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Reuse, recycle, remodel: environmentally friendly materials and techniques are changing the way we build in the West.

Aflatbed truck pulling out of Hayward lumberyard in Salinas, California, carries familiar-looking building materials--siding, insulation, studs, and beams--destined for a home construction site. But something is different. The siding is wood-textured fiber cement, the insulation is made of salvaged cotton blue jeans, and the studs are certified to be from a sustainably harvested forest. Resource- and environmentally friendly building--also known as green building--is gaining popularity in the West. Now even the commonest materials such as carpet and paint have green options and are being competitively priced.

Green building is about reducing environmental impact, whether in remodeling a home or planning a community. It's everything from energy-efficient and health-conscious design to using salvaged materials. There's no "green" architectural style, either, so you can still follow your personal taste when it comes to creating your home's look. Here's our guide to using earth-friendly materials.

Respectful remodel


The story of Kristin and Kenan Block's renovation of a 1904 Seattle home is one of research, road trips, and recycling. Their goal was to add a master bedroom on a new third floor and to extend and remodel the kitchen on the first. They wanted to keep all of the new features in character with the age of the house and specified that the remodel be as green as possible.

From the front, the new third floor is simply a gabled extension of the dormer. Serendipity and a collector's eye were key elements in outfitting the interior. The Blocks found the long kitchen sink at a salvage shop during a vacation in Vermont, and they lugged back the folding train-compartment sink--the highlight of the guest bathroom--from a Portland store called Rejuvenation, which specializes in salvage, house parts, and reproduction lighting.

Most of the interior and exterior materials are recycled or salvaged, including the beams, fir flooring (which was remilled), siding, cabinets, sinks, bathtubs, decorative sash windows, antique leaded glass, and interior doors.

Kristin sums up: "I think we saved money buying recycled products, but we sometimes spent more trying to get them installed."

DESIGN: J.A.S. Design-Build, Seattle ( or 206/547-6242)

Building a new home

9. Hydronic radiant floor heater


When visitors walk down the driveway to the front door of Marilee Rasmussen's two-story 1,500-square-foot house in Palo Alto, California, they also stride over the home's heat source. Beneath the payers is a geothermal heating system: its four 200-foot-deep wells contain a loop of pipes to circulate water heated by the low-grade warmth of the earth. The water, which is warmed to about 550, returns to a series of heat pumps that extract and boost heat and distribute it to a hydronic radiant floor-heating system, a water heater, and the heater for a narrow lap pool.

After losing its heat, the water recirculates within the in-ground pipes to be warmed by the mass of the earth. Going geothermal required a significant investment, but a local government incentive on heat pumps, along with the system's ability to serve both house and pool, made the installation worthwhile.

With the exception of a small guest bathroom, the main floor is one open living and cooking space that pivots around a central stairway. The radiant-heated floor works especially well in tall spaces like this because it heats objects and does not rely on forced air. Two bedrooms are upstairs.

DESIGN: Cartmell/Tam Architects, Los Altos Hills, GA (650/948-6930)

Anatomy of green

Earth-friendly home

This idealized house doesn't trumpet its greenness to the neighborhood. Regardless of architectural style or size, it's the shell of a house--the foundation, walls, windows, and roof--that provides the greatest energy and resource savings. The surprise is that in terms of energy efficiency, there's nothing wrong with wood-framed houses. They just have to be built correctly.

Alternative building systems such as straw bales, rammed earth, and structural insulated panels (SIPs) offer resource and energy efficiency. However, they are slightly more expensive than conventional wood-framed systems and are less utilized by mainstream builders.

Natural materials are often better for the environment, but not always: for example, fiber-cement siding uses minimal wood fiber, is more durable, and offers lower maintenance costs than real wood siding.

Resource guide

First steps

Although the number of environmentally friendly options is growing, finding them can still require legwork. Here are some shortcuts.

Seattle's Environmental Home Center or 800/281-9785; mail order available) and Environmental Building Supplies in Portland ( or 503/222-3881; no mail orders) carry alternative countertop materials. certified lumber for flooring, natural bedding, and plumbing supplies. Real Goods, a catalog company headquartered in Hopland, California (www. or 800/919-2400), sells a wide range of ecological products from bedding to lighting.

Neil Kelly Cabinets of Portland (503/335-9207) offers four lines of custom cabinets that have nonoutgassing wheatboard shells and optional certified lumber for doors and frames. The cabinets are made with low-VOC, water-base finishes.

To find recommended energy-saving appliances as well as heating and cooling appliances, lighting equipment, and windows, visit the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Star program website (

Other helpful websites:;;;;;;

Coming to your neighborhood

Developers are going green. Tucson's Civano offers homes built to such exacting construction standards that they qualify for reduced electricity rates. Terramor, part of the Southern California planned community of Ladera Ranch, targets consumers interested in green design. All the homes built by Colorado-based McStain Neighborhoods are Energy Star certified. McStain is also building an experimental house testing green products.
Cost comparisons

Here's a sampling of current pricing. All figures subject to change

 Environmentally friendly Conventional material

Interior paint Low VOC: $29.95/gal Designer latex: $24.94/

Resilient flooring Standard 2 1/2-mil Designer vinyl: $27.81/
 linoleum: $28.95/sq. yd. sq. yd.

Carpet 100 percent recycled 100 percent nylon: $25.25
 fiber: $19.09/sq. yd. /sq. yd.

