A significant goal throughout our remodel process has been to make the house as sustainable as possible while doing it ourselves and working with a small budget. Below is a rundown of what we’ve accomplished (and what we hope to accomplish in gray italics), organized by common environmental categories.


  • Chose a small house on a smallish lot in an urban location.
  • Reduced the amount of impervious pavement – removed concrete from front yard planting strip, backyard driveway and apron and backyard sidewalk (concrete chunks were freecycled)
  • Replaced the existing grass with low-maintenance, native plants that require no additional watering after established.
  • Added a south-facing edible garden.
  • Added foundation drains and tightlined to infiltration drains 10′ away from house.
  • Added five new trees!


  • Opted to keep the heating load low by reworking our small footprint rather than adding on.
  • Replaced our ancient coal-turned-oil furnace with a high-efficiency gas furnace and had all new ductwork installed to reduce the potential for air leaks.
  • Added a 7-day programmable thermostat.
  • Replaced our old hot water tank with a tankless hot water heater.
  • Insulated all of the walls with cotton batt insulation.
  • Added r-30 polyiso rigid insulation to the loft and vaulted ceiling.
  • The remaining attic space is filled with all the loose fill insulation (about 3′ deep) that was previously spread out over the whole attic space.
  • Converted our crawl space into a conditioned “short basement.”
  • Installed rigid insulation along the perimeter between the foundation wall and slab to prevent thermal bridging.
  • Installed all new, double pane, low-E 4 windows.
  • Caulked and sealed all joints throughout the house.
  • No air-conditioning.
  • Installed fans in the bedroom.
  • Installed a fan in our stairwell that draws cooler air up through the basement while exhausting warmer air out through the operable roof window in the loft.
  • Chose efficient appliances that minimize water and energy use.
  • Might add an energy recovery ventilator, which would take the heat from warm exhaust air and use it to pre-heat the incoming air.
  • Ran empty conduit from the basement to the roof with the intent of someday adding photovoltaic panels to our south-facing roof.
  • Might add an air-source heat pump and convert our gas furnace into a backup-only system.
  • Would love to have an energy monitoring system so we know which watts are going where and how we can further save.


  • Redesigned the lighting to be only where you need it, with controls that are intuitive to use (i.e. – no excuse to leave lights on unnecessarily).
  • Experimenting with LEDs and other more efficient lighting.
  • Installed new windows, 3 new skylights and one new roof window (you can really never have too much natural light in Seattle).
  • Painted all of our walls white to better reflect light within the space.


  • Installed a low-flow, dual flush toilet.
  • Installed a low-flow shower head.
  • Chose an efficient dishwasher.
  • Opted not to install a garbage disposal or an ice maker.
  • Replaced our old tank water heater with an efficient tankless version.
  • Updated all of the plumbing lines for more efficient runs.
  • Added drought-tolerant landscaping that requires minimal irrigation after established.
  • Replaced our washer and dryer with more efficient versions.
  • Would like to Install rain barrels to collect roof run-off.


  • Used zero-VOC interior paint.
  • Installed non-toxic recycled denim insulation.
  • Installed renewable cork flooring with a natural wax finish.
  • Refinished our fir floor in the bedroom and finished it with a natural hard wax oil.
  • Very limited amounts of carpet, and where we do, it’s responsibly made Flor carpet tiles.
  • Have largely reduced or limited the use of PVC plastic or vinyl.
  • Used long-lasting, durable wood (cedar and ipe) for the exterior.
  • Opted for a longer-lasting 30-year roof.
  • Chose rapidly renewable Lyptus for our island butcher block.
  • Chose durable, long-lasting composite quartz counters instead of solid stone.
  • Used FSC wood when available.
  • By reducing the size of our space, we have less stuff in general.
  • Restored our 100-year old cedar siding and exposed and refinished our ceiling joists in the living area.

Indoor Air Quality

  • Selected mostly hard surfaces and have very little carpet.
  • All carpet is cleanable Flor tiles or natural fiber rugs.
  • Chose a natural, wax finish for the floors and zero-VOC paint.
  • Installed new exhaust fans for the bathroom and kitchen and added new operable windows for cross-ventilation.
  • Installed formaldehyde-free cabinets.
  • Added a continuous ridge vent and soffit vents in the roof.
  • Installed a vapor retarder on the inside face of all exterior walls to mitigate moisture-related problems.
  • Converted our front porch into a mudroom, which serves as a buffer zone between the heated house and outside.
  • Thanks to the new mudroom, we implemented a “no shoes” policy so dirt and other contaminants don’t get tracked into the house (though we can’t quite get Bailey on board with that one).

In conclusion, even though we would like to do more, we think this list represents how small and thoughtful moves can add up over time. It also emphasizes the importance of holistic thinking and that sustainability is truly a component of good design.