Spreading the Green-Building Gospel

November 03, 2016
Winter 2016
This online-only article is a supplement to the Winter 2016 print edition of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Renovation

When you’re a green-building consultant, most people assume that your house is as green as possible. While I’ve always wanted to be able to brag about my superefficient home, until recently I have rented standard, inefficient homes and apartments. Rest assured that this was not by design, but rather by what was available.

This changed last year when I purchased my first home and was finally able to put into practice the knowledge I’ve gained over the last 12 years working as a contractor, educator, and consultant in the residential construction industry. In addition to creating a home for me and my fiancée, I wanted the project to raise awareness about green-building practices and products. I planned to do this through the use of social media and a dedicated project blog, and by participating in the Green Shortz online video series.

Photo 1 - Storage Room Pre-Renovation
The old enclosed porch pre renovation. (Abe Kruger)

photo 2 - Storage Room Post-Renovation
The old porch was converted into a second bathroom with a laundry area. (Abe Kruger)

photo 3
Wall framing with foam blocks was installed in front of the structural masonry walls. (Abe Kruger)

photo 4 - Kitchen Pre-Renovation
The kitchen prerenovation. (Abe Kruger)

photo 5 - Kitchen Post-Renovation
The kitchen post renovation. (Abe Kruger)

The home, dubbed Green on Gift for its location on Gift Avenue in the Atlanta, Georgia, North Ormewood Park neighborhood, was built in the 1940s. It was built with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a small porch, which had subsequently been converted into a storage room. The scope of renovations included gutting and refinishing most of the interior and converting the enclosed porch into a second bathroom and laundry.

The energy efficiency of the home was drastically improved by insulating the roofline, crawl space, and exterior walls with spray polyurethane foam (SPF) from Premium Spray. One of the biggest surprises during the renovation was the discovery that the home was not a typical wood-framed building—the walls were solid structural masonry. No one expected the home to be built more like a 1940s brick warehouse than your typical Atlanta bungalow. Since the house is structural masonry, there is no easy way to insulate the exterior walls, let alone add electrical outlets or light switches. After considering several options, we chose to fur out the walls on the interior to provide space for insulation and utilities.

Framing these walls, however, posed an interesting problem. We wanted to keep the new framing separate from the brick wall to prevent any moisture wicking from the brick walls into the wood. We also want to use the smallest-dimension lumber possible, to maximize the space for insulation in the walls and to stay within budget. We were planning to insulate the walls with SPF, which is great at filling in small cracks and works well when the substrate is uneven (in this case, a combination of plaster and exposed brick). It also provides some added strength to the wall by “gluing” the components together. SPF is a combination of two liquids that, when combined, rapidly expand to look like shaving cream. Unlike shaving cream, it’s rather forceful and can actually bend, twist, and bow wood. So how do you install 2 x 3s approximately 1 inch off from a brick wall that will be insulated with SPF? All studs were turned on edge (the wide side parallel to the brick wall). The vertical studs were attached to new top and bottom plates, which served as horizontal studs. Horizontal blocking in the middle of the wall provided additional strength by connecting the studs to one another. The studs were anchored to the brick in the middle of the wall with masonry screws running through foam board blocks to prevent the screws from pulling the studs in toward the brick wall.

Green on Gift Project Details

The following are a list of products and materials we used for this project.

Table A. Project Information



Air-sealing materials

Dow Building Solutions

Bathroom plumbing fixtures


Crawl space, wall, and roofline insulation

Premium Spray Products and Advanced Energy Insulation

Crawl space dehumidification

Therma-Stor LLC

Exterior and interior paint

Benjamin Moore

General contractor


Kitchen and bath design

Barbara Shelton Design, LLC

Kitchen and laundry appliances


Mechanical ventilation


Media sponsor

Green Shortz

We were concerned that interior insulation might lead to moisture issues and possible brick spalling in the winter. To help minimize this risk, we replaced the gutters to reduce the amount of exterior water hitting the existing brick wall. This improvement has reduced the amount of wetting on the wall, and allows it to dry quickly. Atlanta’s winters are generally mild— there are very few days when it goes below freezing—which further reduces the risk of damage to the brick. So far the brick is performing well and shows no water damage.

To further improve the energy efficiency of the home, Energy Star-certified kitchen and laundry appliances and windows were installed. We retained the eight-year-old heat pump and water heater, which were in good working order. Energy modeling performed to achieve Georgia Power rebates estimated that the renovation will reduce energy consumption by 53.1%, and will save $1,235 annually. From the start we sought to make the house as energy efficient as possible, within a reasonable budget. And the data show that the plan is working.

Long-standing water leaks into the crawl space and through the brick walls were corrected during the renovation. WaterSense fixtures were installed in the renovated kitchen and bathrooms. Indoor air quality was improved through the use of low- and zero VOC paints and finishes, a high-efficiency air filter, new HVAC ductwork, bath exhaust fans, a kitchen range hood ducted to the exterior, an energy recovery ventilator, and a crawl space dehumidifier.

In addition to promoting the products used in the house, the project partnered with local nonprofits Lifecycle Building Center (LBC) and Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) to dispose of construction and demolition waste and expand the reach of the sustainable renovation.

An essential component of the renovation process was green-building certification with third-party verification. From the start I wanted to practice what my company preaches to our clients—incorporating green into all decisions from design through construction and ultimately occupancy. These efforts were rewarded with EarthCraft Platinum certification, achieving one of the highest point totals in the program’s history.

This is the first of three articles on this project that will be featured in Home Energy. The next article will review code requirements for installing dehumidifiers in conditioned crawl spaces. The series will close with a discussion on condensing clothes dryers and a review of the Bosch model we installed. To learn more, you can go to the project blog at www.greenongift.com, and watch the GreenShortz videos on YouTube.

Abe Kruger is coprincipal of SK Collaborative, which helps homeowners, contractors, architects, manufacturers, and nonprofit agencies create better buildings and products. Kruger is an authority on single- and multifamily green- building consulting and certification and on industry education and training.

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