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For a green makeover of a 600-square-foot house in Culver City, Kurath applied the same ideas he would for new construction. He installed insulation made from recycled materials, moved windows around and used fume-free paint. “I don’t call them ‘tricks,’?” says Kurath of his methods. “It’s just common sense.”
He says the most important thing to look at is the orientation of the lot — “where is the sun going?” Well-placed windows can eliminate the need for electric lights during daylight hours and create enough cross ventilation to make air-conditioning unnecessary. Windows also can open up a small house, making it feel much larger. Moving and replacing windows can make a big difference and doesn’t cost that much.
Same with removing walls — walls block heat and air from flowing, and that means you have to use more energy to heat or cool your home. Removing corners can save you money on your utility bills.
“Let’s face it,” Kurath says, smiling, “most doors are open anyway, right?” For bedrooms or other areas where a little more privacy is required, he recommends installing walls that don’t go all the way to the ceiling. Insulation can make a big difference too. Many houses in Southern California were built without insulation; adding something like a new cellulose product made from 100 percent recycled materials can save money on energy bills. Holes are punched in the walls, and the cellulose is blown in; pressure is used to pack in the material, filling every crevice to make everything airtight (unlike the old fiberglass variety, which leaves gaping areas, contains cancer-causing formaldehyde and can release tiny glass particles into the air and scratchyour lungs).
Depending on the extent of the remodel, Kurath would recommend in-floor heating, where a series of pipes carrying hot water zigzag through the floor. He says it can save lots on energy bills. “The concept is simple,” he says. “If your feet are warm, you feel warm; if your feet are cold, you feel cold. Most developers put the heating vents on top near the ceiling, because that’s where it’s easier to install. But heat rises — it just doesn’t make sense.”
A green house is also a healthyhouse. Cappe says he received a phone call from a client who wanted to “green her life.” He went to her home and evaluated it room by room, making a list of things she could do that wouldn’t cost a fortune — everything from changing her shampoo to using energy-efficient light bulbs. Replacing cabinets that contain formaldehyde, or chairs, couches and beds that “off-gas,” or pollute the air in your house, even using cleaning products made from natural ingredients are all relatively cheap ways to green your home. But where can you find an organic cotton mattress? “Most places carry organic, or recycled lines — they just don’t advertise it,” says Cappe. “The consumer really has to ask the questions. There are alternatives for every product. Whether remodeling or building, if you stop and think about it, you can come up with an alternative. When you go looking for something, say, tiles for your bathroom, the salesperson will try to sell you something in your budget and in your color. It’s up to you to ask if they carry any tiles made locally from 100 percent recycled materials. You’ll be surprised at how many products exist.”
In the end, Kurath says, green building is more about time than money. “People still talk about green houses and all that stuff,” he laughs, “but right now it’s more of a selling point. It should be thought of automatically.Developers and architects should take the responsibility to show people that you don’t have to spend more money. It’s all out there.”