Affordable Green Remodel of a California Bungalow

San Diego, CA

Oct 1 2009 By Rob Wotzak | 3 comments

General Specs and Team

Location: San Diego, CA
Bedrooms: 2
Bathrooms: 1

Living Space: 750 sq.ft (not including detached garage/office)

Builder: Mike Bergman, AB Developments
Home performance consultant: Ponizil Energy
Insulation contractors: Green House Coatings and Advanced Energy Insulation

Construction

Foundation: poured concrete/CMUConcrete masonry unit. Precast concrete block used to build walls. CMUs have hollow cores that can be filled with concrete onsite for additional reinforcement. The use of stronger, more lightweight types of concrete such as autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) is becoming increasingly popular in CMU manufacture. wall, unconditioned crawlspace; 3-in. EPSExpanded polystyrene. Type of rigid foam insulation that, unlike extruded polystyrene (XPS), does not contain ozone-depleting HCFCs. EPS frequently has a high recycled content. Its vapor permeability is higher and its R-value lower than XPS insulation. EPS insulation is classified by type: Type I is lowest in density and strength and Type X is highest. foam fitted between joists and sealed with spray-foam (R-12)
Walls: 2x4 studs, 16-in. o.c.; blown-in cellulose insulationThermal insulation made from recycled newspaper or other wastepaper; often treated with borates for fire and insect protection. in main house, formaldehydeChemical found in many building products; most binders used for manufactured wood products are formaldehyde compounds. Reclassified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen."-free fiberglass batts in detached office (R-13)
Roof: 2x6 rafters, 16-in. o.c.; original insulation (unknown fiber) on attic floor
Windows: double-pane, low-ELow-emissivity coating. Very thin metallic coating on glass or plastic window glazing that permits most of the sun’s short-wave (light) radiation to enter, while blocking up to 90% of the long-wave (heat) radiation. Low-e coatings boost a window’s R-value and reduce its U-factor., vinylCommon term for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In chemistry, vinyl refers to a carbon-and-hydrogen group (H2C=CH–) that attaches to another functional group, such as chlorine (vinyl chloride) or acetate (vinyl acetate). frame replacement windows (U-factorMeasure of the heat conducted through a given product or material—the number of British thermal units (Btus) of heat that move through a square foot of the material in one hour for every 1 degree Fahrenheit difference in temperature across the material (Btu/ft2°F hr). U-factor is the inverse of R-value. : .33, SHGCSolar heat gain coefficient. The fraction of solar gain admitted through a window, expressed as a number between 0 and 1.: .34, Jeld-Wen)
Garage: detached; includes office/guest room

Energy

Heating/cooling: ENERGY STARLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. ceiling fans (Hunter)
Annual energy use: 21.03 MMBtu (137 therms of gas, 2149 kWh electricity)

  • ENERGY STARLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. appliances and ceiling fans
  • New operable windows combined with fans provide effective cross-ventilation
  • New wall and crawlspace insulation (cellulose, EPSExpanded polystyrene. Type of rigid foam insulation that, unlike extruded polystyrene (XPS), does not contain ozone-depleting HCFCs. EPS frequently has a high recycled content. Its vapor permeability is higher and its R-value lower than XPS insulation. EPS insulation is classified by type: Type I is lowest in density and strength and Type X is highest.)
  • New open floor plan lets in more natural light

Water Efficiency

  • Drought resistant plants
  • Zoned irrigation system
  • Water efficient appliances
  • Low-flow shower head
  • No dishwasher (use economical basin in sink)

Indoor Air Quality

  • Low-VOCVolatile organic compound. An organic compound that evaporates readily into the atmosphere; as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are organic compounds that volatize and then become involved in photochemical smog production. paints and finishes
  • FormaldehydeChemical found in many building products; most binders used for manufactured wood products are formaldehyde compounds. Reclassified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen."-free fiberglass insulation

Green Materials and Resource Efficiency

  • Salvaged ceramic tile
  • Bamboo engineered flooring
  • Recycled fiber MDF trim
  • Combination of FSCNonprofit organization that promotes forestry practices that are sustainable from environmental and social standpoints; FSC certification on a wood product is an indicator that the wood came from a well-managed forest. certified, antique, and second-hand furniture
  • New laundry cabinet rated by KCMA Environmental Stewardship Program

Sweat equity and creativity make this small urban home more comfortable, practical, and environmentally responsible.

