Small Steps to a Green Remodel: The Green Remodeler's Guide

From planning to hiring contractors and shopping for materials, our guide will help you customize the perfect remodel for your home and lifestyle.

| May/June 2011

  • When remodeling, opt for materials that are healthy and easy on the environment. In the bathroom and throughout the Seattle home, Burton selected low-VOC paints and finishes, efficient fixtures and environmentally responsible materials such as the wheatboard cabinets that grace the bathroom and kitchen. Water-saving efforts indoors, such as low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets, are complemented outdoors with native, drought-resistant landscaping.
    Photo By Art Grice
  • Burton is adept at incorporating design features that make spaces feel large. In the bedroom, a corner of windows opens the room to the outdoors, and a sliding door saves floor space. Committed to creating a healthy home, Burton chose bare floors—wheatboard in the bedroom and living room, Marmoleum in the kitchen—to minimize indoor pollutants. He installed an energy-recovery ventilator with high-efficiency air filters to supply fresh, clean air to the tightly sealed interior.
    Photo By Art Grice
  • This 1921 home in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood was renovated by architect Jim Burton of Blip Design. The original structure (at right) had a cramped, dark first floor and a cavelike, unlivable basement.
    Photo By Art Grice
  • Burton reconfigured the first floor by eliminating walls, creating long views and an open, airy living space that feels expansive. Building up rather than out allowed him to reuse the home’s foundation and most of the first floor.
    Photo By Art Grice
  • This 1921 home in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood was renovated by architect Jim Burton of Blip Design. The original structure had a cramped, dark first floor and a cavelike, unlivable basement. Burton raised the original first floor 12 inches to transform the cramped basement into a comfortable living space with ample daylight from new windows and a glass door. He reconfigured the new, raised ground level, tearing out walls to open up the space. Burton also added a second floor, doubling the living space while remaining within the home’s original footprint. Though now twice its former size, the home’s many efficiency upgrades reduced its energy bills by $500 a year.
    Photo By Art Grice
  • Bringing in daylight helps a home feel more inviting and connected with nature. Burton wanted to take advantage of a tall front window where sunlight streams into the home, so he created a staircase with open risers, allowing the light to filter into all three levels.
    Photo By Art Grice

Though green remodeling sometimes involves big-ticket items like solar panels, new double-pane windows, and revamped heating and cooling systems, remodeling wisely requires tapping into our desires and
creativity as much as our bank accounts. An abundance of good information about green building strategies and materials exists, but prioritizing renovations and determining which investments will pay off in the end can be overwhelming.

The key is to take your time in the planning stage. Sometimes the simplest moves make the biggest impact—and they’re much more affordable. By learning about your options and setting goals for your home, you can customize a green remodel that fits your budget and life.

Step One: Clarify Your Goals 

Why do you want to remodel? Do you want to use less energy, feel more engaged in natural cycles, improve indoor air quality, gain space for new activities or family members, or figure out how to use all of that extra space now that the kids are gone? Write it all down, whether it’s a personal desire, a family need, or a response to environmental concerns. Use colors, diagrams and pictures to help you express and organize your thoughts. Refer to these goal statements when making decisions.

Step Two: Take In Your Surroundings 

To make the best use of your energy and dollars, study your current situation before you start redesigning or picking out materials. Sit still in your living room, in your kitchen, in your bedroom and all around your house, tuning in to all of your senses. You might be surprised.

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