Eco-friendly remodel turns the clock back in style
Green remodels are to homes what the little black dress is to fashion: They never go out of style, are affordable on any budget and work on any home regardless of age.
Newly constructed mini-mansions that leave a super-sized footprint are so last decade. Many Atlantans are choosing instead to remodel their existing homes with eco-friendly updates that conserve water and use energy efficiently.
“A lot of folks are renovating homes instead of buying new ones because of the economic conditions,” says Tyler Jones, EarthCraft House program manager at Southface Energy Institute (www.southface.org) in Atlanta. “Consumers as well as builders are starting to become more aware of energy efficiency, water durability and indoor air quality – all elements that not only improve quality of life, but also save money.”
However, going green is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Every home has different opportunities to improve sustainability, depending on the architectural style of the home and the scope of the remodeling. That’s why it is important to hire a certified Home Energy Rater to perform an energy audit of your home. The rater will work with your contractor to determine what energy-efficient improvements need to be done based on the results of the audit and the characteristics of your home.
The three top features of any green home include: good indoor air quality that comes with proper ventilation and the use of low-volatile organic compounds in paint, stains and finishes; durability and efficiency.
High-performance, energy-efficient homes are built tight with air-sealing insulation and Low-E windows that block UV rays that can overheat your home in the summer and drive up cooling costs.
Geothermal HVAC systems, energy-efficient appliances, low-flow toilets and shower heads, low-maintenance landscaping and advanced or engineered framing products also contribute to a home’s efficiency.
Using green elements when remodeling saves money in the long run, Jones says. “The argument for sustainability makes sense not just from an environmental standpoint, but an economic standpoint as well.”
Alan Cablik can vouch for that. As president and owner of Cablik Enterprises in Atlanta, Cablik was his own best customer when he renovated his 1971 mid-century modern home to meet EarthCraft House standards.
The 3,000 square-foot Brookhaven home has passive solar design, spray-foam insulation, Low-E windows and a geothermal HVAC system.
“If you want to make the biggest impact, you go for those items,” says Cablik, whose company does green renovations and new construction.
Cablik also used Georgia-grown building supplies as much as possible such as green Georgia pine for the vaulted ceilings in the living room. He installed recycled metal light fixtures throughout the house and cork flooring for the lower level. His wife planted drought-resistant plants and grasses in the yard. The couple purchased vintage furniture from the 1970s from City Issue in Virginia-Highland to blend with the home’s architecture and make an environmentally friendly statement.
Costs To Consider
A green remodel costs about $75 to $100 per square foot, Cablik estimates, compared to about $100 to $150 per square foot to build a new home.
“I can build you an EarthCraft home for the same as I can build you a typical home,” he says. “Green really doesn’t cost much more. People just have to want it.”
Matt Hoots, CEO of SawHorse, Inc., and former chairman of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association’s Green Building Council, agrees.
“When doing a high-end renovation, the cost is negligible,” he says. Although some EarthCraft components that are more durable and have a high-performance rating might cost a little more, they are built to last.”
For example, an underground geothermal HVAC system costs twice as much as a conventional system, but geothermal systems are eligible for state and federal tax credits and a rebate from Georgia Power, while conventional ones are not, Hoots says.
A solar hot water heater that uses more than 90% of its heat from the sun can save $15,000 to $20,000 in heating costs over the life of the system, depending on the size of the house.
“Going green makes sense in terms of rebates,” Hoots says.
Cablik and Hoots are two of 450 EarthCraft builders in metro Atlanta. For a complete list, visit www.earthcraft.org.
To find a certified Home Energy Rater, go to www.resnet.us/home-energy-ratings.
Alma Hill is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.
Top 10 eco-friendly remodeling trends
Remodeling a home is greener than building a new one, whether you’re enlarging the footprint to create more room or reconfiguring the space you already have. The key is to make the home energy efficient, use natural and locally grown products whenever possible and select materials that are durable and built to last. Here are some popular eco-friendly improvements to consider:
1. A geothermal HVAC system that will cut your heating and cooling costs in half
2. A solar hot-water heater that gets 90% of its heat from the sun and has a gas or electric backup
3. Reclaimed materials
4. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood
5. Recycled steel
6. Weather-resistive barriers that protect the home from moisture
7. Bio-based spray-foam and recycled-content insulation
8. Brick, stone or composite siding
9. Low-E glass windows that block UV rays
10. Moisture-resistant drywall to prevent mold
—Matt Hoots, CEO of SawHorse, Inc., www.sawhorse.net
Here are some questions to ask and things to consider before you hire a contractor to remodel your home:
❍ Determine the type of green renovations you want and how much you have to spend.
❍ Find a builder/contractor who is a member of a local professional association and ask to see their license.
❍ Look for a team that consists of an architect and a builder who have worked together before and who understand sustainability.
❍ Check their references. Ask to see other projects they have done together that are similar to yours.
❍ Find out if they specialize in EarthCraft House (new construction and renovations), LEED (new construction only) or other third-party green certification.
❍ How knowledgeable are they about passive solar design?
❍ Make sure the contractor has at least $1 million of general liability and worker’s comp insurance.
❍ Get at least three bids for your project. Remember, the lowest bid is not necessarily the most responsible. Give weight to the price, qualifications and the rapport you have with each other.
❍ Before you sign a contract, find out how long it will take for them to do your renovations and what their process is for managing the job.
❍ How, and how often, will they communicate with you?
❍ Since efficiency and sustainability are important to you, be sure to ask if they recycle construction waste, if they use local products versus imported products and if they make intelligent framing choices that reduce waste and returns.