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Flip This Green House

Retrofitting housing with green solutions gets premium results

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Flipping Green Houses and Buildings

The rash of house flipping television programs brings up an interesting application of green building upgrades that can both save the remodeler some money and the earth some pollution and natural resources.

As a fan of retrofitting buildings...and a lifelong interest in carpentry, etc. this strategy is close to my heart. My father was an old-world carpenter/organic farmer who never hauled anything to the junk yard...who recycled everything, and who planned his work before proceeding.

The following list of green ideas might be of help to the teams who are refurbishing buildings and who would like to maximize their investment for both themselves and for the future owners. If you have additional suggestions, I hope you will share them with us and we'll pass them along. Together we can cut down the energy we use so none of us have blackouts or brownouts....and we leave a healthier society for our children, our cousins, our friends...and ourselves! :-)

Greening a Building

The core philosophy of greening a building is to use a basic philosophy of "recyle, reuse, reduce...and respect the earth". Your creativity and resourcefulness can take you into many productive directions -- both financially and energy-wise! The result that the homeowner is interested in is efficiency, quality living spaces...and appeal -- family health and well being.

    Set a goal

  • Set your goal: "Save 50% on energy consumption". "Save 25% of my materials costs by using recycled or reused materials." By thinking can share your vision with your crew.


  • Low water flow stools, faucets and showers. Rebates are often available from city, county or state governments of local utility companies.
  • Remove usable cabinets and donate to Habitat for Humanity's recycle stores.
  • Buy upfits from these Habitat for Humanity or other used and excess materials stores whenever possible. Buying as well as contributing materials cuts dumping in landfills ... which reduces the production of methane gas that pollutes your air and water.
  • Install framed mirrors that can be easily replaced in the future vs. wall mounted.
  • Remove tile for reuse. There are services that will deconstruct homes vs. destroying the materials. Good investment for our future.

    Kitchen Upgrades

  • Use low water flow faucets.
  • Use Energy Star refrigerator, stoves. Include a microwave that is Energy Star rated. Microwaves use a fraction of the energy of a range.
  • Do not use vinyl, etc. in wallpaper, etc. Plastic materials give off gases that pollute the indoor air.
  • Install tubular solar skylights. They reduce lighting costs during daylight hours. The tubular design minimizes heat from overhead sunlight.
  • Provide adequate ventilation and control of it with venting.
  • Don't use imported stone or lumber that harms their natural resource habitats. Investigate your source of materials and support sustainable sources. For example, FSC certified woods can be used for framing, cabinets and trim. It's now available in many communities. Ask for it.

    Walls and ceilings

  • Use no-VOC, non-toxic paints and finishes. Natural materials and wall finishes don't leach fumes.
  • Smooth surfaces or minimal textures accumulate less dust and are easier to care for.

    Outdoors, Patios, and Yards

  • Grass uses intensive amounts of water and chemicals to maintain. Design natural planting areas of native or low-water plants. Smart plant species selection is the MAJOR water saving strategy in landcaping.
  • Irrigation systems are best kept to a minimum -- by using native plants and low-water species. Drip irrigation systems for shrubs, foundation plantings, etc. are great water savers and easy to use. Computer controlled irrigation systems also save water and time for the homeowner. If you don't provide the irrigation system -- at least wire for the control panel.
  • Use semi-permeable concrete for sidewalks and driveways. And minimize these highly reflective heat-traps! Use stepping stones vs. sidewalks. Use recycled rubber for patio pavers ad walkways. Use recyled, shredded tires for mulch. Use flyash and other waste materials in your concrete -- it reduces your costs and uses a waste material from electricity generation, etc.
  • Obesity is a major health concern these days...especially for children. Plan the yard for playspace, gardening and outdoor activities. Provide natural shade with trees to climb, sandboxes, garden space in sunny, well drained spaces...etc.
  • Provide composting convenience indoors to collect kitchen scraps and outdoors with a composting bin or pile. Use compost and mulch in your curb appeal plantings to give the plants a real chance to thrive....and minimize water use.


  • Use natural materials such as linoleum vs. petroleum based products.
  • Use natural finishes such as wax vs. petrochemical varnishes.
  • Use throw rugs vs. carpeting.
  • If carpeting is necessary, choose carpeting with recycled fibers, or carpet squares that can be repaired easily in heavy wear areas.
  • Recycle the carpet and padding you remove in order to reduce landfills.
  • Consider raised flooring to provide air flow heating.


  • Plan passive solar techniques into the redesign to minimize the need for utility-based heat and cooling. Overhangs, shutters, or awnings that reduce direct sun are highly effective. Proper ventilation in the room space, as well as attic and crawl space. Extra heavy duty insulation is the greatest and costs so little extra. Insulate the floor and ceiling as well as walls. Add solar mass near south windows.
  • Solar energy panels (Photovoltaic) aren't necessary...but think about providing proper wiring and landscaping that won't block the sun in case the homeowner wants to solar upfits into their mortgage. You might even find sizable rebates are available to you from government programs.
  • Solar water heating is a great option. And instant water heaters are very energy efficient...and open up that water heater space in tight quarters.
  • Proper sizing of the heating / cooling systems is important. Both too big and too small cause inefficient use of electricity.
  • Make windows open easily to use natural cooling, light and ventilation. Plan windows for the south side ... and minimize on west and north, depending on location.
  • Consider heat pumps and other high-efficiency Energy Star appliances to minimize utility use.


  • Pass the word about local resources and techniques. It will take all of us doing our best and working together to make our communities creative spaces that are healthy for both our neighbors and our planet.

There are many great books on green housing that provide design specifics, brands that fit the green criteria, and educational resources. Greening your remodels could truly set you apart from the other housing flippers ... especially during soft market periods!

And the benefit of going to this extra trouble? There is a dramatic shortage of "green housing" and realtors say you can ask for a 10% or more premium for quality green housing, whether the building is new or retrofitted.

You can make a difference! You can benefit financially. Your buyer will spread the word about your quality. And you and your children can benefit from a more sustainable community. Quality begets quality!

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| green building | housing | community |


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