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Green Gut Rehab Serves as Building Science Laboratory for Guild’s 2011 Green Home Tour: Interview with Colleen Groll, CSBA, LEED AP Homes, Energy Star Verifier and Performance Tester

ColleenGroll-web Colleen Groll, Residential Services Manager and Senior Project Associate at O’Brien & Company, is in the process of finishing up a gut rehab in attempt to convert a leaky 1918 “fixer” into an energy-efficient, comfortable, and healthy home with optimized functionality.

Editor: What were you hoping to accomplish with your remodel? Colleen: Generally I was hoping to modernize an architecturally traditional shell, so it feels and functions more like 2011. My sustainable building goals were mainly around energy efficiency and indoor air quality. I was hoping to achieve LEED for Homes Platinum, but now I’ll be happy with Gold.

So you’ve had to rethink your LEED goals? Yes. We had major challenges working with existing 2×4 construction, lots of structural issues we had to address. Gut rehabs tend to expand exponentially as you open up the walls, and I ran up against the limits of my budget trying to get the home structurally sound and ready for earthquakes. We basically had to rebuild the house.

CIMG1789 LEED Gold is pretty good, though! What have you been able to do to earn your spot in the Guild’s Green Tour? Green building features are incorporated throughout, including: double 2×4 walls for super insulation; high performance “heat mirror” windows; diligent air sealing; high-efficiency boiler for domestic hot water and radiant heating; heat recovery ventilation; water-efficient low flow fixtures; metal roof for future CIMG1901 rainwater collection; and numerous salvaged materials such as flooring, cabinetry, doors.

We’re also offering a Building Science Laboratory to those touring the house. O’Brien & Company will have a team of Green Raters and Green Building Consultants on hand as we perform a Blower Door Test on the house four times each day (check the website for the schedule). We’ll also have an InfraRed (IR) camera on hand to demonstrate various diagnostic tools and techniques. We’ll be sealing up the last leaky areas during the tour. The ultimate question everyone asks is how much the project cost you.

CIMG1921 Care to share? Sure, I’ve spent $167 a square foot.


What practical tips would you offer to someone trying the same thing, or others wanting to help others try the same thing?

  • Do lots of up front research on green strategies to see what fits your situation.
  • Have a great contractor with green building experience if possible, or at least one that is enthusiastic about the process.
  • Plan on working hard on air sealing, the unsung hero of energy efficiency. I call it: spray, caulk, foam, then pray and repeat.
  • Be prepared to recalibrate your goals. In a gut rehab, a lot of your budget may have to go, like mine did, on things like getting your shear walls, foundations, and house to foundation connections up to snuff.
  • Prioritize. You can’t have it all. I wanted a functional, modern building that was energy efficient, healthy, and comfortable. Aesthetics are very important to me, but the green/energy efficiency goals came first.

Colleen’s project is one of 27 featured on the 2011 Northwest EcoBuilding Guild Tour this April 16th and 17th, and one of two associated with O’Brien & Company. The second is Bastyr University Housing, a LEED Gold project featured earlier this year in the Building Capacity Blog. For more info on how to build or remodel a home in the Cascadia region (southern British Columbia to Northern California) check out The Northwest Green Home Primer , which will be available for sale to visitors at Colleen’s project and at A Mighty House, another home on the tour.

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