An appreciation of historical houses and a desire to be in a family oriented neighborhood with plenty of walkable and bikeable amenities ledLight-emitting diode. Illumination technology that produces light by running electrical current through a semiconductor diode. LED lamps are much longer lasting and much more energy efficient than incandescent lamps; unlike fluorescent lamps, LED lamps do not contain mercury and can be readily dimmed. Jennifer and Alex to make this 1930s California bungalow their first home, in 2008. The location, surrounded by locally owned businesses, close to beautiful Balboa Park, and only 2 miles from the city center fit their needs perfectly. Their modest budget, strong commitment to environmental stewardship, and, of course, their new daughter, helped define the way they approached the project.

Existing conditions complicate construction
Before Jennifer and Alex took ownership, the bank that owned the property was responsible for repairing the roof and some related water damage. The couple didn’t have much choice in what associated construction materials were used, but Jennifer did convinced the contractors to use environmentally friendly paint (which she provided) to finish the interior in a healthy way.

Because the place was in pretty rough shape, and because Alex’s father, an experienced home builder, offered to do some remodeling as a housewarming present, they jumped right in with some big improvements. Usable space was a serious concern in the 750 sq-ft home, so they removed several non-structural walls inside, particularly around the kitchen. Jennifer admits that was mostly to make the rooms more open and practical, but it also let light and fresh air reach deeper into what was once a dark and stuffy home. Of all the changes, this was possibly the one that had the biggest effect on comfort.

New windows carry cool, fresh air
Double-pane replacement windows were next. New, operable sashes on the side of the house that allowed the the prevailing summer winds to better service the home replaced fixed picture windows. These, combined with blown-in cellulose insulationThermal insulation made from recycled newspaper or other wastepaper; often treated with borates for fire and insect protection. in the walls and a few ENERGY STARLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. rated ceiling fans, keep the house quite cool all summer long.

The extensive renovations obviously removed a bit of the original fabric from the old bungalow. Jennifer and Alex had fun with their efforts to balance this out by adding details like period style medallions to complement the home’s original charm.

Bonus room out back
If there wasn’t a detached garage out back, the couple may not have considered buying such a small house. Fortunately, they realized that they could turn a shed addition off the side of the garage into an additional finished space. San Diego’s climate is mild enough that, with effectively installed insulation and some drywall, the space would make a practical office and occasional guest room. New FSCNonprofit organization that promotes forestry practices that are sustainable from environmental and social standpoints; FSC certification on a wood product is an indicator that the wood came from a well-managed forest. certified French doors open right onto the patio where their young daughter plays—only a few steps away from the main house.

green building on a budget
Jennifer might have a few things to say to people who think green building has to be expensive. Recycling and bargain hunting played a big part in the success of this remodel. She bought an entire pallet of tiles from the SanDiego Habitat ReStore for the kitchen and laundry room floors, and resold the leftover tiles to recoup 2/3 of the initial cost.

With a solid floor and a big old tub, the bathroom had good bones, so the couple decided to refurbish rather than gut it. A low flow showerhead was one upgrade Jennifer felt strongly about, but she wrote to Kohler for some information to convince her father-in-law (who would be installing it) that it was worth the cost. A few weeks later, Jennifer was surprised to got a complimentary package from Kohler with exactly the type of fixture she wanted.

Improving the outdoor spaces
The original back yard wasn’t much more than a broken old concrete slab. Jennifer and Alex liked having a patio but found that it was one of the biggest contributors to surface runoff from their yard. They came up with a cheap, creative solution: cutting channels along the cracks in the patio solved the drainage problem while painting the remaining slabs of concrete and filling the gaps with gravel left them with a unique, custom paved, permeable surface.

Jennifer packed a lot into the small urban yard, doing her best to keep it low maintenance but very comfortable and enjoyable. Although many of the plants are non-natives, she picked non-invasive African grasses and lilies, and Australian flax because she felt they complement the California landscape and because they require very little water. A zoned irrigation system makes sure that each plant gets only as much water as it needs. Potted herbs, a lime tree, and strawberries give their daughter a sense of home-grown food.