Wood flooring Clear, vertical-grain Southern yellow pine,
 pine, sustainably unfinished: about $6/sq.
 harvested, certified, ft.
 unfinished: $3.89/sq.

Toilet Dual flush that allows Good quality, with 1.6-
 both 0.8-gal. hall-flush gal. flush: $260 (with
 and 1.6-gal. regular seat)
 flush: $245.95 (with

Decking Certified 1 1/4-in. ipe: Standard 1 1/4-in. ipe:
 $2.89/lin. ft. $3.50/lin. ft. Or 2-by-6
 selected heart red-wood:
 $3.50/lin. ft.


In the added master bedroom and bathroom, the trough sink, horizontal boards for the walls, and interior glass door are recycled. For maximum energy efficiency, windows are double-glazed and argon gas-filled.


The open plan maximizes spaciousness, helps reduce the amount of building material required, and allows radiant heating to warm the whole house. The wood for framing and walls was sustainably harvested.

Air return

The metal grid that extends part of the upper floor helps create a convective loop for air circulation. Hot air can escape through windows.

Water and energy conservation

1. Trees and arbors with deciduous plants to screen south- and west-facing windows

2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-certified wood-and pellet-burning fireplace or stove, or a direct-vent gas fireplace or stove

3. Ridge and eave vents

4. Insulation made from recycled newsprint, salvaged cotton, or formaldehyde-free fiberglass

5. Skylight tubes

6. Cisterns to catch rainwater

7. On-demand or high-efficiency water heater

8. High-efficiency forced-air heater and Energy Star-rated appliances

10. Low-flow toilets and showers

11. Landscape with permeable surfaces such as an open flagstone patio, decomposed granite or gravel paths, and drought-tolerant plantings

12. Climbing vines to shade exterior walls

13. Concrete or tile floors that act as passive solar-heat sinks

14. Photovoltaic array to provide solar power

15. Solar water heating

16. Operable skylights

17. Awnings to shade windows


18. Bedding with 100 percent cotton fiber and furniture that contains certified or recycled lumber with no- or low-VOC (volatile organic compound) finish

19. Carpeting woven from bamboo, hemp, jute, recycled plastic, sea grass, or wool

20. Wall finishes such as paint that contains low or no VOCs; plaster; recycled-glass tiles; or wallpaper made of natural, renewable, or recycled material

21. Flooring made of bamboo, concrete, cork, high-pressure laminate, linoleum, recycled or certified lumber, palm, or tile

22. Cabinetry molded from formaldehyde-free particleboard or wheatboard shells with bamboo or certified-lumber exterior

23. Countertops made of certified lumber, concrete, lightweight concrete with recycled glass, or Richlite (paper content)


24. Recycled timber

25. Manmade decking

26. Certified framing lumber

27. Oriented Strand Board (OSB) for roof, wall, and floor sheathing

28. Engineered micro-lam (laminated), paralam, or glu-lam beams, which take the place of full-dimension lumber

29. Nontoxic pressure-treated lumber

30. Engineered I-beam floor joists

31. Rigid insulation to prevent heat loss

32. Engineered, manufactured roof trusses

33. Concrete foundation that contains fly ash (a by-product of coal combustion)

Exterior surfaces

34. Roofing that is composed of asphalt shingles; cementitious, recycled-rubber, slate, or term-cotta tiles; standing-seam metal

35. Insulated fiberglass or metal doors

36. Windows and sliding glass doors with low-e, argon gas-filled glazing

37. Walls covered with or made from fiber-cement, vinyl, or metal siding; certified lumber; pneumatically impacted stabilized earth (PISE); or stucco

A few products and techniques

Smart choices

Cotton insulation. Made from scraps of salvaged denim, this batt offers thermal, acoustic, and fire-resistant benefits. It contains no formaldehyde. It's more expensive than fiberglass insulation.

Certified framing lumber. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified means that standard-dimension boards were sustainably harvested. Can cost the same as conventional lumber, but usually costs slightly more.

Bamboo. Lumber-saving, rapidly renewable products include tamboured panels of split bamboo for walls, interlocking flooring, and sheets of veneer. Smith & Fong Plyboo, San Francisco ( or 650/872-1184)

Green exterior. Straw bales sprayed with a soil and cement mixture (PISE), fiber-cement siding, and double-glazed windows. DESIGN: Arkin Tilt Architects, Albany, CA ( or 510/528-9830)

Richlite counters. A solid-surface material made with paper and phenolic resin. Far cheaper than wood, it can be cut with standard woodworking tools. Rainier Richlite Co., Tacoma, WA ( or 888/383-5533)

Hydronic-heated floors. Warm water runs through continuous loops of polybutyl pipe buried in a thin coat of self-leveling concrete. Ideal for people with allergies and respiratory problems.

Natural-fiber floor coverings. Paper, plant fibers (such as coir, hemp, jute, sea grass, or sisal), and wool are alternatives to synthetic carpets. At environmental stores and

Insulated concrete forms. Interlocking modules replace wood forms and serve as insulation. Spacers suspend reinforcing bar and act as screw points. Arxx Building Products, Cobourg, Ontario ( or 800/293-3210)

Clay-based paints. Natural clays (in a limited color range) are mixed with non-outgassing emulsions. BioShield Paint Co., Santa Fe ( or 800/621-2591)
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Author:Whiteley, Peter O.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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