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  • Writer's pictureMeeta Morrison

The Sustainable Remodel

An Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) Remodel featured on the 2019 Cool House Tour.

Future Landscape Diagram

The Story:

In 2016 I was starting my architectural practice and my own home was  being featured on the Cool House Tour as a 5 star house. As a remodel of an original 1980’s home this 5 Star energy rating had been a difficult feat to achieve and I was very excited to talk about it to anyone and everyone who walked through the door that Sunday.

This is how I met Marc and Christeen.

They looked at the house and asked very thoughtful and detailed questions. They were impressed with the commitment to the idea of the sustainable remodel but they were also excited with the possibility of changing a once dark and dated house into a light filled modern home with spaces that function for the way we live in the 21st century. 

On our first meeting at their house I could see why they had fallen in love with the neighborhood and the low slung lines of the 1962 ranch style house that occupied a corner lot. Red bricks, dutch gables and long rectangular windows added to the mid century look, but inside, the house lost a bit of it’s charm. Dark, dated, choppy and poorly laid out spaces had little appeal. Talking with Marc and Christeen it became clear that the house would be a complete gut and remodel.

There were many issues that went beyond cosmetic and extended into the realm of code, safety and welfare. The existing windows did not meet energy efficiency standards and in the bedrooms they would not provide adequate egress in an emergency. The preponderance of walls, wood paneling and a low cover over a concrete patio ensured that little light made it into the kitchen and den. Lack of insulation in West facing walls completed the general discomfort of the spaces. Black mastic on the floors was a big clue of things to come as testing revealed that they did indeed have asbestos on the floor and possibly also in the walls and ceiling. 

This was all happening simultaneously with budgeting and design issues. The first design focused on keeping the existing footprint and did not move structure, plumbing or fixtures from their original location in hopes of staying within the budget. It became somewhat clear in the ensuing conversations that we would need to consider increasing the budget.

It is better to draw it on paper and take the time to get a good design and a realistic budget than to start the project and be delayed by poor planning.  

With all of those factors in mind plus the fact that Marc and Christeen would have to address the asbestos, I started to draw a new design that opened up the spaces, moved plumbing and structure, vaulted the ceiling, enlarged the small windows and sliding glass door, AND incorporated a garage closet into the conditioned space. I convinced the clients that the added 65 square feet would make an enormous difference in the living space and kitchen. 

Now we needed to know what it would cost! Three estimates gave us a high, low and middle bid. Lots of analysis of the bids, listening to references and trusting in instincts we landed on the middle. The clients also elected to do some of the work themselves and were very savvy about making selections and finding discounts and deals.  

It’s all about the team. The groundwork, which included attention to detail in the drawings, detailed specifications, an attentive and talented contractor and clients who were committed to making the project a reality allowed the construction project to be substantially completed in 6 months.

The Austin Energy Green Building Program and others like it are an opportunity to educate ourselves in how we can reduce consumption in the building and occupation of our spaces.

We worked with Austin Energy Green Building with the aim of achieving a 4 star rating. However as the project evolved we found that budgetary constraints limited some of the planned strategies and at times I wondered if it was actually worth the effort to continue down the green path. Ultimately I absolutely believe it was worth following as many of the guidelines as we could. The fact that the house is a remodel, the fact that we recycled as much of the waste as possible, the fact that the clients were committed to preserving existing landscaping and reducing energy and water consumption, are all worthy goals in themselves.

It was a great commitment for Marc and Christeen to stick to a sustainable remodel of their own home and I am really thankful that we were able to achieve it.

The Austin Energy Green Building Requirements:

The baseline requirements are in seven standard categories as follows gain approval for the program:

  1. Codes and Testing

  2. HVAC Efficiency and Design

  3. Insulation Installation

  4. Skylights

  5. Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

  6. Electrical

  7. Landscaping

The categories in which we earned points were:

Education: for the clients as well as the design team and a commitment to educating future owners of the house and anyone else who comes in contact with the project. (13 Points)

Site: An understanding of the site at the level of the house and yard and lot, which includes preserving and maintaining the existing landscaping, planning for landscaping that uses Waterwise plantings, installing rain gutters to divert water away from the house, collection of water for irrigation, and the creation outdoor living spaces. In the larger context the understanding that the value of an existing house in an established neighborhood is greater than building a new house in a previously undeveloped area is key to site design. (11 Points)

Energy: Implementing energy efficient HVAC systems in coordination with natural ventilation, lighting, use of daylighting, and providing adequate insulation to reduce the energy use of the house are all important considerations. (10 Points)

Water: Design of bathrooms and kitchen to include water saving fixtures is also essential. (6 Points)

Materials and Resources: Use and reuse of durable and locally sourced. (18 Points)

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ): Using finishes that are 0 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), and providing adequate fresh air and ventilation. (18 Points)

Innovations: The house also received points for recycling everything that could possibly be recycled including the aluminium siding. (1 Point)

The house overall achieved a 2 Star Rating from the AEGB and gained 74 points total, which is just shy of a 4 Star Rating:

The Austin Energy Green Building standards are important to consider regardless of the type of project being done and are a starting point which can be considered when doing any type of building, whether it be a remodel or a new build. Sustainability in design is key to creating better buildings for the communities and cities of the future.

A Look at Construction Drawings:

Design Meeta Morrison Designs LLC Builder   John Davis of Timeless Construction Services Inc.

Structural Engineer Brad Farris, P.E.  Arch Consulting Engineers, PLLC  HVAC All Year Heating & Cooling

Windows Milgard SoCo Windows Cabinets KentMoore Cabinets Staging Stephanie Bohn Philpott

Asbestos Abatement - AAR Inc.

Electrical - Falcon Elite Electric

Framing Labor - Innovative Home Services

Framing Materials, New Doors, and Trim Materials - BMC West LLC

Drywall - Renegade Drywall and Supply Inc.

Insulation and Fireplace - Austin Contractor Services

Plaster Finish Fireplace - Sloan Montgomery

Roofing - Callaway Roofing

Tile Floors and Walls - Floor King

Countertops - Precision Granite and Stone

Shower Doors and Mirrors - Anchor Ventana

Plumbing - CHB Plumbing

Window and Door Flashings - C&C Sheet Metals

TV & Phone Prewire - Granite Security Systems

Wood Floors - Total Pro Flooring, LLC

Terrazzo Honing and Refinishing - Gold Standard Floor Care

Shades - Hunter Douglas Deco Window Fashions

Special Shout out to:

Matthew Helveston of Wood Shed for custom dining table, bench/coffee table and lamp.

Virginia Fleck Artist and creator of the Can tab art piece in the Living room


Project Highlight Here: Richcreek Road


Cool House Tour 2019

Austin Energy Green Building

Texas Solar Energy Society

Timeless Construction Services Inc.

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