Green building done dirt cheap

120301re0209remodel3_2As you can see in Sunday’s Pardon Our Dust feature, Bill and Becka Doering were extremely motivated to create a healthy, green family home.

But while most of us agree with the concept of green building, our commitment fizzles when it’s time to write the check.

Still, green is not necessarily out of reach. Global Green offers Top 20 No- or Low-Cost Green Building Strategies. And architect Eric R. Shamp has compiled his own list of No-Cost Green Building Strategies.

The Doerings, of course, took it several steps further, estimating that the energy-related features of their whole-house remodel added about $50,000 to the cost. Much of that will be recouped over the years in lower utility bills.

But how can you put a price on comfort, and on a cleaner environment for the family, especially those impressionable baby lungs? The home feels as good as it looks in the photos. When you open the cabinets, you smell the faint aroma of sweet hay (the cabinet boxes are made of wheatboard) instead of the formaldehyde fumes we’re used to in new cabinets.

If you have any questions about the remodel, post a comment below and Bill Doering or contractor Dennis Allen will do their best to respond.

(Photo: Spencer Weiner, Los Angeles Times)

8 Comments on Green building done dirt cheap

  1. Bill Doering

    What is a Healthy Home?
    Our Green remodel had 4 KEY elements that informed all of our decisions:
    – Energy efficiency
    – Sustainability
    – Affordability
    – Health
    Kathy mentioned some of the “Healthy Home” aspects in her article and on the Blog but, I wanted to dig a little deeper into this subject because it was of primary importance to us. We had a 3 year old during construction and a newborn when we moved into the house.
    The last thing we wanted to do was move these “young lungs”, as Kathy calls them, into a home with that “new” (and toxic) home smell.
    So, what does a healthy home look, feel and smell like? Well, oversimplifying it looks beautiful, makes you feel good and doesn’t smell. Seriously, the goals are to limit the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and other toxins used in construction or in finished products.
    VOCs are chemicals that become breathable gases at room temperature, and include benzene, toluene, vinyl chloride, formaldehyde, ethyl and mercury. Paints also commonly contain petrochemicals, ethylene glycol, and a host of other dangerous chemicals that are known to out-gas in significant amounts. Cadmium and chromium are often found in the pigments used in conventional paints. The VOCs found in paint generally come from additives — fungicides, spreading agents, etc. The EPA lists a host of negative health effects due to VOC exposure. VOCs are measured in grams per liter (gm/l).
    So, “no-VOCs” is best. “low-VOC” is good. The EPA regulations label latex paint under under 250 gm/l as “low-VOC”; oil-based paint is considered “low-VOC” if under 380 gm/l . These regulations are concerned with outdoor ozone formation not the impact to human health. So, it is still best to not spend a lot of time inside a freshly painted “low-VOC” house/room.
    Formaldehyde is a VOC that seems to be in everything — cabinets, plywood, furniture, plastics and many other building material — it is even in cosmetics. It also occurs naturally, but doesn’t get concentrated in you home this way.
    It is fairly easy to find “no-VOC” paints now. The 2 brands below also eliminate unregulated toxic ingredients like ammonia, acetone, exempt solvents and odor masking agents. No-VOC paints dry very quickly compared to traditional paints.
    What else do you need to know to create a healthy home ?
    Adhesives should have low gm/l of VOC (try for < 100 gm/l) and other building products should be Formaldehyde free — fiberglass batts, flooring, pressed wood products (plywood, MDF, particleboard), paints, furniture. Don't forget about a water filtration system (carbon filter and reduce water hardness) — your body is mostly water. And lastly, natural light helps maintain physical and emotional health plus it saves energy too. -Bill

  2. Richard Morales

    Kathy…thanks for sharing another great story. As always, your features are a “must read” on Sundays with my morning coffee.
    The Doerings did a wonderful job of incorporating “green” into their home withhout breaking the bank. I love reading stories where the consumers aren’t scared about price when they “go green.” That is something we should all celebrate. I tip my hat off to them.
    We currently have clients that we are helping design and create a nail spa that incorporates the standards of LEED certification. It is ver cutting edge, because you don’t think of nail spa as being very green. But, we hope to change that.
    Homeowners like the Doerings and our commercial clients are wonderful examples of consumers being leaders in their community.

