Green Building Explained

What is Green Building

According to the World Green Building Council, a green building is one that, “in its design, construction, or operation, minimizes or eliminates negative impacts and creates positive impacts on our climate and natural environment.” Green buildings preserve natural resources and improve our quality of life.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) provides a framework for efficient, healthy, and cost-effective green building. Spearheaded by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is the most widely recognized green building rating system in the world, LEED certified buildings are a symbol of the highest level of sustainability.

Any building can be green: a shopping center, an office complex, a school, hospital, library, and a residence, provided they include and meet specific requirements and features such as:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources
  • Renewable energy (i.e. solar)
  • Reduction of pollution and waste along with recycling and re-use
  • Use of non-toxic, sustainable, and ethical materials
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Consideration of the environment and the inhabitants in design, demolition, construction, and operation

Harrell Designer and Code Specialist, Rafael Gomez, explains that after World War II, housing was built very rapidly to meet demand. “These post-war homes were not necessarily healthy or durable. They used materials that not only stripped our planet’s natural resources but also could unknowingly expose residents to lead paint and other toxic chemicals. With the increased global awareness of the importance of environmentally sustainable practices, green building has emerged as an all-encompassing process with the mission of creating long-lasting structures that take the health of the Earth and humans into account.”

When building a home, or remodeling in California, there are green building guidelines that must be followed, as California has its own green building standards, called CALGreen. The first state-mandated green building code in the nation, CALGreen measures are applied to planning, design, operation, construction, use, and occupancy of all new construction as well as remodels and additions.

CALGreen addresses five areas of construction and remodeling:

  • Planning and design
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water efficiency and conservation
  • Material conservation and resource efficiency
  • Environmental quality

Every city must comply with CALGreen code standards and can also choose to enforce a higher level of green building requirements. “Palo Alto has been pioneering the green building movement in Silicon Valley for years,” says Rafael. These enhanced local city ordinances create “reach code” standards that go above and beyond those required by the state.

To encourage homeowners to upgrade to more energy efficient appliances or materials, many cities offer rebate incentive programs for installation of green alternatives such as solar panels, electric water heaters, and electric vehicle charging stations.

Palo Alto is spearheading California’s mission to have zero emission buildings by the year 2045. Many other cities and states are taking the same initiative, joining efforts with contractors and developers to make remarkable progress toward this mission of a carbon neutral future. Energy efficiency in new construction is exceeding the 2020 target of 33 percent.

“At Harrell Remodeling, we integrate the mandatory green building measures into each stage of a project,” states Rafael. “Depending upon the size and scope of the construction, there are also prescriptive measures we must take into account, such as roofing, insulation, and windows.”

Recycling construction material plays a significant part in green building. “Harrell Remodeling pays close attention to the recycling rules for all our projects,” Rafael explains. “It is our responsibility to meet the recycling requirements, and to salvage and repurpose materials for a second life.”

Rafael shares that some homeowners want to go even farther with making their residence environmentally friendly. Studies show that one in three Millennials want a home that is sustainable and eco-friendly. “Whether our clients simply want to meet the minimum green building standards, or want to make their homes as environmentally friendly as possible, Harrell Remodeling is here to help facilitate that.”

Myths about Green Building

There are a lot of misunderstandings and falsehoods surrounding green building. Below are just a few of the misconceptions and explanations dispelling those myths.

Green building is more expensive

According to Gina Rodda, principal owner of Gabel Energy, the upfront cost of an eco-friendly building is indeed more expensive but after year ten, the return on investment kicks in. The energy efficiency of a sustainable home results in considerable savings over time. And, because of the use of non-toxic materials and enhanced indoor air quality, the occupants enjoy better health and reduced medical costs.

Green building is not as efficient as traditional construction

Construction using green building is still a new process but when applied properly, which is where CALGreen and other code mandates come in, it can be exceptionally efficient in all phases.

Green building is just a fad

With our reliance on oil, escalating fuel costs, and the negative impacts we’ve made on our planet, we’ve reached a point where we need to pivot. And a large part of that pivot is the implementation of global green building practices. The green approach to construction is constantly evolving and requires diligence but this environmentally responsible and responsive process is here to stay. It saves resources, energy, and increases the health and wellbeing of occupants.

