Tips on Being Affordable and Green

The 100K House in our April issue is a paragon of inexpensive, green design. And Courtney and Chad Ludeman—its residents and developers—have applied their smarts to making East Kensington in Philadelphia a sustainable bastion of design within reach. I chatted with Chad about a few tips and tricks on keeping things affordable and green no matter what your situation.

Modern box house made of HardiePanel siding
The HardiePanel siding on the adjacent 100K and 120K houses is a dramatic break from East Kensington’s mostly brick facades. The simple, well insulated box and the absence of a third floor keep each house affordable, sustainable, and within the reach of young families.

Chad, what do you recommend for folks who want to live with green design without breaking the bank? Suppose you're looking to buy something on the market, what should you keep an eye out for?
This probably depends on how bad your existing house is and what's available in your market that you could purchase. If your house is in such bad shape that it would cost more to renovate than to buy another house, then it may make sense. At the same time, there is probably not a lot in any market yet that is very green and affordable. If you are living in a very large house, it may make sense to move to a smaller and more efficient house that only needs cosmetic upgrades. Tightening up leaks and making over a kitchen and bath can go a long way in a house with good bones. 

Outdoor garden with white fence
The back-yard yields veggies and flowers, and another Postgreen project is under construction just beyond the fence. “The 100K House is not over the top in terms of energy efficiency. It’s better than code, sure, but ultimately it’s just what makes sense.” says Chad Ludeman.
How about if you're thinking about renovating the house you're already in?
This is probably the best option on a budget unless you are currently living in too much house than you can afford. You can improve the efficiency of an old house quite a bit for as little as $1,000 on your own. After that you can turn to cosmetic upgrades in the kitchen and bath that make sense dollar wise. Add some low-VOC paints and coatings to seal off potentially off-gassing surfaces in your home and make sure your ventilation in the baths and kitchens are up to par and you are doing much better than most. Even if you can't DIY, you will not blow your budget by planning out your projects and even finding a GC or designer friend to sketch out some specs for multiple local handymen or small contractors to bid on. This way you are comparing apples to apples. Even if you just write out bullet points for each room and nothing else, you will be giving most small contractors more to go on than the average person and save yourself thousands by comparing bids.
You guys had a lot of know-how going in as the developers of the 100K House. What advice would you offer folk building from the ground up?
Unless you are an experienced builder or developer and have architect friends willing to design for cut rates, this is probably your most expensive option.  
With another child nearly here, you and Courtney are headed for a bigger space and a renovation project of your own. Any tips for our readers about cheap and cheerful home updates?
We are actually doing a mix ourselves now. We are expecting our second son in a month and need more space. We're moving into an old house that is in great shape for $175K. We will spend no more than $25K at most over the period of a year to update the outdated rooms, paint and improve efficiency. It will never be as efficient as the 100K, but it will be close. The key is that it's a small three-bedroom, one-bathroom home in a slightly less desirable street. It's in great shape and only needs cosmetic upgrades. We are getting it at a great price because we are not being too picky about it being perfect (most would want a second bath and a better street) and are putting the priority on condition and price. We see the potential and most rooms will be transformed with a new coat of paint and new light fixtures. We'll spend the most on the kitchen and bath where we will get the most bang for our buck. If we feel like attacking the mechanicals, we'll look at something fun like replacing the oil heater with a biomass boiler that provides all heat and hot water. Efficiency and design are great, but it's good to have a fun project you can be proud of.
Kitchen dining area with long, rectangular bottom floor
The long, rectangular bottom floor is one uninterrupted space. Bikes live beneath the stairs, and the kitchen island is a center of activity. The dining table was made by Bench Dog Design and the Real Good chairs are by Blu Dot. An inexpensive fan by Emerson and exposed CFLs are smart, low-cost options for the ceiling.

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