Feb 28, 2012

5 ways (and reasons) to do a sustainable remodel.

Make the right decisions at the beginning, and a sustainable remodel of an existing home can often outperform a new home. Begin with a thorough evaluation including testing and inspecting existing insulation, air sealing (the building envelope), and mechanical systems (plumbing, HVAC, and electrical); identifying solar orientation; and identifying structural defects.
 When you consider the existing building, evaluate its condition, and take into account the local climate, you can create a truly sustainable renovation with little extra effort that will please be an asset to the you, the community and the environment.

  1. The Envelope, Please  If you lack the experience to identify building envelope problems, hire a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) professional, a Building Performance Institute-certified analyst, or a green building consultant to identify problems and prioritize solutions. Good practices include sealing air leaks and thermal bypasses, installing insulation above code minimums, and properly managing for rain and vapor.
  2. Build Less When the project calls for added living space, consider how to reuse existing volumes and finished areas instead of constructing new. When new space must be added, consider building up instead of out to reduce site impact — soil erosion, damage to existing landscape and trees, and adding impervious surfaces that increase stormwater runoff.
  3. Heat & Cool Less Consider how to incorporate unconditioned areas such as porches, decks, and patios as well as provide natural ventilation through large operable windows and doors to reduce the amount of energy used for HVAC.
  4. Yes, You Do Windows The placement of windows can be a critical energy factor. For example, North facing windows bring in diffused light but don’t provide any heat energy. In cold climates with strong winds they can be a big energy penalty. South facing though, are good in all climates and can be shaded to avoid summer overheating with an overhang. In cold climates, heat gain can make them an efficient energy factor. East and west facing windows, while allowing early morning sun, can cause late afternoon sun to heat up rooms, a negative in warm seasons.
  5. Do a 360 Pay attention to indigenous architecture and take cues from what was  built nearby. Often, older buildings were designed for the climate while newer ones are not. In the South, high ceilings, wide porches, and roof overhangs keep buildings cool and protect them from rainfall. In cooler, dryer climates, small or no overhangs allow the sun to heat the house. Before the advent of central heat and air conditioning, homes were designed to naturally control temperature in each specific climate. Those principles hold true today.