Green is the New Black: Part II in Home Renovations

Just this past November, the 12th Annual U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo attracted over 30,000 attendees dedicated to green building from 90 different countries. Whether you are a student, new to the industry, or an experienced practitioner, there is something there for everyone.

In early December, the Huffington Post published an article on green building following and reviewing the conference. One of their 3 key points is that: transparancy is key.

“From a product perspective, much effort in recent years has been to create systems that make it easy to compare one so called “green” product to another. … Many architects and designers remain understandably confused with the plethora of product certifications out there and how to compare apples to oranges. “Greenwashing” is still rampant. This year UL Environment, one of the leading testing, certification and consulting providers announced a partnership with the USGBC to make EPD’s more comparable. UL Environment also created an exciting tool called The Green Building Toolkit which was designed with downloadable tip sheets and a Sustainable Product Guide that helps you understand how to leverage products …”

There exists this innate problem with consumers having difficulty distinguishing between Greenwashing as well as making the right decisions for their green building project. Until more stable, standard rating systems emerge, there will always be a level of research involved. However, UWsustainability doesn’t want you to think taking part in such an endeavor is overwhelming, because it is absolutely not. Like any reconstruction project, there is research and decisions to be made. Tom’s project faced the following challenges- and this is how he was able to overcome them to make a decision:

 

1. Forest Stewardship Council Certified Lumber

FSC certified lumber- UWsustainability FSC lumber- UWsustainabilityIt was important to Tom and his family to utilize FSC certified lumber. They wanted to make a very visible statement about the importance of not only green building itself, but one that suported others than are committed to the broader principles of sustainability. However, they quickly found out that Home Depot, Menards, and Brunsell did not handle FSC certified dimensional lumber or plywood.

At this point, they met with two individuals from Holley Schink Design Builders, who they were working with on the project. It turns out that they were also interested in making a statement on the house and offered to split the additional cost of u sing FSC certified lumber (which would be shipped in from the twin cities). They stood by their decision, not only because it makes a statement about what is important to them, but also to help start a demand in Madison for FSC lumber.

 

2. Recycled Denim Insulation

Recycled Denim Insulation- UWsustainabilityAnother initial desire was to utilize recycled denim insulation in the walls. It would be perfect for use in
optimal indoor air quality. Unfortunately, the same with the lumber, it is not locally available. In this case it is much easier to shop. However, this would have added another $1000 to the cost of our renovation.

Alternatively, we could save a lot of money and use formaldehyde free fiberglass insulation which was locally available. After going round and round on this, we ultimately decided to use the cheaper option.

 

3. Radiant Flooring

Tom had planned on utilizing a radiant flooring system in their house for comfort as well as energy efficiency reasons. After some research he had decided upon using a Baxi Luna combined boiler to heat the water for the system. Although the plumber quoted him another boiler system, Tom and Joan stuck to their guns and paid the extra $1500 for the system they wanted.

Radiant Flooring Diagram- UWsustainability

Secondly, Tom had also decided on a Warmboard system in which the sub-floor has tracks for the radiant tubes to be laid in, and before the tubes are laid, the entire sub-floor is covered in aluminum (including the tracks). Thus, there is a continuous layer of aluminum below the tubes to reflect the heat up. In addition, since the tracks are cut in the sub-floor (allowing the radiant tubes to be laid in the tracks), the flooring can be installed directly above the piping. With this arrangement, the heat merely needs to move through whatever flooring is chosen and then into the living space.

Their motivation for this was to avoid and eliminate the movement of any volatile organic compounds into the living space, to make the house as ‘healthy’ as possible. Both Tom and Joan frequently got migraines when exposed to new furniture and other sources of benzene and formaldehyde. Moreover, they also wanted to create a very healthy living environment for their children.

They were quoted an additional $1000 to use this system, since it would have to be brought in from the Pacific Northwest. They opted not to go forward with this.

