70s House Eco Renovation

From Green to "Green"

By Kenneth Barbalace

[Last update May 2, 2009]

As we do an eco renovation of our home, we will take it from the color green to being eco green. This series of articles will document our progress and share what we learn about going green at home along the way. We will provide reviews of the eco friendly products we use and provide tips for those who like to DIY (do-it-yourself). We will document not just what we did, but why we did it. Our eventual goal is to reduce our energy and water consumption and bring our home to as close to carbon neutral as is practical in as cost effective manner as we can. At the same time we want our home to be comfortable with the amenities we are accustomed.

Like most folks, rather than building a new house, we purchased an existing home. In our case, the house is a two bedroom ranch that was built in 1970. As was the fashion of the time, the house made use of dark wood veneer paneling and lots of green. The house had: green carpets that were old, worn and smelly; light green or blue paint on non-paneled walls and some striped blue wallpaper in areas; green trim; green cabinets; green drapes in the dining room; and even an avocado green range. The '70s were the beginning of the environmental movement, and it would seem that folks at the time thought going green meant making everything the color green, not necessarily reducing one's impact on the environment.

Before deciding to buy the house we closed on at the end of March 2009, we had looked at around thirty homes in the greater Portland Maine area. We looked at everything from homes built in the 1890's through homes being built today. What we observed was almost no homes were even close to having adequate insulation, even though Maine has cold winters. Unless the home had been heavily renovated, many of the oldest homes probably didn't even have insulation in the exterior walls. Newer homes were better insulated, but even they were seriously lacking. What this means is that people are spending way too much money heating their homes and in the process wasting lots of energy. Almost invariably, here in Maine, the energy source of choice to heat homes is fuel oil, which for the most part, must be imported, frequently from less than stable corners of the world.

Like the other homes we looked at, the home we finally decided to buy also is seriously lacking in insulation, and its boiler is really inefficient. The exterior walls are 2x4 frame construction with fiberglass insulation. This means that at best the insulation value of exterior walls is R-13, where as modern energy codes call for R-19 walls. The R-13 assumes that the insulation was properly installed and hasn't settled over the almost 40 years since the home was built. In the attic, the house again only has R-13 insulation where as modern energy codes require R-48. According to the disclosure signed by the previous home owner, our home uses around 1,100 gallons of fuel oil a year for heat and hot water. This works out to around $2,000 - $4,000 per year in heating costs.

Our goal with our green home renovation is to be as environmentally responsible as we can, given real world budget limitations. There is much we want to do to our home, but there is only so much we can afford to do at any one point in time. We will have to prioritize projects and balance our environmental choices against budgetary limitations. We must also balance the remodeling and updating the aesthetics and functionality of the house against improving its energy efficiency. Our overall goal is to limit the carbon footprint of our renovations and reduce our on going carbon footprint as much as is practical. We are not going for perfection; we are going for what can be reasonably achieved.

As we progress with our eco renovation and remodeling we will be documenting our progress, what we did and why we did it. we'll review the products we used as well as provide some useful tips. Our goal with this series of articles and tips is to provide information that you can implement in your own home to reduce energy and water consumption, save money and in the process reduce your carbon footprint. Greening your home can be a great way to save some green (money) in the long run.

70s House Eco Renovation Articles

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