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Garcia Architects: The Best ‘Green’ Option May Be to Remodel

Consider this updating to-do list to make your home more energy efficient

Let’s be honest: Building a new house is not very green. A great deal of energy goes into the construction process, but at least many new homes these days use less energy once they’re built.

“Net-Zero Energy” homes recently built are capable of producing an output of renewable energy that is at least equal to the amount of its consumed/purchased energy from energy utilities. I find the technology in new green homes, especially prefab homes, very exciting. But, as a rule, the greenest house is an existing house that is upgraded to be energy efficient.

In recent years, homes haven’t been easy to sell, yet space needs change over time. Moreover, cutting utility bills is also desired in these economic times. In cold climates, a $400 winter gas bill might be slashed in half by making a home energy efficient.

Remodeling green also means using products that are healthy for occupants, last a long time, and don’t require a lot of energy and waste to produce.

Below are some green remodel to-dos. This list is not comprehensive and doesn’t represent the only way to build green. It will undoubtedly change as technology rapidly (hopefully) improves.

» 1. When possible, use local products that don’t need to be transported.

» 2. Reinsulate the entire house, including the attic and floor system, with a spray-on foam or recycled product insulation.

» 3. Thoroughly seal the house to minimize air infiltration and leakage.

» 4. Replace old windows with energy-efficient windows.

» 5. Replace the HVAC system with one that’s more efficient.

» 6. Replace uninsulated or wood exterior doors with insulated doors.

» 7. Use low- or no-VOC paint if repainting is required.

» 8. Use recycled material and green products, such as 100 percent recycled glass tile for countertops and backsplashes.

» 9. Use passive solar and cooling techniques where possible (light shelves, light monitors — high and low operable windows, thermal masses, proper window placement, etc.

» 10. Replace faucets, showerheads and toilets with low-flow fixtures.

» 11. If cabinets must be replaced, use non-formaldehyde cabinets. If that is not possible, coat surfaces with Safecoat to prevent off-gassing.

» 12. Reuse as many of the existing building materials as possible; refurbish them if necessary.

» 13. Use a long-lasting flooring material that will last longer than carpet.

» 14. Replace the water heater with a tankless or electric tank water heater.

» 15. Replace appliances and lighting with energy-efficient products.

» 16. Add solar tubes for day lighting.

» 17. Replace roofing material with reflective roofing if appropriate.

Many contractors are not experienced in remodeling in an environmentally friendly way. If a house is in bleak condition, they’ll probably even recommend demolishing the house and starting with a blank slate — even insisting that it will cost less to do so because of the tediousness involved in trying to work with existing conditions, reuse and refurbish. But contractors have recently started to rise to this worthwhile challenge.

— Elisa Garcia is the owner of Garcia Architects, 122 E. Arrellaga St. Click here to read her blog, in which she writes about architecture, design, interiors and management. Garcia can be reached at 805.856.9118 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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