Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Movement, Politics or Religion

I recently read a post on Douglas Garbe's blog that seems to have followed a bout of soul searching about his true reasons for being an "earth friendly green Realtor." By the time I read the post, there were already 93 responses. I would estimate that around 50% of the responses were supportive or in agreement with Douglas' reasoning and 50% were hostile towards his thinking.

Well, that got me thinking. The following is an excerpt from my comments on the post. I repeat it here in hopes of provoking more widespread consideration of the topic.

Ask yourself these questions:

By in large, we have not changed the way that we build houses since the end of WWII. What would it be like if the 600 million + automobiles that inhabit the planet today were 1945 Hudson's?

Humans have been building shelter for themselves and their loved ones since the beginning of time. To completely over-simplify the example, Eskimos built igloos and inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa built from mud and straw. Yet today we, especially in the United States, build vinyl sided boxes from Arizona to Maine. Does this make sense?

Are you comfortable knowing that your children, grandchildren, even you are probably going to sleep in a bed, surrounded by pieces of furniture, on a floor, under a roof, in a house all of which are most likely constructed of products that contain formaldehyde? Yes, that's the same stuff that the frogs you dissected in your high school biology class were floating in.

Did you know that the vinyl curtain that you just hung in your shower will weigh half as much in one year as it does today? It loses this weight through a process called off-gassing. Vinyl off-gasses toxins.

Do you have anything against saving money?

I know that these questions are vague and wide ranging. My point is simply this: You can dub the "movement" Green and call it political or pseudo-religious. You can agree or disagree with any or all of the comments on this page. Just do yourself a favor. Ask yourself some very common sense questions and become informed and educated before you form an opinion.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Death, Renovation and Taxes

In many areas of Indiana (and many other states around the country) homeowners recently experienced exponential increases in their property tax bills. Regardless of your own particular situation or politics, there are a few key pieces of advice to keep in mind in light of these recent developments when it comes to your outlook on Renovation projects.

Don’t Panic – It’s easy to say I know. Yes, there may be some real and immediate effect on property values, but look at it this way; you own a large number of shares in a stock that’s been trading at $80 more than what you paid for it 15 years ago. Suddenly, it closed out today down $50. Would you put in a sell order tonight? Your financial advisor would tell you not to. You haven’t lost anything until you sell. You could look at your property in a similar light. If there is any way that you can endure the next few months of uncertainty, hang on and wait to see what happens. If it's any consolation, Indianapolis remains atop the list of affordable housing markets and our taxes are still low relative to most other states.

Renovate for Yourself – There are two points of view to consider when you’re planning your Renovation project; Quality of Life and Resale Value. Unless they are planning on selling their home in the next two years, I typically advise clients to lean more heavily towards the “Quality of Life” side of the equation. The recent property tax issues bear this out now more than ever. If you want to remodel your kitchen or add a master suite or extra bedroom just to improve your quality of life in your existing home, then by all means, do so. I wouldn’t advise executing a design that will negatively impact your resale value or expanding to a project scope that will price you too far out of your neighborhood, but being comfortable and happy in your own home has a value all it’s own.

Renovate to Sell – If you need to sell your home soon, certain Renovation projects can give you the upper hand in a slow market. One look at the lineup on HGTV will prove my point. Yours may be one of a growing number of homes in the neighborhood that have recently sprouted a Realtor’s sign. There’s no need to worry about property taxes now, you’ve already been assessed. All you’re worried about is getting the house sold. What will distinguish your home from the others? Will an updated kitchen do the trick? Or will yours be the only one with a legitimate master suite? A well advised approach to key Renovations could help you sell faster and bring in more at closing than your neighbors.

As we enter what is likely to be a new era in the ongoing debates on taxation, property value and, in turn, the real estate market, it may be best to take a step back, be patient and examine our Renovation goals. Who are we Renovating for? And why? Despite wildly varying opinions, the property tax issue will eventually be settled and life will return to normal. Approach your Renovation project under quality guidance and you should come out ahead. It won't be the death of you.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Do I Scare You?

