31 Jul 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — The Responsible Remodel

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In the movie First Knight, King Arthur (Sean Connery) said, “There’s another kind of peace on the other side of war”. That is my perception of home remodeling projects. You have to endure some pain to reap the reward. Remodeling is rarely fun because it is disruptive, challenging and costly but “after the war” you have a rejuvenated space and in my experience, the best way to rejuvenate a space is to follow the “Four R’sreduce, reuse, recycle and responsibility.

As an architect, 25% of my current projects are remodels. I enjoy the challenge, but am often concerned about the amount of destruction and waste generated during construction, so I hire a builder during design to coordinate “4R-inspired” design and construction ideas. The first question we ask is, “How do we meet the client’s goals and conserve natural and man-made resources”. We know conservation benefits us, the client and the environment because it preserves resources and can save money. Sure, it sounds “pie-in-the-sky” but with my helpful hints you can design and construct a responsible remodel.

4R Planning:  4R Planning requires more thought and time than basic remodeling. In addition to designing how it works and looks, you contemplate how it evolves.

•    Conduct a Home Physical Exam: Thoroughly review your home anatomy with the four R’s in mind. Reuse and supplement insulation; reuse building structural members and finishes; reuse or recycle operable and compliant fixtures, windows/doors and hardware.

•    Think Alternative-Material Use: Brainstorm ways to reuse materials either in this project or another. Use the leftovers for a shed project. Reduce landfill haul-off and recycle damaged materials or donate serviceable products/appliances to Habitat for Humanity or advertise on Craig’s List.

•    Design the Construction:  Design the entire construction sequence. Envision the project before you begin (what to take apart), during (what to preserve and protect) and after (the finished look and disposition). Develop design documents that outline the sequence and critical milestones.

4R Wars:  4R practices are not progressive, but are not intuitive either. You or your builder must consistently emphasize and monitor worker behavior.

•    Disassemble, do not destroy. Demolition workers do one thing well – break things. To salvage means to “take-apart” so you need to add a few tools (pry bars, snips), and instill the “reclaim” work ethic in your demolition crew.

•    Treasure the Trash. Retain any framing member 3’ or longer for reuse later. Mulch gypsum board and wood products (anything without mastic or dyes) and use it for compost.

•    Set Boundaries:  Establish boundaries for parking, portable toilet, equipment, material disposition and material handling to keep the site organized, clean and minimize site disruption/restoration.

•    Use Local Labor:  Local laborers can work more efficiently and productively. Commutes are shorter/faster so workers can use less fuel, work extended hours and improve completion time.

4R remodeling is a lot of work and you could potentially spend on planning and oversight what you save on material and resource conservation, but if you routinely practice 4R design and remodeling you can find your peace on the other side of war … and maybe have a little fun.

This is an article I wrote for Moving On!, a Boerne real estate publication, in July 2009 (image credit = pixabay)

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About the Author


Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 29 years experience in design, construction observation and life.