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Tips on making green renovations to your home or business

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In the past, being green was considered an alternative lifestyle. Today, everyone is doing it. People are interested in how they can be even greener in an attempt to better their lives and the overall health of the planet. Sole proprietors, partnerships and large companies within all industries have responded as well, and are developing green products and services to help meet these new goals to be environmentally friendly.

As the economy begins to turn around and the repairs or renovations you were planning for your home or office are now ready to become reality, you may want to consider the plethora of green design and construction options that are available. Whether you are renovating a bathroom, re-roofing your home, building an addition or seeking a location for your business consider some of these helpful tips and referrals to find the right green products and services:

* Consider the plumbing when remodeling your kitchen and bathrooms. Replace lead pipes and insulate them. Install low-flow faucets. Look into using solar energy. Consulting with a knowledgeable vendor is probably the best bet. The American Institute of Architects San Diego Chapter (AIASD) has a great tool on its website to help you find the right people. Visit aiasandiego.org and enter “photovoltaic” in the search by keyword field.

* Utilize passive solar building design techniques, which maximize the amount of sunlight and distribute solar energy. Not only is this an eco-friendly design, but natural sunlight has been proven to increase well being and physical health. You may consider hiring an architect for this project. Look to the AIA San Diego member search tool at aiasandiego.org to help you locate the right designer for your needs.

* Use recycled content for floors. Nearly all flooring retailers now have products that contain recycled content. If you are doing the renovations yourself, find out what the flooring you are considering is made of before purchasing it. If you have the budget, natural stone is the most sustainable choice. Arizona Tile, a local allied AIASD member, is one of many suppliers of beautiful natural stone.

* Choose safe, nontoxic paints and varnishes that don’t contain volatile organic compounds. VOCs have been linked to nose and throat irritation, as well as kidney and liver damage, among other serious illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agency has more information on its website about VOCs at epa.gov

* Build a home office. Working smarter these days often means working from home. Not only can you lower your CO2 emissions by driving less, but you can aim for a zero-energy home, with no net energy consumption or carbon emissions. Schedule a consultation with an AIA architect for more information or visit The California Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego at energycenter.org.

* Talk with your architect about building a greener foundation if you are adding onto an existing home, or building a garage or separate studio.

* Retrofit your entire home to be energy efficient. Oftentimes, upgrading what you already have, such as appliances, is the greenest option.

* Select a site near mass transit. If you are opening a small business, chose a location that is within half a mile of mass transit. This will allow your employees the opportunity to save money, increase their health and be better citizens by taking the bus, train or trolley.

* Plant a green roof. According to Jim Mumford, Allied AIASD member and president of Good Earth Plant Co., in-fill projects will comprise future building in San Diego, due to a lack of available vacant land and the unsustainable nature of expanding the city beyond the current development. “Green roofs and living walls offer a myriad of environmental benefits beyond just an appealing aesthetic that will bring natural solutions to our buildings in the urban core,” said Mumford. “Cooling urban heat islands, reducing energy use, utilizing gray water, harvesting rain water and creating wildlife habitats are the results of planting the available surfaces on our walls and rooftops.”

Consider these green options as you begin your spring renovations, and don’t forget that you may qualify for additional tax incentives and rebates. Most utility service providers offer a rebate for installing or using an energy saving system, so check with your local provider. There are also state and federal tax incentives, which you can read more about at the IRS website or your state’s homepage.


Ennen is an Associate AIA, a graduate student at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, and an intern with the San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

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