Going Green in Your Home

Remodel responsibly



courtesy photo
Environmentally friendly design doesn't have to be boring

New Hampshire has some of the oldest homes in the country, and remodeling them often comes with a desire to “go green,” a term that has a wide range of interpretations. Find out from these Granite State builders and contractors what it means to really go green.

Seal the Envelope

“If you love where you live and you don’t want to move, what can you do? First, get a good energy audit to see what key areas you are losing energy in and really seal up the envelope,” says Shane Carter, owner of Ridgeview Construction, which specializes in energy retrofits for New England’s older homes. “The basis for us is the envelope — sealing up a house tight.”

“What green means to us is energy in the home,” says Chris Redmond of Little Green Homes in Greenland. “Get a heat-loss test done on your house — come up with how much energy you need to heat your house. You want to think about air sealing and framing, and try to eliminate any parts of the house that are losing energy. In spending a little more on the insulation, you can end up with a smaller heating system that costs less.”

Even if you are just remodeling a small area such as a kitchen or bath, George Trojan of American Building & Design in Dover says quality sealing and insulation behind drywall and floors is key. “I start by looking at the installation stage,” he says. “It’s covered up, and people don’t see it, but it really is an art —  it's a phase in the project where you can make a big difference. It really is a quality mindset.”

The New Fuel Sources

After you seal the envelope, Redmond says, it's time to ask about which fuel to use. “If you don’t want to use fossil fuels,” he says, “then you can have solar panels or [an] air-source heat pump, create your own power and use it to run your home.” He adds, “If we were to choose our ideal house project, it’s one that has a really insulated house, solar panels and a mini-split air pump that can heat or cool, which runs on electricity. Ideally, you can have a house that makes its own energy.”

“Heat pumps or solar energy can make a huge dent in your carbon footprint,” Carter agrees. “Air-source heat pumps take energy from the outside air and use the energy to reduce the output. We also use a ductless mini-split to reduce the energy. We’re doing a 2,000-square-foot house that has two of those, and will cool and heat that house completely. And we work with a couple solar companies — ReVision Energy and Granite State Solar. We run conduit into the attic, and then the solar company can easily pick that up.”

A “Green” Interior

Once you get to the interior details, the builders agree that reusing or buying local materials are the only ways to really go green. “A lot of the design aesthetic for our clients is modern rustic or rustic elegant, a theme which really allows reusing materials,” says Carter. “I’ve got a big barn storage facility, and we have a ton of boards. So reusing and repurposing these wood panels — you just can’t buy that look of the patina from a new board.”

Redmond agrees: “What is less important are the interior finishes. For example, many flooring companies want you to think their product is green, such as bamboo floors, since it is a fast growing tree. But it doesn’t grow anywhere in the US.”

And while homeowners can choose from many green appliances that do use less energy, “they are built to only last 7-10 years now,” says Trojan. “They definitely don’t last as long as your grandmother’s refrigerator, so it is hard to say what it is better for the environment.”

Quality is Green

The one thing all truly green contractors agree on is quality. “High-quality builders are green — they use quality installation, good drainage and tight insulation. A product that is very durable is green. It really is just good construction,” says Redmond.

“The rule of thumb is, if you are remodeling 50 percent or less of a home, you are not required to bring everything up to code,” says Trojan. “This is a gray area, so you need a proactive contractor.”

“The knowledge base that is out there isn’t all equal, so make sure you do your homework and you ask questions,” says Carter. “Some of our best clients are the ones who asked tough questions,” both of the contractors and of the people who owned their home before they did. “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and things go wrong, so [being knowledgeable and] choosing someone who is honest and fair are big things.”

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