Thursday, April 16, 2009

Green, Black, Mean and Nice

It's done!! Here is the kitchen and play area part of our house addition:

We absolutely love it and spend almost all of our time there. It's sunny and warm and welcoming and it sure it alot easier to be inspired in the kitchen when you have more than 7 inches of countertop to work with!
It all came together pretty well, too. The day before I went into labor we completed our house addition project, town inspections and all. We were pleased as punch with the timing (awfully nice not to have workmen in the house during the newborn days!) but our timeline pushed us to make some quick decisions and, as a result, we strayed from some of our goals.

The first goal was to be GREEN. With this book tucked under our arm, we hoped to have a green project. In some respects, we were able to do this: 1) we used no-VOC paint, 2) put in a no-glue cork floor, 3) used an old door, original to the house for the powder room door, 4) bought all energy-star appliances including an oven that houses two separate compartments allowing us to heat a small space most of the time rather than heat a whole oven, 5) installed a skylight to minimize the need for turning on lights 6) all windows are two-pane and airtight and 7) we installed a low-flow toilet in the powder room.

The second goal being NICE. I've spent alot of time doing research on worker's rights for my job and was determined that our construction work be ethical as well as support small business as much as possible. Along these lines we 1) bought our main lights from schoolhouse electric, a portland-based small business 2) hired a contactor, who, despite being more costly, had a solid reputation and worked with a solid crew that reassured us he wasn't likely to hire a subcontractor more likely to shirk day laborers (a common practice in the construction trades) and 3) bought our cabinets from a local cabinet-maker (though I don't know where the wood was sourced from).

On the mean and black side: I spent WAY too much time and money at superstores like Lowes, Home Depot and Lumber Liquidators, which are terrible for the small-town hardware stores and craftsman-type companies I grew up with and love. At times, our budget and timeline just didn't allow for other options. Our contractor also didn't sort and recycle our house waste (green options were mostly new to him) and the plumber did not leave enough time to super-insulate the pipes. Also, we ended up going with a granite countertop for the island portion of the part because it is so useful for baking purposes and because it was the less-expensive option compared to silestone/corian, etc. But, it was a reluctant choice as there are serious environmental and ethical issues associated with the mining of granite. Unfortunately, many times the nicer, greener choice was so much more expensive and difficult to find. For example, i was excited to use natural linoleum--a great green product but the only place that sells it in our area charges what it would cost to install a marble floor! We simply couldn't afford it.
All in all, I would give us a grade of B- in the "Green and Nice". While we are unlikely to undertake something like this again, I'm wondering if anyone has any tips. I know we could have done better if we had more time to look into more salvaging options or really work with the contractor about green options. But, as it is, we came in just under the wire. Anyone have any tips for nicer, greener options?

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