10 Biggest Mistakes Green Home Remodelers Make

10 Biggest Mistakes Green Home Remodelers Make

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Mistake 1: Tackling the fun interior upgrades first – such as kitchens, and appliances – and then running out of money

Upgrading the home’s envelope (house wrap and roof) to be watertight and insulated should be your first priority; energy-saving upgrades such as windows, furnace, and solar water heaters should follow.

Before you start, make a list if the projects you want to accomplish. Next, prioritize the projects based on importance and the practical perspective suggested above. Sometimes it’s tough to fight the temptation to replace ugly kitchen countertops or battered appliances up-front, but doing the critical upgrades first can save big bucks when winter winds blow and the rains descend.

Mistake 2: Upgrading a home before making sure the neighborhood will support the green upgrades and improvements

When shopping for a home to upgrade, look carefully at the area first. You may feel you’ll live in the house forever, but the job and life changes make Americans a mobile society. The national average of how long homeowners stay in a home is between six and seven years. If you have a 2,600 square foot home and need 3,600 square feet, it may better to sell and buy in a neighborhood of similar-size homes before adding on to your home. In some cases, homebuyers who remodel their homes find they can’t sell because they’ve over-improved for the area. Few buyers are likely to pay an extra $20,000 to $40,000 above neighborhood market values, even for an energy efficient house.

Before planning your remodeling project, have a realtor print out a list of how much homes have sold for in your area. Note what the remodeled homes have sold for compared with the ones that haven’t been updated. That will give you an idea of expected return on investment in case you want to sell.

Mistake 3: Neglecting to take proactive steps to prevent mold and wood rot in the basement

Installing a vapor barrier on inside basement walls allows water vapor to condense between the wall and plastic barrier. It’s better to install a layer of extruded polystyrene foam (XPS) insulation on the inside wall then furring strips or framing followed by drywall. Waterproofing coatings you can apply to concrete and cinderblock walls also help stop water from infiltrating. However, if the problem is condensation, you may have to install a humidifier or ductwork from the furnace to heat the space.

In case the water comes from a high water table or seasonal water infiltration, you may want to invest in a sump pump.  This is a small pump installed in the bottom of a small well in the basement floor. When water enters the well, the pump kicks in and pumps the water into the drain. If you have this type of water problem, consult with a plumbing contractor to see how big a unit you need and where it should be installed.

Mistake 4: Allowing moisture into crawlspaces that causes wood rot and mold

Many home have vents that allow warmer humid air to enter cooler crawlspaces, where it condenses, rotting wood and encouraging mold. Treat the space like a full basement; heat it in the winter and cool it in the summer by installing an air supply duct. This should keep the space at a constant temperature and control humidity. Like keeping basements dry, it’s just as important to keep crawlspaces dry to prevent having to do costly repairs later on.

Mistake 5: Using the space between studs or joists for heating or cooling ductwork

When you shortcut and try to save money by using the space between the studs or joists for heating or cooling ductwork, you’re asking for trouble. Humid, contaminated air sucked into these spaces can create a mold friendly environment. Using these spaces also allows contaminated air from garages that may contain carbon monoxide to enter the living space. If mold from humid air gets into these spaces, demo costs to get to the problem and clean it up can add up to big bucks.

Mistake 6: Neglecting to vent an air – and watertight house

New and energy efficient remodeled homes have air and water proof house wraps that are installed before the siding goes on. Essentially, you’re living in  a plastic bag, and if you don’t vent the home, it’s likely to result in a buildup of indoor pollution. New and remodeled energy efficient homes need air intake and exhaust vents with heat exchanges to prevent indoor air pollution and energy loss.

Equally importantly, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and range hoods should have their own separate fans that vent to the outside. Avoid venting to the garage, attic, basement, or crawlspace, which in many areas is a violation of building codes.

Mistake 7: Failing to ensure that gutters and downspouts are in good condition and that water is routed away from the house’s foundation

Water seeping into a crawlspace or basement is an invitation for mold and rot to move in; and they are tenants you don’t want. It pays to make sure that your gutters and downspouts are in good working order and aren’t channeling water into a window well or close to the foundation. It is also important to correct any landscaping that doesn’t route water away from your home’s foundation.  You may want to walk around the home in a heavy rainstorm and see how well your gutter system is handling the water flow. While you’re outside in the rain, check runoff from your landscaping to make sure it’s flowing away from the house.

Mistake 8: Using space heaters, gas, fireplaces, and candles without proper ventilation

Any appliance that burns with a flame adds carbon monoxide and other pollutants to your indoor air. Gas and kerosene space heaters and unvented fireplaces are especially bad sources of indoor air pollution. An alternative to burning scented candles is to use a small electric appliance that heats the wax and releases the scent without a flame. Yes, it’s unromantic, but then asthma and allergies are more unromantic – and expensive.

Mistake 9: Neglecting to follow through on verifying licensing, insurance coverage, and checking to see whether there are any unresolved complaints when hiring a contractor

All too often, news reports carry stories of homeowners getting scammed by people posing as contractors and unscrupulous tradespeople. This happens because people don’t take a few easy precautions, such as:

-Asking for referrals that you can contact to check out previous work before you commit

-Avoiding “good deals” when contractors knock on your door saying they have a job nearby and will give you a super deal. Good contractors never go door-to-door looking for business; they are so busy that often you practically have to beg them to consider your project.

-Asking to see copies of contractors’ licenses and insurance coverage policies

-And most importantly, never paying up for the job up front. At most, you should pay 25 percent to get started, with the balance due on completion of small jobs. If you’re told contractors don’t have the credit to get materials for the job and that they need the whole amount up front, it’s likely a scam.

Mistake 10: Failing to look at the house as a holistic system

If you change one component, it changes all the others. For example, if you incorporate passive solar heat and upgrade insulation, you can downsize furnace and air conditioner sizes.

Likewise, wrapping, insulating, and sealing air leaks will change the way air is replaced in the home. Often a ventilation system is needed, and you may have to install a new heating system and AC to accommodate ductwork that vents the whole house. Because of the interconnectedness of green building techniques, it’s often advisable to use a professional to help you develop a holistic plan.

Keith Jenkins has been in the real estate business since 1992 and is actively involved in promoting green living lifestyles through Glen Cove Real Estate in New York City.