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Green - Green Renovations

Let the sun shine in, instead.  And let the heat and humidity out, with a Velux SunTunnel™ or Velux venting skylight (a particular advantage in kitchens and bathrooms).  Cheers to Velux for establishing company policies to reduce environmental impact.  
Photo Credit: Velux® |

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Building green is not limited to new construction – it’s ideal for home renovation projects, too (besides, you can’t get more green than “recycling” an older home).



Start the process with small projects.

Perhaps one of the simplest green renovation projects to take to your own home is a new coat of low VOC-paint, meaning it releases little to zero volatile organic compounds.

This new, “greener” paint can be applied right over an existing wall and covers as well as traditional paints. In fact, most painters do not even realize the difference ...  except for the product’s noticeable lack of toxic-smelling fumes (a prime example of workers benefiting from green homes). Now that’s a fresh way of thinking!

Other simple projects include re-calking around windows and installing new weatherstripping around doors. Buy environmental, toxin-free products as well, such as organic bedding or natural cleaning supplies.

Then, when your budget allows, you can opt for upgrading to Energy Star appliances and installing new low-E windows, better insulation and water-saving fixtures. You should feel good about every small step you make towards a healthier, more efficient home.


As you begin to design your renovation plan, it may be helpful to get a Home Energy Audit. Online audits, which require you to enter information about your home and your current utility usage into online calculators, are convenient and can provide a lot of good information. The best option, however, is to arrange for an onsite consultation in your home. To set up an audit with a professional, check with your local power company or search for local consultants who can perform this service for you. In many cases you may be able to find free inspections, but don't be scared off by a fee – any cost will typically be recouped in energy savings in very little time.


A team of talented professionals from Spartanburg, S.C., offers an ideal example of how you can breathe new, green life into an older home. Jason Head and Litia Wellmon of JL Design Builders & Renovations, Beth Harley of H2R Interiors and Nancy Riehle of Keller Williams Realty gathered to incorporate Z-ecoscapes, a joint venture between their companies, with the aim to build luxurious, energy-efficient green homes. Their collaboration is a welcome sign that members of the residential building community are beginning to work together to make green homes more attainable for interested homeowners.

For their inaugural project, the EarthCraft-trained group tackled the renovation of a 1920s bungalow in the historic Converse Heights neighborhood of Spartanburg. In the spring of 2007, they unveiled the luxurious, energy-efficient, high-performance home.

And what does a renovated green home look like?

“Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful!” says team member Nancy Riehle. “When people look at the home, they are drawn by what a beautiful home it is even before they know it’s green.”

Ms. Riehle’s testament speaks to the fact that a modern day green home doesn’t have to be, well ... modern. New homes can be designed in any style and renovation projects can maintain historical beauty and integrity. The Converse Heights renovation, for example, preserved its Arts and Crafts style and charm.

Other than being fairly committed to a home’s original design style, there are few other disadvantages of green renovation, although being locked into the home’s orientation on its homesite is sometimes a problem. The green ideal is to orient your home to true south to take advantage of the sun’s natural path across the sky, but many older homes were not designed this way.

Fortunately, the Converse Heights home already had many other eco-friendly components to work from, including porches, high ceilings and window locations that take advantage of cross-ventilation. The home’s footprint on its homesite was also preserved, despite doubling its square-footage, growing from two bedrooms and one bath, to four bedrooms with three full baths and two half-baths.

With the added space came many other wonderful upgrades and a luxurious new look. The Arts and Crafts style is carried throughout the house, with clean lines and bead-board style doors, cabinetry and wainscoting.

The numerous green features blend in seamlessly, starting with eye-catching bamboo flooring. “Everyone just oohed and ahhed over them,” says Ms. Riehle. “We laid them in three-quarter inch boards and they really are lovely.” Since bamboo is a highly renewable resource, it’s a great green option. Another green floor that was utilized was carpeting that was laid in squares that require no additional adhesive. After the first glass of wine goes tumbling, homeowners will appreciate the fact that they can easily recycle and replace just one or two carpet squares, rather than a large section.

In the kitchen and bathrooms, concrete countertops “surpassed all expectations,” says Ms. Riehle. Composed of recycled materials, the concrete medium can be mixed in a variety of colors – a sea foam color coordinated with the bathroom and a darker shade was used in the kitchen to contrast with the maple cabinetry. Plus, it is resistant to stain and can be formed in any custom shape. Stainless steel, ENERGY STAR Bosch appliances add further efficiency to the kitchen.

Other green elements are even more difficult to detect. A tankless water heater instantaneously heats water as needed, reducing energy waste, as does superb insulation that nearly eliminates uncontrolled air leakage, allowing for smaller air conditioning and heating units. In fact, the home is so tightly insulated that during its open house in June, with more than 250 people in attendance, “We didn’t even have to turn on the air conditioning!” exclaims Ms. Riehle. Now that is impressive.

As the seasons progress, however, and the HVAC system does need to be turned on, Ms. Riele explains that the home should benefit from drastically-reduced utility bills. The entire home should be able to be heated and cooled for only approximately 2 cents per sq. ft., while an average home of its size would cost about 20 cents per sq. ft. to accomplish the same comfort.

The biggest testament, though, came from the Converse Heights neighborhood. “They loved it!” exclaims Ms. Riehle. “Neighbors were very curious, plodding around and asking questions to learn what they could do with their own homes. They really offered tremendous support.”