A Home Office That Works: Green Remodeling Tips

A pioneering green builder takes on his own home office remodel and shares what he learned in the process.

| July/August 2005

When my wife and I first considered buying our Boulder, Colorado, house ten years ago, we climbed up on the garage roof and fantasized about putting an office there. This was going to be the “world headquarters” of What’s Working, my environmental construc­tion consulting company, so it had to be the best example of what is working. I wanted unique architecture that would blend into my mountain neighborhood, a playful space for working and entertaining, and a room big enough for presentations and meetings. Additionally, it had to be nontoxic and energy and resource efficient.

My architect, George Watt, helped me flesh out a final design that accomplished all of our objectives. My motivations for using environmentally sensitive materials were twofold. First, I train builders, architects, and remodelers to build green. This was my chance to gain practical experience with more products. Second, I developed the Boulder Green Points program and counsel many builders on complying with the program’s energy-efficient, resourceful, and healthy material requirements. I often hear builder complaints: “The products are too expensive,” “I can’t get my subs to use them,” or “I can’t find the products.” Using green materials for my own office addition helped me address these issues firsthand.

I was shocked, however, when I got the con­­tractors’ bids,—$200 per square foot, twice my budget! My remodel specifications freaked out even those I’d trained through the Boulder Green Remodeling program be­cause they’d never used materials such as structural insulated panels. I bit the bullet and chose to be my own general contractor.

Recycling the Roof The garage’s thirty-year-old siding was cedar plywood, and the roof was cedar shakes—tinder waiting for a match, especially in our mountain setting. So, as the garage roof was taken apart piece by piece to make way for a second floor, we saved the shingles as tinder for the wood stove. We deconstructed the plywood roof sheathing and sold it at a recycled building materials outlet, and we saved some of the plywood to sheath the new garage walls.

Flagstones Each time the earth-moving equipment unearthed flat stones, I asked the laborers to pick them out of the pile and stack them for later reuse. Reclaimed stone from all over the property became the flagstone patios around the house and the new office.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) SIPs—framing materials made by sandwiching expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) insulation between two pieces of engineered wood (OSB)—are a building product of the future. Of all the foams, expanded polystyrene is the least toxic to the environment because it uses steam or pentane to expand the foam pellets rather than ozone-depleting gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

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