Lessons Learned

Get the facts before you act
Jennifer and Alex had to do some work to the home early on to make it livable. The new windows and cellulose insulationThermal insulation made from recycled newspaper or other wastepaper; often treated with borates for fire and insect protection. were inevitable so it made sense to do them while they had the extra help from Alex’s dad. The couple assumed their next step would be re-insulating the attic but, before doing any further retrofits to the building envelopeExterior components of a house that provide protection from colder (and warmer) outdoor temperatures and precipitation; includes the house foundation, framed exterior walls, roof or ceiling, and insulation, and air sealing materials., requested a thorough home energy auditEnergy audit that also includes inspections and tests to assess moisture flow, combustion safety, thermal comfort, indoor air quality, and durability. from energy consultant Dadla Ponizil. Based on the audit findings, Ponizil felt that insulating under their subfloor would result in bigger energy savings. The couple followed the recommendation and reports a huge improvement in comfort, particularly during winter months.

With new building products and processes available virtually every day, it’s hard to get all the information needed to make the best decisions. Though Jennifer confirmed that her new bamboo floors contain no harmful chemicals, it wasn’t until after they were in that she found out that they were not as durable as she expected. She is generally pleased with the flooring, but found out that when harvested too early, bamboo doesn’t reach its ideal hardness.

Having lived in the retrofitted home for nearly a year now, Jennifer and Alex are confident that well informed and thoughtful decisions coupled with creativity and cost-effective solutions are key to improving the performance, comfort and health of any home.


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Image Credits:

  1. Jennifer Owens

1.
Wed, 11/04/2009 - 13:35

So what did this remodel cost?
by Anonymous

So this is frustrating -- this is an "affordable" remodel, right? So what exactly was the final cost??


2.
Wed, 06/23/2010 - 17:46

Costs of Whole-site Remodel
by Jennifer, the California Bungalow Owner

The affordability of this whole-site remodel (building envelope, interior living space, detached home office and outdoor spaces) was heavily influenced through material and labor cost savings.

My father-in-law, husband and self did the majority of the work – with the exception of the energy auditing, gutters, concrete work, blown in cellulose, subfloor insulation system and some drywall hanging in the detached office. For all interior surfaces, paints, and sealants, windows, back door, back gates, hardware, appliances, outdoor landscaping (plants and accessories), construction waste deposal, energy auditing, gutters, concrete work, blown in cellulose, subfloor insulation system, and various contracting expenses and construction materials, we accrued $22,000 in costs.

Some costs were covered by selling or trading. For example, we traded the home's old refrigerator + $50 to a landscaper who then cleaned up and tilled our front yard area.

We saved approximately $3000 by choosing to refurbish the kitchen cabinets rather than replace them. We saved another nice sum and preserved craftsman appeal by refurbishing the very aged front door rather than replacing it. We saved money on the back door replacement by purchasing an unfinished FSC-certified door and staining it ourselves (which allowed us the opportunity to choose an eco-friendly stain). We re-used the pre-existing subfloor, saving time and material costs.

We also saved a good amount on the kitchen counters (only $30 plus trim pieces from Lowe’s) and tile flooring by choosing reclaimed tile from the Habitat for Humanity Restore in San Diego, Ca. The reclaimed tile flooring (in the kitchen and laundry rooms) was only $150. We only used half of what we purchased and sold the remainder on Craig’s List for $75.

In the front yard we saved money on decorative rock by purchasing it at the Restore as well. Our concrete solution in the back patio (cutting trenches and painting to improve drainage and aesthetics rather than removing and resurfacing) saved somewhere around $1000 as compared to other solutions!

We qualified for rebates (about $1500) from our local utility- SDG&E- for the insulation we added and the new appliances. Appliance rebates were available at time of sale. We also cut down on waste deposal costs by recycling, repurposing and donating much of the deconstructed building components and materials.

We constantly looked for constructive ways to conserve materials, time and money. That’s what makes it affordable, coupled by our hands-on approach and modest home size.


3.
Wed, 07/21/2010 - 18:06

an inspirational story, thanks for all the details!
by Ed Kirton

Great story. I'm in a similar situation in Concord, CA and appreciated your tips and the sharing of your expenditures. Cutting the concrete for drainage was a great idea I had not thought of and will use myself.


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