Green Industry Articles

Deconstruction to Green Reconstruction

There's a perception that West Coast residents are on the cutting edge of green. In many cases, it's true.

But there's a flip side to that.

For instance, in balmier parts of California homeowners don't need to run the HVAC as aggressively as those who live places with dual climates, and it makes it easier for them to cope with--and ignore--occasional spikes in energy bills.

As a result, sometimes complacency emerges, according to Jan Shomaker.

But she asks, "Why waste energy, if you don't have to?"

She decided not to when she bought a 30-year-old house in Mission Viejo in 2005. Shomaker, GREEN, EcoBroker®, SRES®, broker/owner of SPS Realty, set out to do a top-to-bottom green expansion and renovation of the property.

She did it for several reasons. For one, she believes in green practices and thinks it just makes sense to conserve resources. "It's also being conscientious about my planet," she says. "What am I handing to my kids and grandchildren?"

Moreover, she wanted the house to stand as an example to green skeptics and to send several messages. Efficient properties don't look any different than regular homes. Dramatic savings are possible with the right strategies. And applying the concept of reuse and recycle takes just a bit of ingenuity.

She addressed all the big things, such as R-15 wall insulation, installing a tankless water heater, and energy efficient doors and windows in the renovation.

But what's striking about the project is the additional thought she devoted to seemingly small decisions that yielded creative solutions. Among them were:

• Landscaping--Shomaker gave some unwanted palm trees to neighbors, and she stopped watering the grass. She removed it and it was turned into compost by a waste management company. With the exception of a small patch of grass for her dog, Shomaker's landscaping now is drought tolerant.

• Shading--A deciduous tree was put in the front courtyard to shade the guest room in the summer and to allow sun in during winter. Front eaves were extended six feet to provide shade during summer mornings.

• Recycling--Habitat for Humanity collected the old cabinets, granite counters, sinks, tubs, and mirrored wardrobe doors. Other items, such as flooring, were recycled and used in Shomaker's rental apartments.

• Daylighting--Light was important both for aesthetics and for energy savings. In addition to dual-glazed windows, the house also now features solar tube lighting in spaces, such as closets and hallways that lacked windows. Again, the decision had dual purposes: brightening otherwise dark spaces and reducing the need for electricity. Shomaker says the solar tubes provide just enough light in the closet so that she rarely turns on lights in there. "You get used to not flipping light switches," she says.

• Repurposing--A concrete patio was broken up and repurposed in several ways: Some pieces were used to terrace the front yard, her son-in-law took some to build a backyard pond, and neighbors used pieces for their own projects. The lumber from the patio cover was used to frame some of the addition.

• Tiling--The vast majority of Shomaker's floors are tiled. As a result, her cleaning routine entails micro cloth pads, rather than lots of vacuuming. Shomaker's view: Sure, turning on a vacuum requires little electricity, but every bit you can avoid using adds up over
time.

Despite adding 500 square feet to the existing 1,600-square-foot property, Shomaker has slashed her energy consumption. Before she started the project, monthly water bills ranged from $60 to $100 and electricity cost about $100. Monthly water bills now run between $5 and $7, and electric bills come to about $20.

Shomaker admits that it would have been cheaper and faster not to have taken many of the steps she did. But, she says, "The two 'Es" in green mean energy efficient to me. We need to be more self-sufficient and ask, 'why are we giving this money to utility companies that don't deserve it?'

It's crazy what we waste in our lives."

Source: Green REsource Council Newsletter, April 2011