If a product has the Green label on it, it must be green

Unfortunately, this label isn’t an indicator of a product’s sustainability. It simply means the manufacturer complied with minimal criteria. Often, these are also less expensive options that lure consumers with the label and a lower price. To determine if a product is truly eco-friendly, ask a professional for advice.

If you are considering a remodel, addition, or construction of an ADU on your Silicon Valley or mid-Peninsula property, green building practices will come into play. Having been in the Design + Build industry since 1985, Harrell Remodeling understands the process and importance of these sustainable practices. We invite you to reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our award-winning designers to discover how we can make your home healthy and beautifully sustainable.

A Guide to Building and Caring for a Raised Bed Home Garden

Residential vegetable gardens have a deeply rooted past in the United States, a reflection of lifestyle – be it necessity or leisure – of those who cultivate them. The Shelter in Place has rekindled interest in the home garden as many people either have the time to spend tending to a garden, are seeking out projects they can do as a family, or prefer to have their favorite vegetables close at hand to minimize trips to the market.

With this in mind, Harrell’s Remodeling’s certified landscape designer Lisa Parramore, APLD (Association of Professional Landscape Designers), with the help of Production Team Manager, Gary Gray, decided to put together all of the ingredients needed to build and care for a raised garden bed.

“There is a simple practicality of having fresh herbs or produce at hand,” says Lisa, who is planting more tomatoes and other vegetables than usual since Shelter in Place took effect. “It can be so rewarding, especially when you see tiny seedlings sprout. But it is also important to be patient as you learn what will flourish best in your environment.”

Before embarking on your planting project, there are some thing to consider:

  • Climate and environment: Depending on where you live in the Bay Area, the climate and local wildlife can vary. Both play a part in the types of vegetables, flowers, or herbs you choose, and you may need to create a barrier between your plants and hungry deer, raccoons, or squirrels. Sunset Magazine’s timeless series of gardening books has helpful climate zone information and your local gardening specialist may also be a good resource.
  • Sunlight: Is your yard shaded or does it receive significant direct sunlight? Again, the amount of light will help determine which plants will thrive.
  • Irrigation: Be sure to have a water source nearby. If you want to get really serious, you can install drip irrigation on a timer.
  • Care: Any garden or plant is going to need a certain amount of care and attention – some more than others. In choosing you gardening strategy it will be wise to consider how much time you have to devote to daily watering and weekly or biweekly maintenance. But that’s all part of the fun and reward of gardening!

What to Plant

A garden can be filled with whatever the creator desires – vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even some fruits lend themselves to small garden spaces. Plant what you and your family will enjoy the most. A “salad garden,” “salsa garden,” or “kitchen herb garden” are fun, themed ways to focus your planting.

One of the best ways to choose what to plant is to read the back of the seed packets. Filled with specifics about watering, lighting, seasons, spacing, and more, seed packets are the gardener’s “go to” guide for information.

Your local nursery or garden supply store should also have seedlings or starters for many plants, which is an indicator that they are in season and are able to be planted now. Local home and garden specialists will also be a great source of information for home garden beginners. They are usually happy to share their knowledge about the local climate, planting options, potential pests, irrigation, and many other gardening tips.

Choose Your Planting Container

In this article, we will provide detailed instructions for building a raised garden bed, but there are many options for home gardens. For those with large yards, you can designate a space for in-ground planting if you choose. Those with smaller outdoor spaces can use other types of containers or pots, placing them in areas that allow the proper light. If you like the raised bed idea, there are pre-made beds you can purchase, or kits that have everything you need to assemble your own. Galvanized metal tubs or troughs also work well (just make sure there are holes for drainage).

Gather Your Tools

This list includes tools needed to construct a raised bed along with other gardening tools.