A movement abounds where homes and buildings are recognized, even rewarded for being energy and resource efficient; for being healthy for their inhabitants and friendly to their environment. Products are being developed to add comfort and value to your home. What's not to like?

I'm guessing that given the choice between building a home that allowed you to spend less on utility bills and maintenance and that was a healthy place for you and your family to live and a home that was built with little consideration of any of these issues, wouldn't make for a tough decision.

Let's say that you're headed out to buy a few gallons of paint to spruce up your family room. If you could buy a paint that was healthier for your family than the brand that you typically use would you buy it?

If you needed to replace your furnace and air conditioning and could receive rebates from the equipment manufacturer and your energy provider, tax rebates from the government and a lower billing rate from your energy provider, just by choosing an energy efficient model, would you take advantage?

Sure, these are pretty easy examples that only scratch the surface of what being, dare I say it, GREEN is. I've been hearing from a number of colleagues and industry experts lately that the terms Green and Sustainability may scare consumers.

Fine, let's talk about energy efficiency and life cycle costs, indoor air quality and healthy homes. However you'd like to define it and whatever you want to call it, hopefully these examples begin to illustrate the fact that it doesn't take too much thought to realize that Green isn't that scary at all. In fact, it really makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to Save 30% or None at All

The Renovation budget is tight right? How much did you add to the budget for contingencies? Oops! It goes without saying that you want to save money. Couldn’t you save 10, 20 or even 30% if you act as your own General Contractor? Maybe, but at what cost? It is possible to save money by acting as your own General Contractor, but before taking the plunge consider the potential costs, both tangible and intangible, of being the boss.

So you’ve jumped in feet first and your kitchen Renovation is under way. You just realized that your electrician forgot to add that outlet under the window seat and didn’t provide power to the range hood. Now he can’t get back to your job until next week. You’ve scheduled an inspection for tomorrow and the drywall crew for the day after tomorrow. Can you add the outlet and power the hood yourself tonight and pass your inspection tomorrow? You aren't even a licensed electrician. What about the items that the inspector flags? You’ll have to have them corrected before the dry wall goes up. Can you take care of that tomorrow night after work? Does your boss frown on finding you asleep at your desk or the fact that you are always on your cell phone coordinating inspections, subcontractors’ schedules or the purchasing and delivery of materials?

If you think you’ve got the stomach to handle real world scenarios like these then take some advice from a Pro. Melissa Iannucci is the President of North Avenue Trades, a residential design build firm focusing on building high quality homes in downtown Indianapolis . She’s been in and around the construction industry for most of her life. Here are three tips that she offers to would-be contractors:

  • “The easiest way for things to go wrong is a lack of communication. It helps to constantly be on site, overseeing things, double checking, verbally explaining and reviewing with the subs; a lot of patience is necessary.”
  • “Always have someone with a lot of experience that you can turn to with questions.”
  • “My time is split between resolving design questions and following up on getting things done. Plan on spending a lot of time on the phone answering questions and scheduling.”

Do you have what it takes?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful

Well here we are; officially mid-way through winter. How’s that list of indoor projects going? As you continue to contemplate the to-do list, take a minute to consider how the products that you use affect the quality of life that you and your family enjoy.

If you’re not yet familiar with the term “indoor air quality,” you soon will be. Indoor air quality is one of the cornerstones supporting the U.S. Green Building Council’s, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (
LEED) guidelines for high-performance, healthy buildings and homes. In short, good indoor air quality promotes healthy and comfortable living by providing clean, unpolluted air for you and your family to breath.

So does this mean that the air that you breathe indoors at home and at work is polluted? Yes. In fact, a number of studies have shown that the air quality in poorly designed buildings is actually more polluted than the air outside in major cities.

What does any of this have to do with your winter projects? Well, everything. Are you planning to paint or stain? Build an addition or remodel? If so, use Low or Zero VOC products and building materials, cabinetry and trim that do not contain Urea-Formaldehyde.

