Remodeling with sustainability in mind: adaptive reuse By Brett Marlo
Recently, my family’s living situation abruptly ended. Optimistically, I looked at it as an opportunity for change. My girls, now teenagers, were tired of living tiny (less than 200 square feet). Their latest request, “I want a door with a bedroom behind it!” Well, I suppose it seemed a reasonable enough request after living tiny for five years, their rooms “lofts.”
We looked for a property that could be easily altered to meet our goals, and we were lucky enough to find the right spot: a smallish home at 1,200 square feet, with an 800-square-foot unfinished basement. The house, built in the 1940s, was a rental for decades and desperately needed some love. At first sight, we knew we could create accessible intergenerational living on the main floor and a small rental in the basement.
As to expect in any remodel, there will be unwanted surprises that will increase the project timeline and cost more than your original budget. We did not come out unscathed even with all of our planning and experience. During deconstruction, we found out that our home did not have any drywall or insulation, the sheathing of the house was merely quarter-inch plywood, buried tanks were in our way of the new basement entry, and the attic was home to generations of decaying squirrels.
Despite all the remodeling challenges, we love our home. Sharing our experiences and employing the Rs as a framework, we hope to help guide you in achieving your dream remodel. Here are tips on how you can meet your goals and vision while weaving sustainability through your project.
Reimagine how much of the existing structure can be reused. Reorganize the layout to meet remodel goals that minimize expansion. We intentionally designed our home to be intergenerational, mixing typical bedrooms, accessible bedrooms, an accessible bathroom with typical bathrooms and adding a basement ADU (accessory dwelling unit.)
Reject buying materials that create unhealthy indoor air quality, as this will not achieve the quality of life you are investing in the remodel. We opted for healthier materials and refused to buy from sources that have questionable business practices.
Rethink traditional ways of doing things; this may be the best way to meet your goals. Design for the future. Consider aging in place or universal design, installing future blocking for handrails, conduit for future solar or designing for disassembly. By creating an exterior entrance for a studio basement rental unit, we are now able to provide an affordable rental and help reduce our out-of-pocket monthly overhead. When desired products are not available, costs are high or trends are overplayed, consider making changes. We chose yellow cedar instead of red cedar, which ultimately led to a uniquely warm exterior.
Reduce the scope of your project by designing multifunctional spaces and creating storage along circulation zones, which reduces the need for the amount of materials and labor needed; helping you stay within budget. You can also reduce creating new materials when you purchase reclaimed goods. We purchased wood doors constructed from reclaimed fir, and their look and feel was a much better outcome than we would have achieved otherwise.
Reuse or offer items to others for reuse. We were able to give another life to windows, doors, sinks, toilets, lighting and hardware by sharing them. The dirt excavated for the basement entry went to good use in a friend’s backyard. We even made new friends by offering neighbors bricks from the deconstructed chimney stack.
Repair, remake, repurpose when searching for materials; consider used or blemished items. By trimming or mending them, the end products are richer both in form and story. We collected old cedar fencing from local residents, which became the cladding for our exterior porches, fencing and shed siding.
Recycle by labeling waste bins to separate construction waste from reusable items. We employed a mixed waste construction waste dumpster and were able to recycle the bulk of our deconstruction waste.
Remember, any project is more rewarding when there’s time to be thoughtful. Take time to find inspiring designs that fit your intentions. Seek out craftspeople, both local and regional. Remember to remain flexible when challenges arise; there’s no such thing as a remodel without those, and fresh solutions often make the project even better than you first imagined!
Most importantly, remember that laughter gets you through this journey. The ups and downs will become the best parts of the story you will remember and tell. Before you know it, the project will be complete, and you will be enjoying your newly created space; proud of how you handled your journey.