  3. Bill Doering

    Regarding the sun shade, the design is pretty straightforward. I needed to cover a 12′ X 7′ area between the cross members of the patio trellis. I wanted to limit the amount of sun hitting the patio but still allow a lot of
    light to come thru. So, after searching around on the internet I
    found two places that offered shade cloth out of HDPE type plastic
    which is a “good’ plastic, if you’ll allow me. HDPE can be 100%
    recycled and doesn’t involve all the toxins of PVC in their
    manufacturing and it is strong. In then end I used a 50% shade cloth
    (white) partly because it was white and partly because it seemed the
    correct compromise between shade and light. I had them add grommets
    (every 2 feet?) with double stitching around the outside. I was
    looking at cloth that was lockstitch knitted as opposed to weaved
    because it is stronger.
    As to the construction, I used heavy gauge wire on the 7′ sides and
    secured all 4 ends with a turnbuckle that could tighten up once I
    had it all put together. I used standard wire clamps to secure the
    wire to the turnbuckle. The other end of the turnbuckle screwed into
    the beam. I wanted to have the shade cloth real taught and the turn
    buckles provide for that. On the other 12′ sides I used large sized
    hooks that I screwed into the patio cross beams. I put 2 on each
    side equally spaced — you may need more if you patio is larger. Then
    I used carabiners to secure the shade cloth to the hooks/turnbuckles
    – it is not as “quick release” as I wanted it to be but it works. It
    turns out that I don;t have to move it often since in winter the sun
    comes in underneath the shade cloth and lights and heats the house.
    My trellis cross beams are up at almost 12′ (pretty high) and this
    works well.
    I may add a 3rd or 4th wire attached to the hooks so that the shade
    cloth doesn’t sag. A light weave like 50% will sag and stretch a
    bit. The tighter knits available (i.e. 90%) would be more taught on
    their own.
    All in all it works really well for what I needed.
    is where I ended up getting the 12′ X 7′ 50% shade cloth (white) w/
    grommets delivered for $69
    Another option is
    coolaroo.html higher shade factor on most stuff

  4. A reader

    Thank you for the informative and inspiring article “Turning a tract
    home into a model for ‘green’ living.”
    We are in the processing of rebuilding our backyard patio which faces
    west. My husband has already designed the patio and the lumber has
    been delivered. However, when I saw a photo of the patio with the
    retractable cover shade, it seemed to provide the solution to a
    problem we have. If we could incorporate the same idea in our new
    patio, we could take advantage of the shade during strong afternoon
    sun and hot summers. In the winter we can retract the shade and let
    more sun in so we don’t need to use our ceiling lights as much.
    I wonder if the owner of the “green” house would share with us more
    information on how he designed the retractable cover shade and where
    he acquired the necessary materials. Since we have already invested
    quite a bite on the lumber, we’re hoping the cost of his shade system
    would be affordable and something we can still incorporate into our
    patio. Our patio is perhaps three times wider. Down the line we
    would also like to consider bamboo flooring in our house, so it would
    be interesting to learn more about how this material holds up over time.
    Thank you in advance for any help you can provide us. We live in
    Hacienda Heights, California.

  5. Bill Doering

    Response to post regarding LED Lights
    I purchased my LED lights from They are restructuring
    their business a little — slimmed down their product line and using
    distributors to sell Permlights LED technology to light manufacturers
    and not deal directly with customers as much.
    They do have an on-line store but, this new business model seems to also
    have raised the prices non-trivially — they are quoting the “Manufacture
    Suggested Retail” price on the on-line store. Check out their offerings
    and then call them and get some real pricing.
    I used the ENBV lights for my front porch. ENBV for hallways and
    closets. ENBJ for Kitchen pendants and ENBP for the outdoor patio/stair
    I actually used cheap, thin fourescent with the idea that I was going to
    replace them with the new model coming out from Permlight that was going
    to be very slim and sleek — I didn’t really like their current line
    because it was to fat and would show underneath the cabinets. Now they
    are offering the ENBF line –
    If you use enough of the LEDs under the cabinets it should be fine. But
    fluorescent light still casts its light better for a more dispersed
    appearance. This is good for kitchen tasks.
    I have the ENBV overhead in the kitchen with the ENBJ kitchen pendants
    over the bar top and fluorescent under cabinet lights … Fluorescents
    have mercury in them. Incandescents can still be somewhat efficient at
    low wattages — so if, you are stuck as what to do or waiting for more
    LED options you could put your incandescents on a dimmer and manage
    their wattage use.
    If you are doing recessed can lights in CA and need Title24 compliance
    their 6″ ENBC6F is the way to go. But, call them up and ask for good