VOC’s, or
Volatile Organic Compounds, are chemical compounds found in a variety of products that off-gas and pollute the air. Paints, stains, carpets and vinyl shower curtains are some of the usual suspects inside your home. Formaldehyde is used as an adhesive in the manufacture of a variety of pressed and composite wood products.

The good news is that many manufacturers now recognize the offenses of VOC’s and formaldehyde and produce green product lines. These chemicals are, of course, just the tip of the indoor air quality iceberg but bypassing them while completing your project list this winter is an effective way to start improving the health of you and your family.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Green But Not New

Many today would consider the idea of Green or Sustainable Design to be relatively new concepts. This is not actually the case though. much of the "recent" movement towards these ideals is really a re-birth of sorts. Historically, architectural elements such as deep overhangs and porches and the location of chimneys had everything to do with the region where the house was built. Today we call this site-centric design or simply designing to suite the site. A central fireplace and chimney heat a house more efficiently in colder climates while the masonry mass of the chimney on the outside wall helps to dissipate the heat to the outdoors where heat in warmer climates is a consideration. Deep porches and overhangs provide shade and cooler ventilation for sunny areas in the South.

Consider the catch phrases "reduce, re-use and recycle" and "regionalism." In the days of our forefathers, before building materials became the commodities that they are, the 'R' words were a way of life. Everything from siding to floor boards was re-used whenever possible. Building materials were local products. Stone for foundations was quarried on site or near by, bricks for wall construction were made locally, timber for building lumber was harvested locally and homes were built by local craftsmen who had intimate knowledge of these local materials.

The next time that you wonder why we don't do more to sustain our planet, contemplate the fact that until relatively recently, regionalism, reduce re-use and recycle and sustainability were ways of life rather than catch phrases. Work with a professional that can design to fit your site and help you select materials that are made from recycled products, are harvested from sustainable forests or are produced locally.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

With All Due Respect Kermit, It Is Easy Being Green

Kermit the Frog (yes, that Kermit) once sang "It's not easy being green." And many people may be under the impression that "going green" or using sustainable materials or green design isn't easy or is cost prohibitive. What with $13 light bulbs and all, you can appreciate their point. It's also true that the very nature of sustainability is about life cycle costs and future savings not necessarily about saving money up front.

But you don't have to take your existing home off the grid and use 100% recyclable materials today. If you're planning a new home or major Renovation, work with a design professional who is proficient in the issues of sustainable design. Work with them to design the most sustainable home that fits within your budget.

If you're not ready to take on a major Renovation project though, think green in smaller degrees. When a light bulb burns out, replace it with a compact fluorescent bulb. If your water heater stops heating water, consider a tankless water heater as a replacement. If you need new windows, think Low E and insulated glass. In short, consider the green alternatives for each project that you tackle around the house and before long only Kermit will be singing that old song.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Mainstream is Green

The days of Green or Sustainable design and building being an “alternative” practice are past. As usual, studies abound; everyone from the National Association of Home Builders to the U.S. Green Building Council cite statistics from the number of new housing starts that are Energy Star qualified, to the number of LEED Certified Professionals and buildings, to the explosion in the number and types of “green” products in the market place. As usual, the trend is stronger in California , the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast than in the Midwest, but even Indianapolis is getting into the game.

As you read this, there is a developer in an urban Indianapolis neighborhood constructing a pilot project of 3 “green” homes, there are numerous blogs devoted to green or sustainability issues in Indianapolis, former Mayor Bart Peterson enacted an environmental plan called Indy GreenPrint (though it seems to have been abolished by the new administration) and Green Way Supply exclusively supplies green building products to local builders and consumers. And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

As you plan your next Renovation project, consider the fact that green or sustainable design and construction is not only becoming more popular but more necessary. Work with knowledgeable professionals to help you incorporate lot design; resource, energy and water efficiency and conservation; indoor air quality and life cycle costs.