Name: Kirsten Thoft
Location: Princeton, New Jersey
Tell us about this home building or renovation project: This project consisted of the complete renovation of 4 apartments in a circa 1905 Queen Anne building in the center of Princeton. The units have been converted to condos and are currently selling separately. We retained as much of the existing building as possible, and what we did put in we endeavored to make as green as possible. The greatest effort towards sustainability was to do get energy audits done and to do a complete insulation and air-sealing overhaul on the building…The work was done under the New Jersey Clean Energy program, and the anticipated reductions in energy consumption (50% decrease over pre-renovation) are so great that the building garnered the National Home Builders Green Building Standard "Emerald" rating - their highest rating. The building was the first multi-family remodel in the country to get this certification. In addition to energy consumption, we had to show reductions in water consumption, and that the building had proper ventilation.
What specific green materials, techniques, or processes went into this project?
We used all EPA WaterSense plumbing fixtures, ENERGY STAR appliances and lights, low VOC paints and floor finishes, and quartz composite GreenGuard rated counter tops. We reused flooring from another hundred-year-old building from down the street which my contractor had done some work on the year prior. We saved and reused door and window trim wherever we could, blew cellulose insulation into the walls, and retained the old plaster and trim instead of stripping it off.
What green building material or product were you most pleased about?
The green building material that is least different from its less green counterparts are the plumbing fixtures. You don't need to explain them in any way to a potential buyer, which is a nice feature if you are doing spec development. The material that I was most pleased with from an aesthetic point of view were the new paralam beams that I installed in place of a number of bearing walls. Paralams are structural beams made from reclaimed manufacturing scrap, and I left mine exposed. I've received extremely positive responses from people about their unique look. I also loved my Teragren bamboo parquet countertops which I used as small kitchen island tops.
What had you less than enthused?
I used a honed finish quartz composite countertop, and next time I would use a polished finish, because it shows marks if oil gets on it. It's easy to clean and doesn't stain, but I am not completely enthusiastic about it.
Have any advice or resources for readers looking to green build or renovate their home?
Insulate and airseal! It's the best thing you can do for the environment. After that, be careful about environmental claims, and understand that there are often trade-offs between performance and environmental conciousness. The product market is constantly evolving, but any steps towards reducing your carbon footprint are worth taking, so don't put off making changes until you get it perfect. Perfect is a myth.