  • Drill with 1/8” drill bit and Phillips #2 Screw Tip
  • 3.5-inch wood screws (exterior grade)
  • Measuring tape or ruler
  • Pencil
  • Gardening gloves
  • Trowel

Materials You’ll Need

  • Untreated wood (Redwood preferred; Douglas Fir 2nd choice; do not use Pressure Treated due to chemicals).
    • Provide quantity and measurements and have the store cut the wood for you
      • Three 2” x 10” x 8’-0” boards; cut one board in half netting two 4’-0” pieces.
    • If you have the tools and really want the DIY experience, purchase full length lumber (Alternatively, contact Harrell Remodeling’s HarrellCARE Small Projects group to build it for you).
  • Weed blocking material
    • Mesh hardware cloth, landscaping fabric or newspaper/cardboard
  • Soil, compost and potting soil
    • Use a 60/30/10 ratio
    • See “recipe” below for quantity required
  • Mulch (optional). Mulch can help with water retention and weed blocking
  • Seeds or plant starters
  • Supports for plants as they grow
    • Tomato cages, plant stakes, bean trellises
  • Plant labels-popsicle sticks work great
  • Pesticides, preferably eco-friendly, specifically for vegetables
    • Based on the pests found in your area, purchase a suitable vegetable pesticide
    • There are many organic and eco-friendly ways to defend against pests
    • Seek the advice of your gardening specialist

If you don’t have a large vehicle or prefer not to go inside your local gardening or hardware store, purchase online for pick-up or delivery.

Building Your Raised Bed

Gather all of your tools and materials. If possible, you will want to build the bed in or near its final location. Since this picture frame-like bed will sit directly on top of the ground, assembly is straightforward. If you have the space, you can construct multiple beds and place them side by side, in a variety of configurations or locations throughout your yard.

  1. Place one of the four-foot sections and one of the eight-foot sections together in an L-shape with the longer board overlapping the side of the shorter board.
  2. From the 8’-0” side, secure with four 3.5” screws allowing an inch space at the top and bottom.
  3. Secure each side with screws.

Preparing Your Bed for Planting

Once your bed is constructed and set in place, the fun really begins!

The soil recipe for a 4’-0” X 8’-0” X 10” raised bed includes:

  • 16 cubic feet (20 one-quart bags) of topsoil
  • 8 cubic feet (20 one-quart bags) of compost
  • 2.5 cubic feet of potting mix
  • 2.5 cups of organic fertilizer
  1. Place weed blocker mesh, material, cardboard, or newspaper covering the entire area of exposed earth inside the bed. You may wish to have the material go under the edges of the bed to help keep it in place.
  2. Add soil directly into the bed and mix with trowel or shovel.
  3. Based on spacing instructions, plant seeds and/or starter plants. Melons and squash need considerably more space than other fruits, herbs, and vegetables, and tend to spread out on the ground.
  4. Water using a hose attachment that allows for a gentle shower to avoid disrupting seeds. Keep the top six inches of soil moist until seedlings sprout.

SALAD GARDEN, SALSA GARDEN, HERB GARDEN LAYOUTS

Salsa Garden

Salad Garden

Herb Garden

Tending Your Home Garden

Watering: Once plants are established, encourage deep rooting by keeping top six inches of soil moist. Water when the top three to four inches of soil are dry to the touch.

Mulch: To maintain moisture and minimize weeds, add a two to three-inch layer of organic mulch around plants and seedlings once they appear. Pine needles, leaves, untreated grass clippings, and straw (not hay) can also be used.

Weeding: As soon as weeds appear, remove them. Don’t let them go to seed as they can then overtake your raised bed quickly.

Spacing: As seeds sprout, especially carrots, radishes, beets, and onions, eliminate overcrowding by removing seedlings in groups. This space encourages the remaining plants to mature.

Fertilize: Depending upon what you’ve planted, you may need to add additional fertilizer. It is best to refer to the seed packets or consult your garden specialist for advice.

Harvest: Each vegetable, fruit, or herb will mature at different rates. It is best to harvest when young and tender for maximum flavor. Avoid letting seeds mature in cucumbers, beans, or squash as this deters the plant from producing additional fruit. When harvesting leafy crops, leave two inches above ground to encourage regrowth. Pull all root plants as soon as they are large enough to eat.

