Green living

You would never know it by looking at the new home of Janet and Ray Iggulden (bottom right) in Webster Groves, but this is the greenest house on the block. The home’s exterior (bottom left), like the interior (top), looks like a typical building project, but the home deftly combats indoor pollution and uses the same energy as a home a fraction its size.

CREATING AN environmentally conscious, or green, home doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can have energy-efficient lighting illuminating your hot tub. You can have solar heating and a gas fireplace. You can still store your Styrofoam takeout containers in your energy-efficient refrigerator.

"Having a green home means different things to different people - there's no one absolute right way," says architect Gregory Polanik of Polanik Architects.

But every little bit counts, he says, when it comes to environmentally conscious building.

For instance, Ray and Janet Iggulden, who have been married for 33 years, decided to build a green retirement home on a vacant lot next door to their longtime residence in a middle-class Webster Groves neighborhood.

With the vision of Polanik, their home weaves in green building techniques - solar windows, recycled floor joists and energy-efficient appliances - so seamlessly that you can't distinguish it from the neighbors' unless you compare the utility bills.

The Igguldens' new three-bedroom home is about 25 percent larger than their previous house, and yet they use about 40 percent less power to maintain the residence, according to a comparison of December gas bills.

Janet Iggulden (pronounced IG-gul-den) explained that she and her husband wanted to build a home they could age in. It is wheelchair-accessible throughout the main floor, and they've added amenities to anticipate their assistance needs as they grow older. But the home is easily something that could appeal to anyone at any stage of life.

Then there's Tony Hilkin and Julie Jakimczyk, both 30, who were recently married under a tree on a lot next door to their future home in a neighborhood struggling to be revived just north of downtown St. Louis. The couple saved the condemned home from demolition and received special permits from the city to construct what may be the most environmentally conscious building in the St. Louis-St. Louis County area.

The home is being constructed with pro bono architectural services and volunteer labor, including assistance from neighborhood kids, who have been helping craft walls with straw and clay mud. Bamboo crisscrossing latticework provides the webbing that the mixture sticks to.

The house will not have a connection to AmerenUE electricity or Laclede Gas,, but will use mostly solar power. There will be only a few light bulbs and a refrigerator to support electrically. For cloudy periods, the couple will probably invest in or attempt to locate a used bicycle generator. (Yep, as in a generator powered by cardiovascular exercise.)

There will be no hot-water heater; instead, a wood-burning stove will heat water held in a reservoir next to the stove. The water will flow from an attached spigot. There will be no hot water running from faucets in the bathroom or kitchen sink.

"You have to be dedicated, committed and not worry about what other people think about you to do something like this," said architect Ralph Wafer, who provided his services free of charge. "I can't imagine one in a thousand people thinking, 'That's cool. I want to do it, too.' "

But he said that even if the case is extreme, Hilkin and Jakimczyk are demonstrating that older residences can be rehabbed creatively with green elements. Once the house is finished this fall, it won't look much different from other homes in the area. The walls will be covered with clay plaster, and wood siding will protect the nonbrick parts of the exterior.

The couple will cook on an efficient wood-burning stove, manufactured for Amish communities, and the two are eager to start a vegetable garden, which they hope will eventually sustain a healthy portion of their daily diet. The garden will be watered with rainwater drained from their tin roof and collected in barrels.

Special allowances and permits for construction of the home within city limits deemed it experimental. But Hilkin and Jakimczyk (pronounced ja-KIM-zik) started with the most basic premise of green building - salvaging an older home through the Land Reutilization Authority. The former residence had been vacant for more than 20 years and contained knee-high trash throughout the building. The cost was $1,000.

About a quarter of the building's brick exterior was salvaged, and most of the stone and wood foundation had to be excavated by hand. The couple opted against employing heavy machinery because they wanted to save as much of the original wood as possible. Jakimczyk estimated that about 70 percent of the wood was recycled back into the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house.

"We also work by hand because it doesn't use any fossil fuels, and it's free," Jakimczyk said.

She and her husband have taken a lifelong vow of "voluntary simplicity." The two volunteer at Karen House, a shelter for homeless women and children. Jakimczyk also works part time as a nanny.

They learned about straw-clay construction from a German book and talked with Wafer of Ralph Eglin Wafer architectural firm. Wafer was so fascinated at the prospect and challenge of building something so unique that he volunteered his services to accommodate the couple's small budget. He also said that he wanted to support something so environmentally altruistic.

The young couple estimate that they will spend $20,000 rehabbing the property. A friend and contractor estimated that it would cost $125,000 for a conventional rehab. The couple is giving new meaning to the phrase "sweat equity."

