Home renovation goes "green" with recycled materials

Ben Holbrook, bholbrook@bcnnew.com
Published 01:45 p.m., Thursday, September 29, 2011

A local couple nearly doubled the size of their home while significantly reducing energy consumption by completing a green renovation.

After purchasing an 1,800-square-foot home on Lakeside Avenue, Sam and Anthia Nickerson realized the structure wasn't quite up to par with what they desired. As they were considering a renovation, both recalled their time growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where the scenery was occasionally disrupted by the sight of a nuclear cooling tower or a dam. Both wanted to do a renovation that would have the least amount of impact on the local environment.

"You can really see the effect of energy consumption in the Pacific Northwest but you don't always see that effect as much around here," Anthia Nickerson said. "People are starting to become more aware and we felt there was really no other option to go green because no matter what, a renovation will impact the environment."

Once the Nickersons decided to make their renovation as environmentally friendly as possible, they approached Trillium Architects, a firm that specializes in green construction.

Trillium Architect Elizabeth DiSalvo has been doing green renovations since the 1990s and said the first step in making a house green is to make sure the home is properly sealed and insulated.

"You don't want a home where air is coming in or going out in places you don't want it to," DiSalvo said. "When a house is properly insulated, it reduces the energy load as low as possible because you don't need as much fuel or equipment to heat or cool the space."

One of the unique aspects of the Nickersons' home is that the insulation in their walls is recycled denim, which can be reused and is completely biodegradeable.

Once the home was properly sealed and insulated, work could begin on the interior of the home. Throughout the process, Anthia Nickerson said she wanted to stick to her philosophy of "cradle to cradle," which was born of a desire to make sure everything used in the home was useful before it was brought in and that it would also be useful it were removed from the house.

All of the trim around the doors and windows came from a spruce tree on the property that was in danger of falling. The Nickersons decided to have it cut down and taken to a mill where it was made into the trim.

"When I look at the trim I can see some of the imperfections in the wood, and it makes me happy we were able to find a use for the tree," Anthia Nickerson said.

Along with the window and door trim, a number of light fixtures are made of recycled materials, the window treatments are recycled material and the counter top in the laundry room was made from recycled paper.

Renovating an entire home to make it green is not without its challenges. The Nickersons and Trillium discovered zoning laws tend to lag behind environmentally friendly efforts when doing construction projects. While renovating the Nickersons' home, a number of waivers had to be obtained in order to make the necessary modifications to different areas of the house. However, DiSalvo said that although people tend to think building green is more expensive, the savings from tax breaks and energy consumption offset any additional building costs.

"People think it's harder to build green financially but it really isn't. It's all in how you design the walls and the contractors who build green are really trying to do the right thing," DiSalvo said.

DiSalvo said one of the advantages to going green is that many communities offer incentives that will speed up the building permit process and sometimes waive permit fees.

The interest in going green was really ramping up before the recession hit, but DiSalvo said people's awareness of their carbon footprint continues to grow.

When proposing to a client to make their house more environmentally friendly, DiSalvo said people tend to react more favorably to the money they save and she has found guys tend to react especially favorably to some of the technology used.

"Sometimes people are a hard sell when it comes to going green, but guys tend to geek out over the technology that is used in the homes," she said.

Because of the steps the Nickersons have taken to make their home as environmentally friendly as possible, they will receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating of platinum, which is the highest certification on the ranking system.

Anthia Nickerson said the renovation process went exceptionally well, and she didn't find herself becoming stressed out with the project.

"This house is so comfortable and well designed," she said.

As an added bonus, DiSalvo said the Nickersons' home will stand up well for years because of certain elements included in the construction.

"The exterior of the home has a rain screen which will help make the paint last 10 to 20 years longer than on a standard home. This is an incredibly solid house and it will hold up really well," she said. "This job was such a pleasure to do."