Sunday, December 28, 2008

Now, to a "greener" closet by Eco-Nize

The next step, after remodeling the bathroom, is re-organizing the walk-in closet in our bedroom. We were able to recover some extra space in the closet by removing the HVAC flue chase. The flue was no longer in use, since our 2007 installation of a high-efficiency hydronic furnace system vented out the side of the house. The bathroom remodeling included removing the chase to create a rectangular closet, moving the closet door to center it, and wiring the light to a switch outside the door. Now it's time to add shelving, etc. We have contracted with Noel Sweeney of Eco-Nize,, a green closet systems installer. Noel is able to offer a high-quality product at a wonderful price in comparison to the standard closet installers. The materials are "EPP certified 100% recycled or recovered wood or wood fiber." The company business practices are tuned to energy efficiency and recycling, with the company a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Noel measured our space, listened carefully to our needs and budget concerns, then send us several great designs. He worked with us to choose an optimal layout. The designs were sent by email, with great graphics detailing what we should expect. We hope to have the systems installed in the next couple of weeks and I will write about it when it's done, along with posting photos.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Before & After- "Green" bathroom remodeling

The first three photos show the tiny bathroom before construction began. The house was built in 1962 and the bathroom was leaking from every possible pipe. The 24" door blocked a small closet that took up room to the right of the sink cabinet. The closet was mostly obscured by an old accordian door. We believed that the space to the right of the sink cabinet, hidden by a wall, was an empty chase formerly used for the old furnace chimney flue. When the furnace was replaced last year with an ultra-high efficiency hydronic system (see previous posts) that vented to the side of the house, the old flue, which went through the room, was abandoned. We intended to pick up this space for use in the remodeled bathroom. As it happened, there was a return duct in the space, which had to be re-routed. Delayed progress, but was workable. When demolishing this bathroom, the contractors carefully removed anything we could reasonably donate as usable building materials or recycle. The vanity cabinet was donated to Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the sink & faucet and toilet went to the usable building materials section of the county recycling center, the medicine cabinet (minus the mirrored doors, which we are using elsewhere) was recycled, and excess aluminum from the re-routing of the ductwork was recycled.
The view from the pocket door to the shower. All of the tile is of recycled material. The red tile is from Sandhill Industries, Inc. and is made in the USA of 100% recycled glass. The shower walls (Terra Classic) and bathroom floor (Terra Traffic) tiles are from Terra Green Ceramics. From a supplier's website, "The body of the tile contains over 55 percent waste glass from windows, mirrors, and post-consumer glass like bottles and jars. The rest of the tile is made of nonmetallic minerals such as special clays, feldspar, sand, and silica." The shower floor is by Oceanside, a recycled glass mosaic blend called Disco Inferno. The manufacturer is in Mexico, a negative to the product, and the manufacturing process is not as energy-conscious as with Sandhill Industries or Terra Green Ceramics. All of the companies' tiles are handmade.
The toilet is a Toto dual flush, which, incidentally, performs like magic- a very efficient flush.
We purchased some of the items online, but much of the tile and the toilet were ordered through Amicus Green Building Center, a complete "green" supply company located on Howard Avenue in Kensington. The owner and staff are very knowledgable and prices are quite competitive.
This is the Oceanside tile.
The granite pieces used in this bathroom were scraps from a kitchen remodeler who polished these pieces for us instead of discarding them.
The 12" sun tube illuminates the room completely in the daytime, even though it was installed on a north-facing roof and it is winter. We anticipate that the summer light will be even brighter. This photo was taken without flash. The sun tube is Energy Star rated.
The light in the shower is part of an Energy Star exhaust fan using CFL lighting. Reflecting in the glass doors (standard construction, not "green") are two LED recessed light fixtures. They are 12 watts each, are dimmable (we installed a dimmer) and are expected to last 50,000 hours.
The other end of the small bathroom (only 48" wide) has the two vanities. The vanities and medicine cabinets are made of old rubber trees, but the sink bowls and faucets are standard. The counter bridging the cabinets is recycled plastic from 3-Form, Inc. The material comes in 4' x 8' sheets and is easily cut, but I found a scrap in their online "reclaim" page. It comes in a huge variety of thicknesses, textures, and colors. Amicus Green Building Center has a complete selection of samples and can order the material.
The pendant light between the mirrors (shown without the translucent white cylindrical globe, still on order) is a CFL fixture.
All in all, this was a really interesting project to see to completion. We are enjoying the new bathroom immensely. Our contractor was excellent. During the process of the job, he insulated wherever possible (and useful), and installed cellulose insulation in the attic to an R-38 rating.

Monday, December 22, 2008

State of the real estate market in North Bethesda

As in other areas of the country, prices are declining in our DC Metro area. Fall and early winter are often "slow" seasons for real estate sales, as people are focusing on getting children in school and gathering for the holidays. However, there are still buyers looking for good properties, and the buyers who are looking during this season are serious about purchasing. Many potential sellers are waiting for the "spring" market to list their homes, so the available housing inventory is now lower than it had been for the past two years. The combination of reduced attractive inventory and fewer, but more serious, buyers means that sales continue, with reduced volume of transactions. Here in North Bethesda, we have a variety of housing types, and the detached single family homes and newer townhouses have the advantage over the condominiums in this market. For the month of November, 2008, there were 51 single family and townhouse listings in the 20852 zipcode, with 101 condominium listings. Fourteen houses and ten condos went under contract in the same month. This gives an absorption rate of 27.5% for houses and 10% for condominiums. The absorption rate defines how much of the available inventory is removed (sold) in that time period. An absorption rate of about 30% is a reasonably balanced market between buyers and sellers, so the 27.5% rate for houses shows more strength in the market than we had previously. It is neither a sellers' nor a strong buyers' market for houses that are well kept and properly priced. Properly priced, for our area, means that the housing prices are roughly what they were in early 2005. The condo market, on the other hand, with a 10% absorption rate, is a strong buyers' market, so that, if the inventory is not reduced, prices will have to drop to create an environment in which buyers will be confident in making the commitment to buy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I have been certified by the Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals

As an adjunct to my other professional designations and specialties, I have completed the certification process for the green Realtor designation. The education requirements include coursework on air quality, hazardous materials, environmental issues, energy-saving products and building techniques, passive and active solar systems, building orientation issues, insulation, window design and materials, energy ratings for new construction, energy audits for existing residences, special financing for energy-efficient residential property, and other relevant topics. It is my goal to be able to serve my clients in the most complete manner possible, and I look forward to working with some of the excellent business partners in the field. Call or email me (or comment to this blog!) if you have are interested in referrals to green contractors, suppliers, products, energy auditors, air quality and environmental evaluators, etc.