Leaving a smaller carbon footprint
by Carol Blitzer / photos by Marjan Sadoughi
Peg Powell bought her 1947 cottage in Old Mountain View sight unseen three years ago -- and knew from first viewing that she'd want to update it.
Powell had recently completed remodeling a home, focusing on using green materials, so she'd already mastered the basics.
But it took a couple of tries to pair up with the right designer. Powell started with another design outfit, but "I couldn't get them to be green enough," she says.
With Susan Davis, of Spectrum Fine Homes, Mountain View, she was able to use no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, even more eco-friendly than the more common low-VOC paints. Her floors in the living room, kitchen and eating area are carbonized bamboo, with red Marmoleum in the laundry area. Almost every window was replaced with Andersen double-paned versions.
Before beginning, a home performance audit was done by Sustainable Spaces of San Francisco, the same company that ultimately performed the "remediation," which included sealing ducts, adding fiberglass insulation to the walls, sealing the crawl space, balancing air flow to each room and replacing recessed lighting fixtures with ICAT (insulation contact airtight)-rated fixtures, Davis says.
"We deconstructed; we don't demolish and throw into the landfill," Davis says, adding that as much as possible was salvaged and donated, netting a tax benefit as well.
"It's all about energy efficiency and comfort of the home, not just pretty materials," she says.
After taking the kitchen down to the studs -- and removing asbestos walls that were hard enough to bend nails -- the basic shape remains the same, with appliances making the classic, efficient work triangle, with minimal space between stove, refrigerator and sink. But the appliances are all Energy Star-rated, and the counter made of recycled glass embedded in concrete (called Joshua Tree, likely for the junk people discarded in the national monument, Powell says).
Both the double-drawer Fisher-Paykel dishwasher and the JennAir French-door refrigerator are faced with maple, to match the cabinets. A pull-out pantry and drawers hold plenty, with trays stored vertically above the refrigerator.
The cabinets were made by a local company -- another green quality -- and the boxes made of formaldehyde-free plywood, Davis says.
Earlier Powell had replaced a huge hot-water tank with a tankless version, which opened up her laundry room that's adjacent to the kitchen. Now she enters through a pocket door. Additional space for an ironing board was captured behind the new, but shallower, refrigerator.
One of the biggest changes to the home involved relocating the utility meter to the side of the house. Powell still wanted her home to fit in with the older, eclectic houses on the block, most of which had horizontal siding. So she decided to replace the original plywood siding with horizontal Hardie Board, a fiber cement product. "It comes in colors. I chose a color I like so I won't have to paint it for awhile," she says. Even the trim shingles at the top are made of fiber cement.
To keep the back deck cool, an automatic, retractable awning was installed, with sensors telling it when to extend.
Powell managed to live in the house during the remodel, and could manage the process along the way. Today she can't think of anything she'd have done differently.
"I feel like I will get every penny back, but for me, it's a place to live. I like a good quality home, to know I didn't cut corners. ...
"One of the pluses is my friends love to be here. There's no challenge to get people to house or cat sit," she says.
Design/Build: Susan Davis, Spectrum Fine Homes, 188 S. Whisman Road, Bldg. A, Mountain View; 650-960-2449; www.SpectrumFineHomes.com
Landscape designer: Earthcare Landscaping, Cupertino; 408-871-2792; www.earthcareland.com
Concrete counters: Vetrazzo, Berkeley (www.vetrazzo.com); available at Reclaim, 855 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park; Kitchens by Meyer, 278 Castro St., Mountain View; Artistic Tile & Stone, 824 Bransten Road, San Carlos
Salvage: The Reuse People, 9235 San Leandro Blvd., Oakland, 510-383-1983, www.thereusepeople.org
Goal of project/design challenge:
Update 1970s kitchen using green materials
Unexpected problems/hidden costs:
Asbestos removal required
Year house built:
Size of home, lot:
About 1,300 sq. ft. on 5,000-sq.-ft. lot
Time to complete:
About 5 months design, 11 months construction