"It's an unbelievable amount of manual labor, and we are very dependent on the weather to set our schedule," Jakimczyk said. "We collect whatever salvage materials we can and just store them here until we can use them. Someone gave us a bathtub, and that's out back."

She estimates that 90 to 95 percent of the framing materials were from salvaged or scavenged materials. All of the windows are secondhand finds.

The brand-new wood-burning stove is a particularly noteworthy prize because they didn't have to special-order it. An appliance store in the region had gambled on stocking it for Y2K, the big nonevent of New Year's 2000, when the doomsday-sayers had to eat cake. Needless to say, the couple bought the sturdy appliance at a deep discount.

On the flip side of the coin, the home that architect Polanik designed for the Igguldens and their cat, Victoria, in Webster Groves will probably seem more appealing to the masses.

"A lot of what's green about it, you can't see," Polanik said.

The couple estimates that an additional $20,000 went into making the building green, and most of that was attributed to the faux-wood siding and windows. The double-paned windows are filled with argon, which conducts heat better than air, and the windows are coated to reflect radiant heat. That means that the heat stays out in the summer and in during winter.

The "wood siding" on the exterior that looks just like the neighbors' isn't - it's fibercement and considered environmentally friendly because it uses wood fiber, not planks, and has a 50-year guarantee against rot.

The wood-burning fireplace has a gas starter. "We cheated a little," Janet Iggulden explains. But Polanik says that the unit is designed for efficient combustion that directs more heat inside the home.

Although the front door faces north, Polanik installed a full contingent of windows in the rear to attract all the best qualities of the southern sun. Unlike with other homes in the area, the front door does not open into a living room; the living room is in the back facing the southern sun. Visitors walk in past the master bedroom door.

During the day, the home receives so much natural light that there is little need for electric lights. Polanik even created a light well in the center of the home that attracts light, filtering into what would be a darkened central corridor and stairwell. He does this with a window on the upstairs south-facing wall, not a skylight.

With a window on a south-facing wall, you get the most light in the winter when the sun hangs lower in the sky and less in the summer when the sun spends most of its time at its peak. The exact opposite is true with a skylight. The result is that less alternate energy is needed to heat and cool.

Most of the green techniques employed within the Igguldens' home relate to energy savings and indoor air quality, and Polanik says that all of the technology is available right off the shelf at most home-improvement stores.

Building green is a matter of choices, not sacrifices, he said.

There is the equivalent of aluminum foil, a radiant metallic reflective substance, stapled 4 inches from the roof in the attic as a barrier to the summer heat. As the roof heats up, the layer of foil directs it back up through the roof, not into the house.

And the floor foundation was made with engineered lumber, an amalgamation of wood from fast-growing, younger trees glued together for strength, instead of 2-by-12-foot wood pieces from old-growth forests.

"When you buy wood that size, you are telling someone to go out and cut down a tree at least 3 feet in diameter," Polanik says. "With engineered lumber, you avoid that, and these days it's better quality."

The one thing the Igguldens' house has in common with Hilkin and Jakimczyk's project is that both will employ cellulose, an insulation that takes the place of fiberglass and is made of ground-up newspapers, a binding substance and a fire-resistant agent. A wet mixture is sprayed into the wall cavity and dries into a solid surface that is an ideal insulation and protective sound barrier.

Other green aspects of the home involve stemming indoor pollution. Polanik said the priority is to make the home as airtight as possible, but once that happens, indoor pollution can skyrocket, turning a green home into a mold-and-bacteria festival.

To abate indoor pollution, he installed a recessed doormat for stopping the most common cause of indoor pollution - gunk that hitchhikes into your home on the bottom of your shoes. He also rigged the home for a central vacuuming system. Outlets in most rooms accommodate a 20-foot hose that vacuums dust into a unit in the basement. The bag can accommodate six months' worth of use.

The home has wood floors on the larger ground level because carpet tends to release toxic fumes. Polanik says that the often-complimented new-carpet smell in hallways and cars is probably 4-phenylcyclohexene or styrene, the same substance in Styrofoam coffee cups.

Polanik and Wafer agree that architects and home builders can't force green building concepts on clients, but they can provide suggestions on small things with comparable price tags that can make a big difference. Environmentally friendly building materials are often comparably priced and sometimes much higher in quality, Polanik says.

Applying green concepts is a choice that can accommodate any budget. Polanik says you can start with more-efficient light bulbs.

Reporter Debra D. Bass
Phone: 314-340-8236