Can This Home Be Greened? Sleepless No More

Living in a small house gives Brian Higgins and Jill Weems more money to spend on adventures than on a mortgage and utilities, more time for community service, and a way to show friends and family the benefits of living in a small, sustainable space.


| July/August 2005


Brian Higgins, a young landscape designer and environmental consultant, and his fiancée, Jill Weems, recently bought their first home: a 550-square-foot (not including the unfinished basement) “war box,” built in 1928 to house workers for the nearby Boeing plant. Previously a rental, the house had endured much do-it-yourself work; its infrastructure, space utilization, energy and resource efficiency, indoor air quality, and aesthetics now provide ample opportunities for green upgrading.

Because Brian and I are both designers with strong environmental consciences—and white­water kayakers, too—we had instant rapport. We started in the basement because I like to see the home’s bones and circulatory system first. Brian and Jill had already made some improvements, including new wiring and plumbing, compact fluorescent lights, a natural gas heater with a carbon monoxide sensor, and a high-efficiency Fisher and Paykel washing machine. For their efforts they had received a $100 rebate from Seattle Public Utilities.

How's the skin?

Problem: The home has wavy, multi-layered, asphalt-composition roofing and cracked, beveled-cedar siding.



Solution: Brian can recycle the old roofing and install a standing-seam metal roof (with recycled content) that facilitates rainwater catchment, or he can choose Ondura corrugated sheet roofing, with 50 percent ­ post-consumer recycled cellulose content, which costs about the same as thirty-year composition-roofing material but carries a fifty-year warranty. He can add ridge and soffit vents to minimize attic condensation in winter and overheating in summer. He can also fill in siding gaps with paintable silicone caulk, although cracks larger than one-quarter inch require applying backer bead (also called “backer rod”) first so the caulk stays pliable.

Getting to the guts

AlanJones
8/2/2014 10:16:35 AM

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