Local Color: A Green Bungalow Renovation

From diving into their own dumpster to providing water-based adhesives to the construction crew, an Austin couple takes a hands-on approach to making sure their bungalow renovation is as green as possible.

| March/April 2003

For the first six years of their relationship, Susan Brooks and John Salzman lived twenty blocks apart from each other on the same street in the funky, up-and-coming Bouldin Creek neighborhood five minutes from downtown Austin, Texas. When they decided to move in together in 1999, both were looking for a fresh start but neither wanted to leave the nearby live music venues or the close-knit community they’d come to enjoy. So like all committed couples, they met halfway—literally—by buying a place exactly ten blocks between their old houses on the very same street.

The location was perfect. But the 700-square-foot 1930s cottage wasn’t. Even though the house had gone through two cosmetic renovations, it was just too small, and the 1950s powder-blue bathtub in the single bathroom just wouldn’t do. “There wasn’t anything special about the place except that it had a sweet cottagey feel to it and the lot had three beautiful, tall pecan trees arching over it,” says Susan, a career coach and corporate trainer. “We wanted a place we could put our own signature on.”

Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big House (The Taunton Press, 1998) inspired Susan to create a small but efficient living space. Avid naturalists (Susan is a gardener with a passion for antique roses, and John, whose day job is computer engineering, is a kayaker), they wanted to build in a way that wouldn’t impact the natural environment too drastically. That meant staying within the bungalow-style scale of the downtown neighborhood, salvaging as much of the old house as possible, and using healthy materials such as nontreated woods, zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, water-based glues, and cotton insulation. “We realized early on that we didn’t need an enormous footprint with cavernous indoor spaces,” says Susan. “Also, we love being outdoors so much that we wanted to stay connected to it by using natural materials wherever we could. That’s not a political statement. It just felt right.”

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