Green Remodel Project a Highlight of Dallas Home Tour
Kicking off the 2009 NAHB National Green Building Conference in Dallas, Earl Williams on May 8 will be showing the results of a recently completed, $135,000 whole-house remodel.
The remodeling project was the result of a referral Williams received from a real estate agent who was working with a couple moving into the Dallas area and seeking a home with modern amenities — but in an established neighborhood.
“Most new homes are further out in the suburbs, and they really didn’t want to go there,” Williams said. “The family wanted the sidewalks, they wanted the trees.”
The house they chose was in an area of town that fit the bill, but the 17-year-old house itself was in need of more than a little updating. The house needed to accommodate a boisterous family with a casual lifestyle — and it also had to include features that would enable it to be resold quickly in just a few years. Employed by a company that tends to move its executives frequently, the clients knew they wouldn’t be able to stay long.
Williams gave careful consideration to the family’s requirements and then presented them with a plan.
“I gave them some ideas and told them about my green strategies,” Williams said. “I told them that green is going to continue to grow and that green would be a tremendous boon for them when they resell. They told me, ‘We want green for green — a payback on our investment.’”
Given a tight budget and a move-in date of only two months later, Williams accepted the challenge and went to work.
“We needed to focus on every system in that house,” Williams said, and so he inventoried the heating and air conditioning system, with special emphasis on the duct work. He examined the plumbing, with an eye toward improving water efficiency and he looked at the home’s energy use, particularly with the plug load. He made significant improvements to all of them. “The only things I did not change were the windows and the interior walls,” he said, which stayed right where they were.
Williams first tackled the HVAC system, knowing that air conditioning runs a lot in most Dallas homes, and in too many of them, it doesn’t run very well. “I think that a lot of people in homes built 15 years ago just didn’t size the unit correctly,” he said. “If you wanted to have a cool house in the summertime, the reasoning went, you should just install a bigger compressor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.”
The air conditioning in his client’s home ran constantly without seeming to make any difference. “They wanted us to put in a third unit so they didn’t sweat,” he said.
But the problem wasn’t with the units, it was the ductwork, he said. “We had a number of duct issues and the air returns were very sloppy and inefficient. If you put air into a room, you need to take air out of the room. We put returns every place we put a duct and we divided the downstairs into three separate HVAC zones,” with the kitchen on the east side, the living areas in the middle and the bedrooms in the west.
“Each one is set independently during the course of the day; there is no point in heating or cooling areas that aren’t being used at night and vice versa all through the day,” Williams said. “We upgraded their original 10-SEER units to dual speed, 16-SEER units. As it turned out, we were actually able to use a lot less tonnage rather than more, as was originally requested.”
In addition to making the HVAC system more efficient, fixing the ductwork also improved the quality of the home’s indoor air. “The home owner loves it,” he said. “There are no strange smells and no stale smells,” which are more common in a poorly ventilated home.
The next stop in the renovation was the kitchen. The original countertops were granite, a popular choice in many high-end kitchen remodels, Williams said, but because they were not appropriate for his clients, he took them out.
“The countertops need to match the lifestyle of the people that are using them. This is a very active family with a teenage daughter and middle-school son, constantly in and out, making their own sandwiches and snacks, friends always around — and granite is not quite bullet-proof enough for a family like that,” he said.
Instead, Williams recommended engineered stone, because it’s “more forgiving, easier to maintain and repair, and it’s quite elegant.” The owners chose a recycled quartz countertop from the DuPont Zodiaq line for the kitchen and also for the bathrooms.
The kitchen appliances were replaced with new, more efficient models that carry Energy Star certification, and the light fixtures — both in the kitchen and throughout the house — were refitted with compact fluorescent bulbs.
Integral to green building practices, water efficiency was especially a concern of the family, Williams said, because they had lived with water restrictions in San Antonio, their previous home. He replaced the faucets with low-flow fixtures, switched out the toilets with dual-flush models and installed a tankless water heater.
Williams also made a point of including safety features in the bathrooms, something he pays closer attention to as an NAHB Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist. He installed walk-in showers to help prevent slipping and falls, and the toilets are “comfort height. They look good, they look elegant and they are so much better when you have a bad back,” he said.
The walls were repainted with low or no-VOC paints. Engineered flooring was placed in some rooms, and carpet made from corn-based fibers went into others. He chose Sonora carpet from Mohawk, which, he said, has a good price point and is durable. “It’s a cool product and I love it,” he said.
Outside, Williams chose an exterior paint from Sherwin-Williams that comes with a 50-year warranty, mindful that green also means sustainability. “That’s another example of green with a payback,” he said.
Finally, Williams made sure that the appliances, materials and fixtures he replaced did not end up in a landfill.
Too much usable material ends up being tossed out, rather than reused, he said. “The dumps here in America are like the finest department stories in the rest of the world. If anything can be reinvented, redeployed or recycled — the ‘three R’ approach — we do it. We donate to charities, subcontractors, neighbors, Boy Scouts — we donate to everybody,” he said.
Broken mirrors, old carpet and other unusable materials go to the recycler, as does the packaging for the replacements. And when there are extra screws, bolts or other materials that come onto the job site, they are consigned to a special box that Williams keeps for that purpose. As the work continues and his contractors are searching for a piece of hardware, “it’s amazing how you can search through the box and usually get what you need — and then recycle what’s left at the end of the project.”
“We fight to keep as much as possible from going to the landfill,” Williams said. “I really believe in my three Rs.”
Visit www.nahb.org/greenbuildingconference to register for the housing tour and conference. Preregistration ends on April 10 and tour spaces are filling up quickly.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
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