"Green" building, when done right with high-quality, locally sourced materials, requires a lot of greenbacks — way more than my husband, Terry Moore, and I had to give to our Jacksonville remodel. Yet both of us have been dedicated for decades to the ideals and practices of sustainability. Terry was a classic back-to-the-lander who, in the early 1970s, bought property near Cascadia, Ore., where he built a geodesic dome to shelter his first family. I have been writing about sustainable agriculture and culinary practices since 1990, when I started working at a food co-op in my college town of Lawrence, Kan., and as a newspaper editor in remote Cordova, Alaska, where I lived completely off the grid in an old miner's cabin in the woods.
True, both Terry and I adapt easily to luxury, but we do strive to have our more heathen desires firmly rooted in responsible decisions that honor and respect the planet.
OK, so that's some background. How did we apply our post-hippie ideals to a post-recession remodel in the spendy-yet-green-friendly Rogue Valley? It was all about choices.
Although sun power was a mutual dream, we quickly discovered through a series of interviews that we couldn't afford to install a solar-energy system right away. The estimated $20,000 cost was money we needed for immediate necessities such as walls, fixtures and mechanics.
The first step in learning how to green up our energy profile was to call Energy Trust of Oregon for a free home energy review. Energy advisor Greg Pullen paid us a visit, and after an hour inspection, recommended a few improvements: a new heat-pump system, replacing the collapsing water heater and installing new wall insulation. Before leaving, he gave us information on how to obtain rebates of up to $1,500 for these improvements and also gave us a box of compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Jim McLean at Air Temp in Eagle Point helped us choose a 92-percent, high-efficiency Comfort Maker gas furnace with an electric heat pump. He installed the unit in the crawl space under our house, which we had lined with a thick-plastic vapor barrier as added insulation and protection from the elements. The vapor barrier was positively cheap and, when working with a limited budget, protecting your investment from premature deterioration is a very environmentally conscious decision because replacement parts won't be needed as soon, saving all the materials and fuel used in manufacturing and distribution.
A programmable thermostat, at an extra $35 installed, seemed like another smart way to go green: We can set times and temperatures for the most sensible blend of comfort and conservation.
The heat produced by our efficient furnace will stay right where it's supposed to — inside the house — thanks to our new Knauf EcoBatt Insulation (no formaldehyde and no dyes, so it's a natural-looking brown instead of cotton candy yellow or pink) and a general house-tightening prescribed by city of Jacksonville building inspector Todd Meador.
After caulking wall, floor and ceiling seams with 25-year siliconized acrylic, the guys from AA Insulation in Talent lined all exterior walls with R-15 Kraft-faced batts, the ceiling with R-30 unfaced batts and the shed addition walls and vaulted ceiling off the back of the house with pricey 4-inch R-MAX rigid foam insulation to make up for the thin wood used when the addition was built sometime in the 1930s.
Over the insulation Meador wanted metal banding to be strapped tightly on a diagonal across all walls, followed by 5/8-inch-thick drywall on exterior walls to increase the home's shear strength. We also had to strap the chimney to the side of the house using a very difficult-to-source product called 2HD7 Simpson Strap.
At this point, an earthquake might shake the house off its foundation, but everything will remain intact.
Windows were a challenge. The whole house featured charming wooden windows, but all of them on the east/back side were completely rotted, and we had wanted to redesign the format of that wall anyway. After researching the efficiency and pay-back of new vinyl windows versus wood, we decided to keep the beautiful windows on the west/front of the house and along the living room run of the north side. Without them, the house would lose so much of its historical integrity and curb appeal.
For the new kitchen, sun room and attic windows, we shopped at Quality Windows in Medford, where owner Mark Bacon directed us to Atrium vinyl windows (made to order at the same price as the next-largest stock size) with argon/366 Low E glass. These windows all meet the efficiency standards required for more county and state rebates.
"You've gained at least 100-percent efficiency in this house," said Meador when he signed off on our building permit. "In an older house like this, that's big."
Every time we work in our little green gem (it actually is painted a rather unappealing shade of mint green, which we hope to update down the road), Terry and I both feel a sense of pride. We have retained the home's character while boosting its efficiency, leaving a smaller carbon footprint and staying within our means. That combination makes our inner hippies really happy!
Next month: In Part 3 of her series, Jennifer Strange recounts steps taken to honor and enhance the historical integrity of their 1920 Cape Cod cottage while grappling with space planning, building storage, better bathrooms and updated electrical.