Time for green show and tell

When it came to sustainably updating her home, Bridget Rost asked “why not?”

It all started with recycling and buying a hybrid car, but Rost wondered why she shouldn’t extend this mentality to her home.

“If I can choose to get reclaimed lumber instead of cutting down a tree, why not?” she questioned. Reconfiguring old kitchen cabinets: no problem. Using paint made with no volatile organic compounds and installing dimmed fluorescent lights: sure.

What resulted from a series of practical and smart decisions is a GreenPoint-certified remodel of Rost’s 1945 home in Midtown. This is one of three sustainable Palo Alto homes that will be on display during early October’s Build It Green (the nonprofit organization behind the GreenPoint rating system) showcase tour.

After raising three children, the Rosts added a 500-square-foot family room to the footprint of their house and a 500-square-foot second story. They watched a home across the street receive a “green-180” by architect Tali Hardonag and Rost recalled thinking, “If we’re going to spend all of this time making the home comfortable and renovated, why not also spend the time to make it green?”

Under the guidance of Hardonag, who is Build It Green and LEED-certified, the Rosts broke ground a year ago with the goal of doing a green remodel.

They’ve now moved back into their home, and Rost and Hardonag walk the renovated home together pointing out the green changes, noting that she found the pavers used in the backyard from a scrap pile.

“Do you have a receipt for that?” Hardonag interjected. “That’s another point!” The Build It Green showcase homes have been or are in the process of being verified by a third-party consultant who rates the homes on sustainability and awards them points.

“Tali knows all the points! I don’t know any of them.” Rost said she tries to do the right thing: For instance “the guy who did the pavers for me said he could get new ones or he could see if there were some that had been returned.” Rost went with the pre-used pavers, saved some money, and received an extra GreenPoint.

The GreenPoint checklist attributes a point in the resource column if a home uses “50 percent salvaged or recycled content materials for 50 percent of non-plant landscape elements.”

“There is such an abundance of small, important choices you can make to gain all these points,” Hardonag said. “Bridget was doing all this because it made sense to her and I’m running behind her saying ‘hey, we can document that!'”

GreenPoints fall into five categories: community design, indoor air quality, water conservation, resource conservation and energy efficiency.

The Rost family’s revamped house received 172 points, the highest ranking given to a home without solar panels, according to the rater of this project, John Eckstein. Bridget was disappointed that an old oak tree in her backyard cast too much shade on her roof, inhibiting current solar technology from working on her property. She hopes future innovation will allow her family to install solar panels, which she considers not an eyesore but a badge of honor.

Green building is so much more than just solar, according to Build it Green spokesperson David Myers. “If you have solar power but your house isn’t well insulated then that energy leaks back out of the house. If you can afford solar that’s great, but it’s more cost effective to insulate your home. This is a good place to start.”

Hardonag’s design allowed for natural circulation by raising the ceilings and adding vents to cool and circulate the naturally risen hot air. These vaulted ceilings made space for a loft, which Rost, who is an avid quilter, uses as a craft room. A large, intricate quilt is draped over the loft welcoming visitors, and Rost said her family is happy for Hardonag’s design because her quilting materials are no longer scattered about the living spaces.

The home has motion sensors on the light switches that automatically turn off the light if the room has been vacated. The mantel in the living room is made from reused wood and a re-salvaged piece of old cedar wood was incorporated into the front porch.

The driveway is permeable: When there is rain the water and oil don’t run off the driveway and onto the street and into the bay. Instead it permeates the driveway and absorbs into a two-foot pit with big rocks, smaller rocks and gravel to keep the water on site to water the trees and plants.

They decided on a smaller furnace. To ensure air quality, a seal between the garage and the house was put in place so no fumes can get into the house. Hardonag also had a blow-door test done to assess and seal off any air leaks in the building. When the time comes for the ceiling to be replaced, it can be recycled. The yard is fertilized with compost and insulated with mulch. The bathroom has dual-flush toilets. The lights are all dimmed fluorescent. They saved the kitchen.

Rost said she just kept with a good design and everything led forward. “Most of the things you do you’re not even considering to be green.” She wanted to see what else they could do.

Another point was awarded for a neighborhood-friendly entry, categorized as a porch above 100 square feet, which is considered a place to gather and build community. Having an entry area where you can actually see who is coming: another point.

Rost said she learned a new word during this process that can be added to recycle, reduce, reuse: precycle, which means minimizing the amount of waste produced in the first place. Along with their precycled kitchen cabinets, they precycled their existing exterior wood siding. Although this isn’t considered a sustainable material, Hardonag said it has held up well for the past 60 years and there is no reason to send it to the landfill and replace it with something that is green.

The 1945 floors, on the other hand, were in bad shape and needed replacement. Hardonag said it was important to choose flooring that is easy to clean and doesn’t soak up dust or dander so that the vacuum isn’t needed as often. Also, an entry with dirt-resistant floors and a place where shoes can be taken off reduces grime from being tracked in.

“This is a great place to be,” Hardonag said. “You feel like you’re at the beginning of a new wave. People are open to you and encouraging; the building department was supportive; the inspectors questioned but accepted because the green building ideas don’t override building codes.”

She said the technology is expanding to make residential green building much more feasible than it has been previously. “Between energy efficiency, water conservation, material reuse, indoor air quality and community, you’re really touching on a lot of issues here that are going to be helpful in making a difference.”

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