A Forever Home

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.

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Have You Browsed the New Green Product Directory?

Today we launched a great new resource for homeowners on the GreenPoint Rated website: the Green Product Directory. Check it out now.

The Green Product Directory provides an independent source of trusted green home improvement product recommendations and educational tips for homeowners. The nonprofit membership organization, Build It Green, developed it to make it easier for homeowners to identify the types of products that can save them money and make any home healthier and more beautiful and comfortable.

“Whether you’re planning a top-to-bottom remodel or just replacing a showerhead, our Directory provides the unbiased guidance and product listings to help you make the best choice,” said Catherine Merschel, Build It Green Executive Director. “Our staff of green building experts researched hundreds of products and wrote ‘GreenPointers’—consumer-friendly articles with practical, helpful advise on how to make green choices for everything from appliances and countertops to water heating and windows.”

The Directory features nearly 100 best-in-class products, focusing on ones that meet rigorous criteria for energy and water savings, recycled content, and indoor air quality and other environmental and health attributes. Many featured products are certified by independent third parties such as Energy Star, WaterSense, Green Seal, and Forest Stewardship Council. Product listings are based solely on merit—the Directory does not charge for placement.

A helpful set of icons makes it easy to understand the core benefits of greener choices for each product category, from saving water and energy to improving home health and earning points toward a home’s GreenPoint Rated certification—the most trusted independent home rating system in California. “Once you browse the Directory it becomes clear that ‘green’ is synonymous with high-quality, comfort, and savings,” added Merschel. “These green products are beautiful, durable, and reduce long-term maintenance costs.”

Alameda County’s StopWaste, a public agency that promotes the use of resource-efficient products and practices, provided the funding for the Directory update.

“StopWaste is proud to support this important resource for homeowners in Alameda County and beyond,” said Karen Kho, a Senior Program Manager at the agency. “We’re committed to helping homeowners improve their homes by choosing products with recycled and renewable materials.”

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“Ask an Expert” with Kris Knutson

Simple things to help improve your indoor air quality: Part 2

Indoor air quality is an important topic all year long – not just during winter when we’re spending more time indoors. Today we continue our series on simple things you can do to improve your indoor air quality, which we started back in March.

Read part 1 of this post.

In part 1, we told you that indoor air quality should be approached with four principles in mind: Elimination, reduction, ventilation and filtration. Part 1 focused on elimination and reduction. Today we are going to address ventilation, and more specifically, spot ventilation.
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The Curiel Residence: Straw Bale Offers Affordability, Comfort and Beauty

Kim and Fred Curiel made the construction of their new home a community affair, bringing friends and neighbors together one weekend to cut and stack the straw bales that would eventually be the exterior walls of their new home.  Years after completion, the Curiels are still inviting the community into their home to share the importance of a healthy indoor environment and how straw bale walls keep their interior comfortable year round.  GreenPoint Rated recently sat down with Kim to talk about her family’s original motivation to use straw bales as a building material and learn about her favorite outcome from the home after living in it for almost a decade.

The exterior of the Curiels' straw bale home. The deep porch overhang adds further insulation from weather.

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“Ask an Expert” with Kris Knutson

Winter weather has finally arrived and we are spending more time indoors.  What can we do to improve indoor air quality?

Good indoor air quality (IAQ) is important regardless of the time of year.  The EPA estimates that  “on average, Americans spend about 90  percent or more of their time indoors” and that “indoor levels of pollutants may be two to  five times higher, and occasionally more than 100 times higher, than outdoor levels.”  Poor IAQ has been connected to attention deficit disorder and asthma in children. Although IAQ is a complex subject, these four simple, core principles can help guide your thinking: elimination, reduction, ventilation and filtration.

I will address the four core principles in a 3 part series. In this first part, I’ll talk about elimination and reduction.

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Villa Terra: A New Home Built with Earth Walls and Salvaged Materials

© Frank Paul Perez, Red Lily Studios

Villa Terra‘s beauty has just as much to do with what you cannot see, as it does with what you can. Within the 18-inch thick walls of the 3,200 square-foot house is enough dirt to moderate the sun’s heat throughout the year. That means the interior stays cool during the summer months and warm during the winter months. Although considered a brand new home at the time of its completion in 2005, its historical character is drawn from the many salvaged materials integrated both underfoot and overhead. Read on to get an insider’s perspective on Villa Terra from its homeowner and architect, Noel Cross of Noel Cross Architects.

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Green Home Remodeling – One Room at a Time

Northern California residents, join BuildItGreen for one of these FREE homeowner workshops, and get started on your green dream home with tips from GreenPoint Rated today!

Feb 1 | 6:30 – 8pm | Burlingame | RSVP
Feb 2 | 5:30 – 7pm | Berkeley | RSVP
Feb 4 | 1 – 2:30pm | San Francisco | RSVP
Feb 11 | 10 – 11:30am | Walnut Creek | RSVP

Read on to find out more about the workshops.

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Taiji Residence: A Serene Sustainable Residence in Menlo Park

Jackie and Scott Wood’s residence not only has a serene space for their daily practice of Taiji, a soft form of Chinese martial arts, their new home also incorporates a number of passive features resulting in a home that exceeds California’s energy code by 84%. Built from the ground-up, the 3,320 square-foot residence was completed in 2007 by Osborne Architects.

Integrated in the passive solar design of their extraordinary sustainable residence is highly rated recycled-content insulation (to maintain a steady interior temperature year-round), a hydronic radiant-floor heating system with a high-efficiency condensing boiler (to warm-up the interiors as needed during the colder months), and several Energy Star ceiling fans throughout (in place of a central air conditioning system). Now that she has lived in the house for five years, we took a moment to interview the homeowner, Jackie, to ask her if she still loves her home as much as the day she moved in.

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Please come back often for updated information about GreenPoint Rated homes and remodeling.

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