Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Empathy for the Level

Steve and I are once again living through a remodel of our home. Oh yes, we've done it before, many times. We wouldn't ask others to go through something we never had gone through. On The Beam Remodeling, Inc. is at our house: breaking through a wall, sheetrocking, compounding, sanding, wiring, replacing windows, tiling a section of floor. There is drilling, hammering, machinery whining, and wind whistling under the temporary plywood where the old windows used to be. A gigantic plastic bubble tarp with handy floor to ceiling zipper puffs out against the breakfast table. A lovely thing to see over scrambled eggs.


We wax nostaglic over our honeymoon years, when we ripped the roof off of our first home in the Bernal Heights district of San Francisco one month after escrow closed. The next six years we lived amidst construction projects. The house transmogrified from one year to the next. I called it "organic living".


This is a good thing. This experience reminds us and once again imbues us with empathy - not just sympathy - for our clients. We don't just 'understand' what they are living through when we invade, demolish and build. We know it at the experiential level. All builders should be required to live through remodeling in their own homes (most probably do).


And at the same time it's exciting. The vision of what will take form becomes clearer every day as progress is made. We mull over color swatches and consider styles and sizes of wall sconces. The imagined dinner party in our future new formal dining room takes on a certain luster.


There is also humor to be had if we seize the opportunity. We have no cat door, so the cat must be let in and out. In she goes through the garden door and then where? Where there once was open space, there is now a plastic barrier. She's baffled until I lead her around the corner and through a new opening. The next day, that new opening has been closed and she must follow me along yet a new route. The third day, yes, it's another route, and the fourth day she merely walks in and sits down in total confusion. It's not often you see a cat do that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Building It Green: What Price Eco-Friendly?

How Do You Build 'Green'?

There are many ways to incorporate eco-friendly materials and techniques into a remodeling project. Some are commonly and easily done, such as low-e double pane windows, or adding jacket insulation to your old or new water heater, which reduces heat loss by about 10% or more and is an inexpensive and easy retrofit.

Other elements of green building are more costly, such as solar roof panels that can provide enough electricity to your home to get you off the utilities company grid. Still other elements are downright esoteric, such as a sod roof, literally a green, grassy roof that sports a garden of growing plants while cooling the house underneath it naturally.

Interview with Neighbors Who Built Green

We have neighbors who really went to green town on their remodel/addition. That included recycled glass tiles, beautiful and environmentally correct, but much more expensive than regular ceramic or porcelain tile. They also put in radiant heat: pipes filled with water that get heated and radiate warmth into the space above through the flooring.

They used 'sustainable' wood, which is certified as not old-growth and replaced quickly by new planting. It's more expensive, but as Michael F. sagely pointed out to me, non-sustainable wood should be more expensive because of the damage that is done to the environment. "Damage to the environment is the real cost", he said, "so let's invest now for the future."

Budget Balancing Act

Michael also said that homeowners can balance out the expense of some sustainable, more costly items with recycled and re-usable less expensive items. For example, he and Irene choose a bathtub and variety of bathroom accessories, doors and medicine cabinets from Urban Ore in Berkeley. Michael vouched for the quality and the savings. They also re-applied existing redwood siding to the wainscotting and paneling in their new dining room, beautiful old-growth redwood that would have been prohibitively expensive to purchase new and a shame to toss in the debris box.

Green building and remodeling encompass many aspects impossible to cover in one short blog. I will be blogging about it again in the future. Look forward to:

How Did On The Beam Become Green Certified?
The latest savings on solar panels
How Green Is My House? LEED Certification
On The Beam's conserving/recycling/reusing practices