Iris Harrell completed her Forever Home more than 14 years after the initial purchase of the home in 1992. Originally built in 1986, the previous owner/developer had sectioned off the home in a number of places to create offices for his business as well as several tenant leased offices for several local architects. The result was a 4000 square-foot home with no kitchen and only one and a half bathrooms. Iris and her partner Ann Benson insisted on purchasing it as is, and immediately made the minimal adjustments to make it livable. Over a decade later, and equal years of experience behind her as a local contractor, Iris finally her gained expertise to work on her own home. The finished product includes a sustainable remodel of the entire home including touches that have made the house universally accessible, making it one-of-a-kind Forever Home for herself and her family. The GreenPoint Rated team caught-up with Iris to have her elaborate on the importance of creating a home that is not only sustainable but universally accessible.
Q: Why did you wait so long to remodel the home in its entirety?
A: We originally stretched our budget to move into the area. We did do a lot of structural work when we first moved in, and only finished the upstairs. We did very little to the downstairs until we remodeled the entire home. The finishes that had been done upstairs was little more than paint over pieces of plywood and we reused and moved cabinets that were a part of the original home.
In 2007 and 2008 we decided to remodel the entire home one more time for all time. I hand 14 more years of design experience and had also become a green advisor and certified green builder through Build It Green, so I had more on my mind in terms of what we wanted to do in the home to make it universally accessible.
Q: Why did you get your home GreenPoint Rated?
A: I wanted to get the home GreenPoint Rated because I knew that the house would be healthier, safer, more energy efficient, and more cost effective. I knew I was going to be opening-up the walls of the home during this remodel, and I would be able to do things now that I would not be able to do later (once the walls were finished).
I would make the same recommendation to others undertaking a major remodel. If anything they should do it for the health, energy efficiency, and longevity of the home with the added value of low maintenance.
Q: What is one of your favorite aspects of your home?
A: I really enjoy the energy star rated gas fire places we installed in the home. The home already had fireplaces, but those were huge energy sinks year round. I am also very sensitive to smell and I could smell the soot and the burning wood (all the time), it was not good for the air, and it was not good for the people in the home. They were a mess.
The neat thing about energy star gas appliances is that you can get zone heating. You can heat a specific area very quickly, very easily, and you only need to run it for a few minutes before you turn it off. We actually got a rebate from PG&E a year after we completed the remodel, because we used less gas even though we had put in multiple gas appliances. We have 3 fireplaces downstairs and 2 upstairs.
Knowing how we use the home now, I wouldn’t have put one in the master bedroom. Sometimes you really don’t know how you use the home until you really live in it. Going through the design process you just theorize.
I realize that some people are off the chart green, but we thought it was more cost efficient to bring our existing gas furnace up to 93% efficiency rather than buy new. It was a 1986 model. We redid all the ducts in the house and tested them to get the before and after results, and couldn’t be happier.
During the remodel, we also installed an elevator so getting upstairs and downstairs is not an issue, and it made the home universal accessible.
Q: Universal Accessibility? How important was that to the overall plan?
It absolutely cannot be a Forever Home unless you think accessibility; period. The minute you cannot get in the shower, cook in the kitchen, or go up and down stairs, you have to move into a new house. Universal accessibility and the safety it provides is equally as valuable to the little ones in the house as it is to elders.
I had a client that was pregnant and asked me what I should do to make a more home safe for her child. In addition, she wanted a safe place for her aging parents to stay. It occurred to me at that moment that a two year old as well as an aging person would be equally as safe in an ADA accessible home.