Lesson 28: Green Remodeling Part 1 - Start Slowly with Research and Small Jobs

Becoming a green remodeler is not as daunting as it may seem, says Chris Donatelli, CR, CKBR, GCP, and president of Chris Donatelli Builders Inc. in San Jose, Calif., who helped create NARI's green remodeling program. The key, he says, is taking a big-picture approach.

"Green remodeling is approaching any remodel with a holistic view in mind so that you deal with the house as a system," says Donatelli. "You look at all of the components that interact together from a building science standpoint, a sustainable standpoint and a health standpoint. It's more than just picking out a low or no VOC paint. You're developing a comfortable, healthy environment for your clients."

How a remodeler determines what is a green product and what is a sustainable product is trickier. Donatelli says it's important for remodelers to do research and to understand three critical points about a product. First, ascertain the primary materials in each potential product. Second, be sure to ascertain the source of your products. And, third is to understand how each product affects the local economy. Much of this information is available online, but may require a little digging. Donatelli also suggests connecting with other remodelers in your peer group who incorporate green remodeling for their suggestions or information on green products.

"Anything from concrete all the way to roof shingles has a green alternative mainly because there has been such a push for product," adds Donatelli. "There are a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon because you can make money on the products. While there is product available for just about every layer of a home, some of it may not make real economic sense."

When to include green

Green remodeling doesn't mean stripping a home down and starting over with green products. A balance should be struck between people's budgets and their needs. As a home ages, more maintenance becomes necessary at more frequent intervals. According to Donatelli, these normal maintenance and repair jobs offer excellent opportunities to begin incorporating green into a home. While the inclination for green remodeling would be to design a whole master plan for a house, in reality this is not necessarily the case.

"At some point in the life of a home, the home kind of dictates specifically what one might try to incorporate into that home to make it greener or energy-efficient," explains Donatelli. "If you want a new appliance or the home needs painting, that's the time to look for an Energy-Star appliance or low VOC paints. I think, for the most part, if you use the natural maintenance of a home, that's a good place to start incorporating green."

Other good starting points arise during a kitchen or bathroom remodel. Here, low water usage appliances and plumbing fixtures can easily be introduced to the project. During a roof replacement, radiant barriers can easily be added to the project, helping to create a future green home incrementally.

"I would look at green remodeling from the standpoint of what is going to give me the biggest bang for the bucks," says Donatelli. "If I'm living in a house that has a heater that needs to be replaced, and the air ducts are bad, it would make sense that we put in a high-efficiency furnace and take out all the old air ducts and put in new sealed ducts to increase the efficiency of the whole system."

The road to green

To understand green remodeling better, the NARI Green program is good place for remodelers to educate themselves about the subject. NARI's program is basically designed to give a remodeler a broad view of what it means to be green. It was meant to give people a start and give them an understanding of the areas that they can get started on and begin to give them a sense of how to go about getting more information. There's also a plethora of information on the Internet including information on energy programs in each state.

While it is good advice to try and learn everything about green remodeling, Donatelli says that remodelers shouldn't be afraid to tell someone that they'll have to get back to them and make sure that they're telling them something factual. The other thing is not to be overwhelmed. It is OK to start small with green remodeling and build up so that a remodeler can start to make an impact slowly, but surely, as they become more comfortable with the process and the systems.

"It's important for us as a building community to be responsible for what we build and what we offer our clients," adds Donatelli. "One of the good things coming out of this movement is that it's giving us that opportunity and we shouldn't waste it."

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