  6. Bill Doering

    Response to post regarding efficiency of on-demand heater
    You mention a lot of important points:
    1) Location, point of use, plumbing runs
    2) Size, “beauty” and noise of on-demand units
    3) Specifications
    4) Installed in remote areas, serve several remote areas ?
    5) How is it tied into solar water heater ?
    6) Efficiency compared to storage based water heater
    These units today are similar to the units you are familiar with but,
    the technology has improved significantly. On-demand water heaters today
    are small, quiet, computer controlled, have advanced safety systems, low
    emissions and electronic ignition.
    The on-board computer and sensors check for flow, temperature and
    demand. The computer also monitors over or under-heating, freeze
    conditions, gas levels, water levels, even air and venting conditions
    1) Location, point of use, plumbing runs
    This is still a concern and it should be optimized as best as possible.
    We deiced to locate our Takagi Flash TK2 on the bedrooms and bathroom
    side of the house so as not to waste any water down the drains waiting
    for hot water. These runs are short. The run to the washer is longer
    but there is also a pre-heater in the water IF we really need that
    sterile wash temperature
    2) Size, “beauty” and noise of on-demand units
    My unit is 2.2 cu ft, very quiet and is unobtrusive. I never really hear it.
    3) Specifications
    240 gal/hr hot water
    handles flows from .6 — 6.9 gal/min
    heating capability of 19,000 to 185,000 btu/hr
    recovery efficiency = .86
    4) Installed in remote areas, serve several remote areas ?
    Yes, very flexible due to small size and venting options. Install in
    garage, attic, or outside. The Takagi TK2 is happily serving our 1600
    sq ft house. In larger houses your could install one on each side of the
    5) How is it tied into solar water heater ?
    The solar hot water heater on the roof is feed by the city water, the
    water goes into solar unit and back out via insulated copper to the
    Takagi unit where it goes to a mixing valve. From here it can be heated
    by the on-demand unit, cooled down with cold water or disconnected from
    the system for maintenance.
    6) Efficiency compared to storage based water heater
    The computer modulated burners and ignition system combined with the
    solar thermal heater make a very efficient system. Most months we are
    only using 4 Therms of gas !!!!
    All the parts are serviceable so they be rather easily repaired/replaced
    part by part if needed. My heat exchanger has a 10 year warranty.
    Technically, you should not be putting “hard” water through these
    systems because it could void the warranty.
    What are the downsides ?
    You do have to wait a little for hot water sometimes, if you need to
    have hot water. I have been told that unless you have really, really
    hot water this isn’t much sterile value in washing with warm water. So,
    I tend not to use the hot water for hand washing.
    Side Note: We used PEX tubing instead of copper. We ran them through
    the attic as opposed to underneath the house… Not sure if I would do
    this again because of the potential for large fluctuations in the water
    temperature. On hot days the cold water can be hot; on cold days the
    cold water can be really cold. This only lasts until you have run that
    hot/cold water out of the plumbing …

  7. A reader

    Regarding your article on the ‘green house’. Mention is made of an ‘energy-efficient–on-demand-water heater.’ As a gas company serviceman in the 50’s and 60’s, I recall servicing what we referred to as an instantaneous water heater. This was basically a tight coil of copper tubing with an extremely high BTU burner under it. When a faucet was turned on water flowed through the tubing and gas flames played over the coil instantly heating the water. The water temperature was determined by the speed of the water flowing through the coils. To be as efficient as possible, the device had to be close to the point of use–such as the shower or kitchen sink–and long runs of pipe had to be avoided. It was nowhere near as efficient as a well insulated storage tank and was a fearsome and unsightly piece of equipment. When water was turned on and the burner ignited it sounded like a jet burner taking off. Does the on-demand heater operate on the same principle? What is its BTU input and efficiency rating? Can it be installed in a remote area such as a garage or must it be located close to its point of use? Can one device service several remote locations? How is it tied in with the solar heater also mentioned in the article?

  8. A reader

    My wife and I have just started a project and are incorporating many
    of the things your subjects did in this article. However, I am not
    having any luck in finding good LED lighting for under cabinets or in
    closets. Where did they go for these products?