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Talking Home Renovations with the House Maven - Katharine White MacPhail EPISODE 9, 15th January 2020
Environmentally Friendly Renovations #1

Environmentally Friendly Renovations #1

Environmentally friendly renovations discussion with Debbie Bentley

Designing your house for the future:

Build less

Do you really need to build more and increase your footprint? Think about how you use your house now and list everything that you would like to change. Are there areas in your house that are under-used? These days that is often the formal dining room. Can you change how you think about your spaces and alter them to suit your needs? Many clients are looking for extra room as their children grow, but once they fully grow you will no longer have the space issue. Instead of building onto your house, think about temporary creative solutions. If you need more space for occasional guests, is there a nearby hotel or air bob that they could use? Everyone likes a little bit of space during a visit and would cost a lot less in the long run. Will you stay in the house until you are quite old, intending to age in place? You can plan for that now by increasing door widths and hallways- for example. Since you are investing in your house, make sure it is a place you can easily adapt to as you age. 

Climate Change 

How will the climate in your area change in the years to come? Massachusetts will be getting much more rain and will have more freeze/thaw issues. How do we plan for that? A renown building scientists states that there are 3 issues that affect the longevity of your home, water, water and water. So if your in a climate which is going to have more wet weather, start thinking about how your going to keep the water out of your home. Simple roof design, with minimal junctions, as junctions are what fail in building material. Roof overhangs, bigger gutters, more down spouts, and a plan to keep water away from foundations. At the same time, the water will need to stay on your property and not run over to the neighbor's. In densely populated areas this may mean installing an underground system. It will be easier to implement all of that during your renovation rather than combatting the problems later. d

Remember how our grandparents use to live. 

  • ïThe hall vestibule as an airlock between out doors and in. 
  • ïCurtains over the front door, to keep the heat in.
  • ïBooks on the external wall.
  • ïShoes off inside a building… Make sure you have a shoe closet of else you fall over everyone’s shoes. Less dirt in the house=less chemicals=improved indoor air quality

Use windows wisely

No more than 30 percent of your walls should be windows so pick where they go carefully. Consider restoring or rebuilding your original windows and add storms- you don’t need to replace them with vinyl windows. Maximize your views of nature as that will improve mental health.

Recommended reading:

Welcome to your world : Sarah Williams Goldhagen 


Lily Bernheimer: The Shaping of Us. 


The architecture of happiness: Alain Bottom 


Professional Global Network : Salus : https://www.salus.global

What is the future of home design?

We are starting to think of the embedded carbon in the materials that we use to create buildings and their impact on global emissions. Taking one example of a common building material, the concrete industry creates 8% of the worlds carbon emissions. The carbon emitted by operating a building is about 1/3 of the total carbon use in its lifetime. 

The keynote lecture given at NESEA 19 illustrated that when architects specify high performance materials, they can dramatically increase the embedded carbon in a building- if everyone did that we would kill the planet.

We need to design carbon neutral buildings, but to achieve that designers need information on the embedded carbon within the materials, kind of like a nutrition label on foods.

Which brings you to the Glass shower enclosure vs a vinyl shower curtain conundrum.

Debbie and I have discussed the glass shower enclosure vs. vinyl shower curtain many times. She says “We have a vinyl shower curtain from Ikea in our shower. It is designed to be a glass shower enclosure, but we ran out of money and it has been like that for the last 13 years working fine, except we are probably on our 4 shower curtain. Any realtor would tell us “ make that a glass shower enclosure, and you will sell your house for more money”. ( Scary thought that the value of your house is based on one piece of glass). So what is the embedded carbon value of a glass shower enclosure. It is made from float glass and there are only 26 float glass plants in the whole of the US, and the nearest 2 to us are in upstate New York and in Carlisle PA, so that involves some diesel intensive trucking. Although float glass is made from partially recycled glass, so gets a “ bronze rating on “Cradle to Cradle” on Shower enclosures are made from tempered glass, ( think Pyrex) and can’t be recycled, so what is the rating on this product? If any listener can tell me I would love to know. So how does this work compared to a lightweight vinyl product… made from petroleum? Well I suspect the shower curtain carbon footprint is much less, but can I be certain. Not until someone crushes the numbers.”

So how do we get rid of vinyl, plastic and petroleum products in our homes especially when natural products such as cedar siding is so expensive.

We have to look for alternatives, new materials are coming on the market all the time. An alternative to cedar siding is composite wood siding, which is the siding version of quartz. There are a number of companies, such as LP Smartside, and Kay can Eco- Side. (https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/article/a-case-for-composite-wood-siding), you can also use fiber cement boards, such as Eternit. In the UK they use Eternit slates as an alternative to real slate as they are much lighter so can be used on historic structures, that may be structurally undersized for a real slate roof. However it is made from cement…and that has a higher carbon footprint than wood. https://architizer.com/blog/product-guides/product-guide/eaktna-fiber-cement-cladding/ However cement fiber slates must be more environmentally friendly than asphalt shingles.

Green Material Specification Sites

Cradle to cradle certified. https://www.c2ccertified.org

Living Futures : Living Buildings are:

• Regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.

• Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site.

• Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.


New houses vs retrofitting old houses

Retrofitting existing homes to make them more energy efficient remains a bit somewhat unanswered problem. It is hard to get them airtight however there are some good rules of thumb. Installing additional insulation in the roof and ensuring that you have block up any gaps around pipes and services where they go through the external wall is a great place to start. However hacking up a concrete floor slab to install insulation underneath and then relaying the concrete floor is probably not financially feasible in most post war homes. It may not even be carbon emission reduction feasible, if you include the embedded carbon. It would be great to have some data on how to reasonably improve existing homes. How cost and energy effective would it be to removing drywall and installing spray foam in exterior 3½ “ stud walls. Smart thermostats also a worthwhile and if you live in MA check out the deals on Mass Save regularly. https://www.masssave.com/en/saving/residential-rebates

An interesting article about architecture and climate change



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Thanks to Ray Bernoff, the editor of the show. www.RayBernoff.com

The music is Blueberry Festival Footrace by David Fisher and performed by Hanneke Cassel www.hannekecassel.com

Cover Art by Sam White www.samowhite.com

If you need architectural advice, contact me through my website at www.demiosarchitects.com

Email questions for future episodes to thehousemaven@talkinghomerenovations.com