The alternative, which the plumber suggested, was installing the radiant tubes under the sub-floor, and then putting aluminum under the tubing (again, to reflect the heat up). With this design, the heat would have to move through the sub-floor, and then their choice of flooring before entering the living space. Not only did it come across as inefficient but it also posed the dilemma of the heat moving through the glues and binders used in the oriented strand board (OSB) sub-floor. Nonetheless, they moved forward with this option.

 

4. Flooring

Tom and his family tried their best to take an intelligent, yet practical, approach to the entire flooring selection process.

Another one of Tom’s initial ideas was to include cork flooring throughout the renovation. Cork greatly absorbs sound, is comfortable to stand on, is thisn, and allows heat to pass through easily, and environmentally, it was the best choice. However, Tom could not convince the rest of his family to utilize this- they were not fans of the look of it- saying it looked like a bulletin board on the ground.

The family finally opted for hardwood flooring. There were initial concerns on how it would stand up to a radiant system, but they were informed that many radiant systems have used hardwood flooring and assured them it works just fine.

They ordered their two different varieties of wood for each floor- a dark maple by Kersten Lumber and a red birch from Green River Lumber. Kersten Lumber is a locally owned lumber mill near Shawno, WI and all of their wood comes from an area no more than 150 miles from the Eggert house. Green River Lumber is a bit farther away, but it is a company that specializes in FSC wood floors. Both companies embrace the sustainability tenants that were so much apart of what they were trying to demonstrate with their home.

Library- Cork: UWsustainabiltiy

It should be noted that Tom was able to convince his family to allow him to utilize cork flooring in the library room (the old front room).

5. Siding

UWsustainability: image of siding in houseThe family chose to utilize Hardie-plank for their siding, which is a cement and fiber board. It is sustainable in that it utilizes wood scraps in its constructions. In addition, it looked quite similar to the house’s existing siding. The only problem was that while it could be ordered pre-painted, they couldn’t match the existing color.

The solution: order a color similar to the existing color and “hire” the children to paint over the rest of the house to match. Problem solved!

6. Balancing ‘Perfect’ and ‘Good Enough’:
The Final Checklist

The Eggert family frequently faced this issue of how far to go with the addition. They were, after all, adding on to a leaky, energy-inefficient, old ranch house. As much as they would have liked to make the addition perfect, it would be easy to go too far. For instance, it simply wasn’t worth it to get triple-paned Thermotech windows out of Canada which can be “tuned” to the side of the house that they were on. They also decided not to insulate to an R-50 level in the second floor ceiling, because as energy smart as that might be, they would continue to lose a lot of heat out of the rest of the house.

However, they kept their goal in mind of acquiring 90 points on the Green Built Home checklist for additions and remodeling- 50% more than the minimum needed to qualify.

About halfway through the process, a preliminary calculation was done and it looked like the home would be just over 90 points. At this point, they decided to shoot for 100 instead- especially after finding out that the highest scoring addition was 97 points.

Given all that was happening during the last month of renovations, the ‘point’ totals were not kept up with. It wasn’t until everything was said and done that they sat down to do a final total of points.

On a Friday afternoon in early September, Tom and Karl sat down and worked through the score-sheets. They found points that they had missed initially, and it felt like the old record would be exceeded. When they finally finished and went back to add the totals from each of the sections, it was time to start getting excited.

They had not only scored more than the greenest addition that had previously existed, they had scored more than 100 points. More than 110 points. More even than 120 points. And they kept adding. We passed 130 points, and then – amazingly 140 points. When they parted that afternoon, they were at 142 points, with several areas where more points were possible, once Karl checked on such things as the recycled content of the drywall. A couple of days later, Karl came back with an additional 7 points, for a total of 149 points. They had shattered the record of the previous greenest addition, and were close to the record for the greenest house that had ever been built under the green built home scoring system, falling only 25 points below this.

The Eggert family and UWsustainability would heartily recommend using the checklists as they really helped to keep the focus on energy efficiency, building a healthy home and sourcing building material from responsible companies committed to sustainability. Hopefully, others in the future will be building greener additions and taking what we have done and extending it ever further.

To read more about the Eggert’s renovations, check out the full story.