Building a new home

9. Hydronic radiant floor heater


When visitors walk down the driveway to the front door of Marilee Rasmussen's two-story 1,500-square-foot house in Palo Alto, California, they also stride over the home's heat source. Beneath the payers is a geothermal heating system: its four 200-foot-deep wells contain a loop of pipes to circulate water heated by the low-grade warmth of the earth. The water, which is warmed to about 550, returns to a series of heat pumps that extract and boost heat and distribute it to a hydronic radiant floor-heating system, a water heater, and the heater for a narrow lap pool.

After losing its heat, the water recirculates within the in-ground pipes to be warmed by the mass of the earth. Going geothermal required a significant investment, but a local government incentive on heat pumps, along with the system's ability to serve both house and pool, made the installation worthwhile.

With the exception of a small guest bathroom, the main floor is one open living and cooking space that pivots around a central stairway. The radiant-heated floor works especially well in tall spaces like this because it heats objects and does not rely on forced air. Two bedrooms are upstairs.

DESIGN: Cartmell/Tam Architects, Los Altos Hills, GA (650/948-6930)

Anatomy of green

Earth-friendly home

This idealized house doesn't trumpet its greenness to the neighborhood. Regardless of architectural style or size, it's the shell of a house--the foundation, walls, windows, and roof--that provides the greatest energy and resource savings. The surprise is that in terms of energy efficiency, there's nothing wrong with wood-framed houses. They just have to be built correctly.

Alternative building systems such as straw bales, rammed earth, and structural insulated panels (SIPs) offer resource and energy efficiency. However, they are slightly more expensive than conventional wood-framed systems and are less utilized by mainstream builders.

Natural materials are often better for the environment, but not always: for example, fiber-cement siding uses minimal wood fiber, is more durable, and offers lower maintenance costs than real wood siding.

Resource guide

First steps

Although the number of environmentally friendly options is growing, finding them can still require legwork. Here are some shortcuts.

Seattle's Environmental Home Center or 800/281-9785; mail order available) and Environmental Building Supplies in Portland ( or 503/222-3881; no mail orders) carry alternative countertop materials. certified lumber for flooring, natural bedding, and plumbing supplies. Real Goods, a catalog company headquartered in Hopland, California (www. or 800/919-2400), sells a wide range of ecological products from bedding to lighting.

Neil Kelly Cabinets of Portland (503/335-9207) offers four lines of custom cabinets that have nonoutgassing wheatboard shells and optional certified lumber for doors and frames. The cabinets are made with low-VOC, water-base finishes.

To find recommended energy-saving appliances as well as heating and cooling appliances, lighting equipment, and windows, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Star program website (

Other helpful websites:;;;;;;

Coming to your neighborhood

Developers are going green. Tucson's Civano offers homes built to such exacting construction standards that they qualify for reduced electricity rates. Terramor, part of the Southern California planned community of Ladera Ranch, targets consumers interested in green design. All the homes built by Colorado-based McStain Neighborhoods are Energy Star certified. McStain is also building an experimental house testing green products.

Cost comparisons

Here's a sampling of current pricing. All figures subject to change

                    Environmentally friendly   Conventional material

Interior paint      Low VOC: $29.95/gal        Designer latex: $24.94/

Resilient flooring  Standard 2 1/2-mil         Designer vinyl: $27.81/
                     linoleum: $28.95/sq. yd.   sq. yd.

Carpet              100 percent recycled       100 percent nylon: $25.25
                     fiber: $19.09/sq. yd.      /sq. yd.

Wood flooring       Clear, vertical-grain      Southern yellow pine,
                     pine, sustainably          unfinished: about $6/sq.
                     harvested, certified,      ft.
                     unfinished: $3.89/sq.

Toilet              Dual flush that allows     Good quality, with 1.6-
                     both 0.8-gal. hall-flush   gal. flush: $260 (with
                     and 1.6-gal. regular       seat)
                     flush: $245.95 (with

Decking             Certified 1 1/4-in. ipe:   Standard 1 1/4-in. ipe:
                     $2.89/lin. ft.             $3.50/lin. ft. Or 2-by-6
                                                selected heart red-wood:
                                                $3.50/lin. ft.