Can This Home Be Greened? A Suburban Rescue

Lack of maintenance undermines a Texas tract home.

| May/June 2006

  • The Whitworth family (left to right): Logan, Elise, Lee and Lucas
  • The Whitworths’ Austin home suffers from shoddy construction.
  • The air-return duct is open to the wall cavity and pulls in hot, dirty air. Seal this duct completely, get a duct diagnostic test and repair all duct leaks.
  • Water dripping from the shower door has caused extensive damage. The wall materials must be replaced and tile should be installed for better protection.
  • Elise’s brother-in-law, a landscape architect, plans to transform the neglected yard with planting beds, sheltering berms, winding pathways and Texas native plants.

When Elise and Lee Whitworth moved two years ago from California to Austin, Texas, they bought a 1995 “tract home.” Like many first-time buyers, their biggest consideration was getting the most space for the dollar. With a home-based web-development company, two boys (Logan, 3, and Lucas, 2), and a dog, the Whitworths needed space badly.

Since they’ve moved to Austin—a renowned hub for the green building movement—they’ve become more aware of healthy home environments. A few months ago, Elise attended a green-building workshop organized by Austin Energy, the progressive local utility. She learned a lot, but she also became dismayed by her home’s low-quality materials, shoddy construction and lack of prior maintenance. Although the couple wants to add on a room and do something about the dried-up, unlandscaped yard, the workshop helped Elise understand that the house needs help before they make any additions. She wrote to Natural Home and asked us to help her green her suburban home.

Problem: Elise believes her home needs better ventilation. It smells dusty and musty, and when she cooks an aromatic meal, the smell lingers for hours. Typically, using the range hood and bathroom fans solves this problem, but a few other issues are at play here. First, the range-hood fan is a recirculating type that doesn’t vent outdoors. Second, the family keeps windows closed because the curious boys might crawl through them the moment Lee and Elise weren’t watching. Finally, the adults are deaf and can’t tell when the fans are running, so they tend not to use them so that they won’t accidentally leave them running unnoticed for hours.

Solution: Installing a new range-hood fan is a necessary, inexpensive solution. The on/off controls are obvious to see, or the adults can touch the hood to feel the vibration. In the bathroom, the Whitworths could replace the bath-fan switches with a switch timer that can turn itself off after a short time, or run for longer periods when continuous house ventilation is desired. A whole-house fan with automatic controllers also would help.

Can’t stand the heat

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