It’s Easy Building Green

We expanded and modernized our house 10 years ago, adding an entire second floor after having a couple of kids and reluctantly concluding we needed more space. We looked at moving but ultimately concluded we didn’t want to leave our waterside, dead-end-street neighborhood that was safe for kids and cats alike.

© Jerry Russell
© Jerry Russell

In remodeling we wanted to do the right thing: We bought all energy-efficient and water-conserving appliances for kitchen and laundry. We installed a stove and range that also economize on energy, and kitchen cabinets made from sustainable wood. We even put recycled glass tile on the wall behind the stove counter and a reclaimed wood cutting board counter next to it.

We hung drapes made from hemp and bought some new green-friendly furniture. That included sofas made from recycled soda bottles, deck chairs made of old milk cartons, and chairs made with removable, washable and replaceable slipcovers.

We also installed wood floors made from reclaimed pallets, retrofitted much of the house with compact fluorescent bulbs, and installed skylights to minimize daytime lighting needs. And throughout the house we used non-toxic, water-based paints.

Though it was only a decade ago, none of this was easy to do at a time when many of the sources available were either overseas firms or nascent American companies struggling to survive. Our kitchen cabinets came from Germany and the dishwasher was Swedish. The company that provided the reclaimed pallets sold us the last of its stock and then went belly-up. And the maker of the soda pop bottle-upholstered couches didn’t stay in business for long, either.

I regret that we didn’t incorporate even more green features into our redesign. We could have gone solar with rooftop photovoltaic collectors to heat our water, or chosen an on-demand, tankless heater to replace the dinosaur we took out. For that matter we could have implemented a whole host of energy-efficient and resource-saving features had we more time to spend on it or a green building industry as robust then as it is today. Of course, we can retrofit some of these innovations, and probably will.

Indeed, green-friendly materials and appliances have come down significantly in price since we were plying our modest attempt at an “eco-home” in the 1990s. There are also now innumerable resources available to architects, builders and do-it-yourselfers, aided in large part by the growth of the Internet. Green superstores such as the Environmental Home Center in Seattle and Green Building Supply in Iowa, among many others, will ship anywhere. Hundreds of informational websites, such as, offer detailed listings for thousands of environmentally preferable building products and offer tips on green building and remodeling. There are also a number of helpful books. There is even a natural handyman network ( that will find you professionals who know the ABCs of green building. And today many states have grant programs that can help offset the costs of energy-efficiency improvements, and there are federal tax credits to be had as well.

As the weather gets colder and many of us batten down for winter, it’s a great time to start drawing up plans for those improvements you’ve been contemplating. Go green and you can make an important individual contribution to the environment, help take a bite out of global warming, and save money over the long haul, too.