Remodeling costs, on average, will run you $300 to $500 per square foot. But a green-minded architect-and-wife team in Portland, Ore., managed a total renovation of their home for just $134 per square foot, and that includes the 4.5-kilowatt solar power system and ground source heat pump.
The key? Radical recycling, and a whole lot of sweat equity.
When Corey and Deb Omey embarked on a major renovation of their 1925 North Portland home, they decided to forego the demolition dumpster and go ultra-green, utilizing recycled and reclaimed materials wherever possible. Many of these were “harvested” on site, including not just materials from the original home, but a cedar tree cut from the front yard (to clear solar access for the rooftop photovoltaic system) that ultimately wound up as cabinetry in the home’s bedroom closets.
Beyond that, the couple focused on procuring whatever they needed for the project through Portland’s burgeoning network of reclaimed/recycled materials, which includes such resources as The ReBuilding Center (a kind of Home Depot composed exclusively of recycled building materials), Building Material Recycling and Lovett Deconstruction. But the resources to do to the same, according to Corey Omey — a LEED-accredited architect with Ernest R. Munch Architects, as well as the project’s designer and construction coordinator — are available to just about anyone.
“We are fortunate that Portland has one of the best networks of rebuilding resources in the world,” Omey told us, “but resources like the Habitat for Humanity Re-Stores, Craigslist, Freecycle and ‘seconds’ from different types of manufacturers are available almost anywhere.” (“Seconds” consist of post-production rejects from local manufacturers.)
The result is a new home with a lot of history: the kitchen counters were once bowling alley lanes, the front walkway pavers were made from granite countertop remnants, and the main beam of the front porch was a “blowdown” from the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. Reused mortgage signs were used to sheath the walls, scraps of metal from a local steel yard wound up in the home’s artistic guard rails, and doors once part of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh ranch’s hotel near Antelope, Ore., were reincarnated, so to speak, in the home’s basement.
“The materials and process personalize the house,” Omey said. “There is a story behind everything we found and incorporated into the finished product.”
Another key part of the story is the amount of labor put in by the Omeys, the contractors they worked with and their friends, as the trick to using recycled materials (which cost 50-80 percent less than new materials) is that they tend to add extra labor to a renovation project in the form of sourcing, delivering and preparing materials. The Omeys worked offset these costs with “sweat equity” on their part, volunteer labor and contractors willing to work with the materials provided.
Orange, the general contractor on the project, exhibited what they Omeys termed “remarkable” flexibility in making use of the recycled, reclaimed and rejected materials they found (all told, the house was framed using only five new pieces of wood). The couple got their hands dirty throughout the project, as did their friends, most notably in a series of get-togethers that got the home’s green eco-roof filled in and planted (with a little help from the city of Portland’s EcoRoof grant program).
The home’s solar power system is expected to provide for over 90 percent of its annual energy needs and, despite an initial cost of $27,500, is slated to pay for itself more than two times over the course of its working life. The system is part of Oregon’s trial feed-in tariff program, which means that the Omeys have a 15-year contract to sell all the power they generate directly to their power company.
The home’s solar electric system also helps to power its ground source heat pump (GSHP) system and radiant floor circulation pumps, which work to keep the house warm in the winter (with a little help from a super-efficient Rais wood stove). A two-stage water-to-water heat pump system transfers the ground temperature (which remains a constant year-round temperature of approximately 58 degrees) into water that runs through pipes in the floor to heat the house. The GSHP also provides hot water to a storage tank that feeds into the home’s on-demand condensing boiler, preheating the home’s domestic hot water.
The home’s high-performance wall system — including both insulation and “outsulation” — helps to make sure the house makes good use of its resources, and custom mosaics (composed of recycled tile, of course) add artistic flair throughout the home.
The home has been featured on Planet Green’s Renovation Nation and in Oregon’s 1859 magazine.