How can I remodel a 1910 Craftsman home to be green, and do so economically?

Asked by Nate
Portland, OR

Things that we'll be looking to make green: deconstruction of interior walls; new windows; new floors; new walls/drywall; new bathrooms; two small additions; new wiring; new plumbing; new kitchen appliances.


Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Answered by Molly McCabe, AKBD, CGP, CAPS

Bainbridge Island, WA

A Kitchen That Works LLC

December 12, 2010

Dear Nate,

Your question is an excellent one.  I will provide some general suggestions along with resources for your areas of interest.

How to keep your costs down

Let’s start with the economical side of things – how to keep your costs down.

Your number one strategy for keeping costs down is planning and organization. By taking a holistic approach to the project -- creating a master plan for all the things you want to accomplish and then executing them as your resources allow (time and money), you will minimize the duplication of effort and resources. Organizing will ensure that you are purchasing the proper amount of materials for each stage of the project and allow you to take advantage of sale items or make confident purchase decisions of salvage materials.

Lastly, organization will help you inventory and stage your materials so that you will know what you have and you can minimize the time you spend moving the materials around the job site (which also minimizes the opportunity for damage) and/or making duplicate purchases. There is a two-part article on my website called "What to Expect When You are Expecting…a New Kitchen or Bath."

Know your limits. Hire professionals to do the jobs that you do not have the skills to do -- you will save time, money and will minimize the opportunity for catastrophe. A good example of this is a tile shower -- done wrong, you can have a serious moisture issue that can potentially impact other rooms of your house and cost you a whole lot more money to repair than what it would have cost you to hire a professional in the first place.

Deconstruct and use salvaged materials. Rather than taking out your frustrations on your structure by demolishing the interior, deconstruct it -- take it apart in a methodical manner (have a plan) which will allow you to reclaim usable materials such as moldings, flooring, studs, sinks, etc.

  • What you don’t want to use that is still serviceable, donate to your local ReStore. There are two Habitat for Humanity ReStores in your area – one in Portland proper and the other in Vancouver, WA.
  • You can save money by reducing your necessary purchases as well as your dump fees, and you might even earn yourself a charitable tax deduction.
  • If you do not have a Dumpster on your jobsite, you will be surprised at how creative you become at recycling materials and debris. What you can’t use, recycle properly (for recycling resources in your area, go to

Greening your components

I've given you advice on the following elements of your green remodel.  Click on any of these links to jump directly to that section.


If your house was not previously remodeled, you most likely have lath and plaster rather than sheetrock on the interior walls. For long-term benefits it would be best to remove the lath (makes great kindling and paint stir-sticks) and plaster. If you would like to increase the R-value of the wall insulation, you could consider furring out the wall from the inside, by apply furring strips to the existing studs, hence creating a deeper cavity for insulation (but also making the dimension of your rooms that much smaller).

The type of insulation you use will depend on your budget, your goals and local codes. One idea is to apply 1”-2” open/closed-cell foam insulation and then a batt. This will help keep the cost down but provide a good air barrier in the event the house does not have an exterior wrap (such as tar paper -- not uncommon for the age of your house).

What you apply to the inside of the walls, i.e., sheetrock or wood paneling, will depend on budget and access to cost-effective materials. The issues with tainted foreign sheetrock are basically behind us, so few worries there, but whether you use paperless sheetrock or sheetrock with specific environmental attributes will again depend on your budget.

Two great online resources for selected materials are GreenSpec from and Green Builder magazine’s BPM Select.


Assuming you have no historic registry restriction on your house, the sky is the limit when it comes to replacement windows. Double-glazed, gas-filled windows should be adequate for your climate zone unless you are in the path of winter storms (as many homes are along the Columbia River). One other reason to consider triple-glaze is for noise abatement. Otherwise, the additional cost is hard to justify in your climate zone.

Double-hung windows would be the most period-appropriate style for your home but they are the most challenging to open/close. Consider how the windows can help with cooling in the summer via cross-ventilation. My favorite type of window is low-maintenance, which places wood low down on the list. I recently used a composite window from the Andersen 100 Series that was white on the inside and had four color choices for the outside. It installed easily in a retrofit and will provide the homeowner with years of maintenance-free enjoyment.


To be period-specific you would use hardwood floors. However, you might consider using a variety of flooring materials to make a design statement about the function/purpose of each room. Cork for the kitchen, linoleum in the laundry/mudroom, wood for the living room and dining room, recycled-content carpet squares for the den/office, etc.

Given the age of your house, there is a distinct possibility that you have quality hardwood floors throughout and that they have been covered over with any variety of sheet flooring, carpet, etc. A word of caution -- older sheet flooring may have asbestos in it. If you find layers of old flooring, you should have it professionally tested and removed -- ignorance is not bliss in this situation.

Lastly, when you are making flooring choices, consider how your choice impacts sound transmission in the house. Carpet and cork are better sound absorbers than hardwood and tile.


