For an Energy Efficient Remodel, Start With a Dream Team

unfinished building interior ...
ShutterstockThinking about what goes in the walls can take far more planning than deciding what goes on the walls.

In April we moved our family of four plus dogs into our 1,950 square foot fixer-upper. We started our remodel planning immediately, with the goal of beginning construction in July. We are targeting net-zero energy, a definite stretch goal for a residential remodel on a budget.

We quickly realized that this is a complex process, with numerous variables to consider (like crawlspaces, insulation and sun angles -- oh my). And there isn't a clear roadmap to follow, since remodels must deal with their unique existing constraints. That's why assembling a dream team of support professionals is the single most important decision you will make. Even a modest remodel project benefits from different viewpoints, so don't be afraid to call in expert help.

It's important to find:
1. an architect who understands your goals.
2. a contractor with knowledge of green building technologies.
3. a lender who can explain your financing options and help you determine your budget.
4. an energy consultant or other professional who can model your home and conduct a cost-benefit analysis of various technology options.

As much as I wanted to start with a Houzz page of cute kitchens, Nick was the voice of reason in this case. He pushed us to consider the whole house, and map out an approach where form truly follows function -- that thinking about what goes in the walls takes far more planning than deciding what goes on the walls. Without tackling both, you might be putting lipstick on a pig.

This is where the dream team comes in. Together we leveraged work relationships; conducted internet research; talked to our utility company; met with our city's sustainability office; asked friends for referrals; and ultimately identified professionals to help us solve our central questions:

• Can we affordably retrofit our house to produce as much energy as we consume?
• Can we use the minimum amount of water responsibly, lower our overall electricity needs, and still be comfortable?

Once we had our team, we got everyone together early to discuss goals, budget and our ambitious wish list. At our meeting, the contractor raised concerns about unvented attics and crawlspaces. The energy consultant encouraged us to consider several different heating and cooling options for our climate zone. We also discovered some of the financial incentives available for projects like ours.

We spent a little money getting all of these professionals in one room, but it was definitely worthwhile.

As we continue to map out our remodel, things are a little rocky at times. Let's be honest, remodeling isn't for the squeamish. It requires a certain tenacity, flexibility, and optimism -- especially when you have limited time and money.

With each roadblock there have been moments of soul searching: Do we really want to do this now? Can we afford it? Will our kids disown us? Will our house deliver the comfort and energy savings we want? Will the process be repeatable for others?

Our dream team has helped us stay focused, suggesting materials we weren't aware of, reminding us of our budget, and helping us avoid mistakes. As for starting construction in July ... well, let's just say it is September now and we are still living in the "before."

Update: See the finished project here.

Nick and Holland Brown with members of their dream team
Nick and Holland BrownNick Brown (at far right) meets with members of his remodeling "dream team."
Read Full Story

Find a home

Powered by Zillow