New Old

by Peter O. Whiteley


In the added master bedroom and bathroom, the trough sink, horizontal boards for the walls, and interior glass door are recycled. For maximum energy efficiency, windows are double-glazed and argon gas-filled.


The open plan maximizes spaciousness, helps reduce the amount of building material required, and allows radiant heating to warm the whole house. The wood for framing and walls was sustainably harvested.

Air return

The metal grid that extends part of the upper floor helps create a convective loop for air circulation. Hot air can escape through windows.

Water and energy conservation

1. Trees and arbors with deciduous plants to screen south- and west-facing windows

2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-certified wood-and pellet-burning fireplace or stove, or a direct-vent gas fireplace or stove

3. Ridge and eave vents

4. Insulation made from recycled newsprint, salvaged cotton, or formaldehyde-free fiberglass

5. Skylight tubes

6. Cisterns to catch rainwater

7. On-demand or high-efficiency water heater

8. High-efficiency forced-air heater and Energy Star-rated appliances

10. Low-flow toilets and showers

11. Landscape with permeable surfaces such as an open flagstone patio, decomposed granite or gravel paths, and drought-tolerant plantings

12. Climbing vines to shade exterior walls

13. Concrete or tile floors that act as passive solar-heat sinks

14. Photovoltaic array to provide solar power

15. Solar water heating

16. Operable skylights

17. Awnings to shade windows


18. Bedding with 100 percent cotton fiber and furniture that contains certified or recycled lumber with no- or low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finish

19. Carpeting woven from bamboo, hemp, jute, recycled plastic, sea grass, or wool

20. Wall finishes such as paint that contains low or no VOCs; plaster; recycled-glass tiles; or wallpaper made of natural, renewable, or recycled material

21. Flooring made of bamboo, concrete, cork, high-pressure laminate, linoleum, recycled or certified lumber, palm, or tile

22. Cabinetry molded from formaldehyde-free particleboard or wheatboard shells with bamboo or certified-lumber exterior

23. Countertops made of certified lumber, concrete, lightweight concrete with recycled glass, or Richlite (paper content)


24. Recycled timber

25. Manmade decking

26. Certified framing lumber

27. Oriented Strand Board (OSB) for roof, wall, and floor sheathing

28. Engineered micro-lam (laminated), paralam, or glu-lam beams, which take the place of full-dimension lumber

29. Nontoxic pressure-treated lumber

30. Engineered I-beam floor joists

31. Rigid insulation to prevent heat loss

32. Engineered, manufactured roof trusses

33. Concrete foundation that contains fly ash (a by-product of coal combustion)

Exterior surfaces

34. Roofing that is composed of asphalt shingles; cementitious, recycled-rubber, slate, or term-cotta tiles; standing-seam metal

35. Insulated fiberglass or metal doors

36. Windows and sliding glass doors with low-e, argon gas-filled glazing

37. Walls covered with or made from fiber-cement, vinyl, or metal siding; certified lumber; pneumatically impacted stabilized earth (PISE); or stucco

A few products and techniques

Smart choices

Cotton insulation. Made from scraps of salvaged denim, this batt offers thermal, acoustic, and fire-resistant benefits. It contains no formaldehyde. It's more expensive than fiberglass insulation.

Certified framing lumber. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified means that standard-dimension boards were sustainably harvested. Can cost the same as conventional lumber, but usually costs slightly more.

Bamboo. Lumber-saving, rapidly renewable products include tamboured panels of split bamboo for walls, interlocking flooring, and sheets of veneer. Smith & Fong Plyboo, San Francisco ( or 650/872-1184)

Green exterior. Straw bales sprayed with a soil and cement mixture (PISE), fiber-cement siding, and double-glazed windows. DESIGN: Arkin Tilt Architects, Albany, CA ( or 510/528-9830)

Richlite counters. A solid-surface material made with paper and phenolic resin. Far cheaper than wood, it can be cut with standard woodworking tools. Rainier Richlite Co., Tacoma, WA ( or 888/383-5533)

Hydronic-heated floors. Warm water runs through continuous loops of polybutyl pipe buried in a thin coat of self-leveling concrete. Ideal for people with allergies and respiratory problems.

Natural-fiber floor coverings. Paper, plant fibers (such as coir, hemp, jute, sea grass, or sisal), and wool are alternatives to synthetic carpets. At environmental stores and

Insulated concrete forms. Interlocking modules replace wood forms and serve as insulation. Spacers suspend reinforcing bar and act as screw points. Arxx Building Products, Cobourg, Ontario ( or 800/293-3210)

Clay-based paints. Natural clays (in a limited color range) are mixed with non-outgassing emulsions. BioShield Paint Co., Santa Fe ( or 800/621-2591)