To be period-specific, you would typically use wainscoting (wood paneling that goes 3–5 feet up from the floor). Wainscoting can be resource-intensive and labor-intensive to install, so consider it for high-traffic rooms where you will get the most aesthetic enjoyment for the expenditure.

There are too many wall finishes for wood and sheetrock to list here. For more information, please refer to the following Green Home Guide posts:

You also have a terrific source in your city for these products at EcoHaus in Portand (or online at

Use Water Sense certified fixtures -- for a comprehensive list, go to the EPA’s Water Sense website. My favorite trick for reducing water usage in a shower is to install a thermostatic shower valve rather than a pressure balance valve. A bit more money, but it will allow you to turn off the water while shampooing/soaping and turn it back on again without freezing yourself.

  • If your bathrooms have no heat source (not part of the central heating system) consider electric radiant floor heat (with a programmable thermostat) or an electric towel bar.
  • Installing a good-quality exhaust fan is imperative, along with either a moisture sensor or a timer to encourage use of the fan by all occupants. One of my favorite fans is the Broan Nutone recessed fan/light unit with humidity sensing, model #744SFL (also available in fluorescent).




Not knowing what the two small additions you are planning will be used for and how they are oriented to the house or the property, it is difficult to provide input here.

General things to consider:

  1. Daylighting -- how will the additions impact daylighting?
  2. Is it cost-effective and energy efficient to heat, ventilate and/or plumb these additions?
  3. If the addition will be used for an office, yoga studio or hobby room then you will want to consider sound -- do you want to include a sound system for these rooms?



Pulling wires in a retrofit is no fun. Investigate your wireless options for various functions such as lighting controls, internet, sound, security, etc. The less wiring being pulled, the less impact on the structural integrity of the house and the more efficient the insulation installation will be.

Two other considerations for wiring are material composition and electromagnetic fields.

  • Residential wire (cable) is typically coated with a PVC jacketing, but at least one company, Houston Wire and Cable Company, is producing a cable under the product name LifeGuard that has a less toxic jacket (unfortunately, it is currently marketed to the commercial construction market, making it more expensive).
  • With respect to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) within the home, created by the flow of electrical current through common household wires, the jury is still out on their potential for rendering adverse health effects. However, through proper planning and design, you can minimize exposure to EMFs by installing the main electrical service lines away from frequently occupied areas (such as bedrooms).

See the Ask A Pro Q&A, "I am confused about electromagnetic fields (EMFs). How would you suggest I reduce health risks inside the home?"

Again, if there have been no major remodels to your home, it is probable that you have galvanized pipes in your 1910 house for both supply and waste lines.

You would be well advised to replace the supply lines with either copper or PEX.

  • PEX lines will afford an opportunity to use a manifold system (provided you have room to install such a system), which can be more energy efficient due to reduced heat loss in transmission, and PEX can be easier to install in a retrofit situation. You will want to hire a plumber who has experience with a manifold system rather than trying to do it yourself.
  • If you are not including a manifold system, you might consider including a recirculation system.  There is a good post on Green Home Guide titled “Do hot water recirculation systems work? What kind would you recommend?

For waste lines you have two basic choices -- ABS or PVC. Please refer to the following Ask A Pro Q&As to learn more about these two choices:

With regard to decorative plumbing fixtures, again you will want to select styles that dovetail with the home’s architectural style and sport the Water Sense certification. One of my favorite new kitchen faucets is the Delta Ashton and the Delta Single Handle faucet with the Touch2O feature. Both are Water Sense certified as well as having an ergonomic design.


The best place to start is with Energy Star rated appliances by going to the EPA’s website.  Or read the Green Home Guide article “Creating a Green Kitchen: From Resource Planning to Maintenance” to find a list of these appliances.

Note: not all types of appliances are rated under Energy Star… yet. This group would include cooktops, ranges, wall ovens, microwave ovens, warming drawers, most exhaust hoods, trash compactors (but these don’t belong in a sustainably designed home) and a few others.

It is not recommended to purchase appliances, especially used appliances, from a private party (as opposed to a retailer). Your purchase may have been part of a recall, you may not receive the operating/installation manual and it may be shipped in non-factory packaging, making it susceptible to damage.

Appliance selection is a very personal choice based on budget, cooking skill level, design theme and more. If the kitchen is the hub of your home and/or you enjoy cooking, you may be well advised to hire a professional to help you select your appliances.

For more information:

  • Northwest EcoBuilding Guild
  • GreenSpec Directory, 7th Edition, from
  • The Northwest Green Home Primer, by Kathleen O’Brien and Kathleen Smith (Timber Press, 2008)
  • Green from the Ground Up, by David Johnston and Scott Gibson (Taunton Press, 2008)
  • Your Green Home, by Alex Wilson (New Society Publishers, 2006)
  • Green Remodeling -- Changing the World One Room at a Time, by David Johnston and Kim Master (New Society Publishers, 2004)
  • "Green, is it your color?" Parts I-IV (WestSound Home & Garden Magazine 2007-2008) -- see the resources section at my website,

Tagged In: green cost, reuse, architectural salvage

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