“A home garden serves so many purposes and can fit many different environments, lifestyles, and spaces,” Lisa shares. “Not only does it provide fresh, delicious produce, gardening is a creative and nurturing activity that, especially in the Bay Area, can continue almost year-round.”

We would love to see and hear about your experiences from your home garden project! Share photos of your garden, raised bed, and your bountiful harvest on the Harrell Remodeling Facebook page and we will include them in an upcoming edition of our monthly newsletter.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Remodeling Inc. Design + Build has been creating distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and mid-Peninsula since 1985. We invite you to attend one of our virtual workshops or schedule an appointment with one of our award-winning designers to discover how we can redesign your home inside and out.

A Look at the Hottest Residential Solar Energy Options

There are several different alternatives available for homeowners hoping to become more energy efficient. Solar energy, in particular, can be an excellent choice for Bay Area homeowners, with options ranging from passive solar design to solar water heaters to photovoltaic panels. Here’s a look at some of the options that can be incorporated into your custom remodeling project.

Passive Solar Heating

One way to make your home more energy efficient is through passive solar heating and cooling techniques. Passive solar building design relies on the collection, storage and distribution of solar energy through the optimal placement and design of interior and exterior walls, windows and floors. For example, one can use reflective coatings on exterior walls and roofing. Overhangs, insulation and careful landscaping can all lower energy use. Deliberate placement of windows and effective ventilation are also important elements. For a whole-home remodeling approach centered around passive solar energy, it’s critical to make changes to the areas in your home that use or lose the most energy. Passive solar heating and cooling requires little maintenance and no mechanical system installation, but it’s important to plan early in your design and build process for best results.

Photovoltaic Systems

A photovoltaic solar system involves the installation of solar panels. They can be integrated into your building materials and roof shingles, or installed on top of the roof for a more traditional solar look. Some solar-powered items for your home remodel include a water heater, pool heater and flooring. The home can be partially or entirely powered with solar energy. If you choose to do a whole-home conversion, you can stay connected to the utility grid or go “off the grid” and provide your own collection, regulation, conversion and distribution. There are various federal and state incentives, rebates and tax credits available for different systems.

Outdoor Landscaping

If you’re looking for a smaller-scale use of solar power, try solar lighting outdoors for your garden, patio, front walk or pool area. This makes your outdoor living spaces safer and more inviting for parties and barbecues, as well as just spending time outdoors in solitude. Put solar lights in areas that receive a considerable amount of sunshine to maximize the strength of your lights. LED lighting is the most efficient form of outdoor lighting as compared to fluorescent and halogen lights. Some solar landscape lighting systems require battery replacement about every two years.

To learn more about the different methods and degrees of going solar, talk to our Harrell Remodeling Design + Build team. We can help you decide which option will work best for your Bay Area home.

Prioritizing Energy Upgrades

When people who own older homes think about green remodeling and reducing their energy bill, quite often the first thing they think of is adding solar panels (aka PhotoVoltaics or PV).  This isn’t a bad thing, because how could generating clean power from the sun be a bad thing?  However, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to making cost-effective energy upgrades and taking the time to dig a little deeper into the particulars of a given home may reveal that solar panels should actually be installed further down the line.

The new mantra in energy upgrading is “reduce before you produce”, because the most cost effective energy dollar is the one you don’t have to spend.  In most homes, particularly those built in the 70’s or before, there are numerous opportunities to reduce energy losses, instead of generating unnecessary power to compensate for them.

Depending on where the home is located and the climate involved, to save money, one course of action might be to get a home energy audit.  In many communities, these detailed performance tests and the recommendations for improvements that come from them are often subsidized by local and state governments and utilities, which further reduces the overall cost of upgrading.

One study in one area suggested the following priority for the particular home involved:

  1. Windows
  2. Wall insulation
  3. HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning)
  4. Roof insulation
  5. Solar

The recommended improvements for the house next door could be completely different, depending on improvements or remodeling that may have already occurred.

So if you want to make the most of your energy upgrade dollars, consider hiring a professional firm who can guide you through the process, looking for ways to “reduce, before you produce!”