Green, as in go for it

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It could have been John Lake's cancer diagnosis. It could have been his wife, Lori, and her woodworking grandfather from Vermont. Or, it could have been Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Some combination of these factors accounts for the Lakes embracing of green building techniques and fuels their desire to educate the public about the materials and procedures of eco-friendly building, and remodeling, through their Web site at www.greentv.com.

A good place to start their tale is with the destruction of their home on the C&D (Chesapeake & Delaware) Canal in Chesapeake City, Md., by Hurricane Isabel in September 2003. The Category 5 storm, and subsequent flooding, left their home badly damaged, but the disaster presented the Lakes with the opportunity to rebuild and remodel, using green building techniques. They were already running a Green Research Center, using their home, other buildings on the property, and a pond near the house. When he isn't talking about eco-friendly building, John Lake loves to talk about aquaculture and the trout and crabs he is raising in their three-acre pond.

"Don't make the mistake," he says, "of equating green living with sacrifice. Many of the products and systems we use are equivalent to the amenities found in high-end luxury homes, without the astronomical costs."

The new aesthetic and design of their remodeled home bears out his claim. "Before" photos depict a slightly drab, vacation-home utility. The "after" photos show a sleek, modern dwelling with plenty of light and warm tones, more like a luxury city apartment. The Lakes, however, had equally strong concerns about demonstrating energy savings and improving interior air quality.

"Most people spend 90 percent of their time inside," says John Lake. "The air quality in our home will help to improve our health, even longevity."

Green savings
Lake also claims it no longer costs more to build green, especially when long-term energy savings are factored into the cost/benefit ratio. He estimates he and his wife will save $3,000 a year in heating and cooling costs, and $1,500 in electricity bills. In addition, he puts the savings in material costs at $25,000. This is a result of a combination of recycling lumber from his home, buying locally, supplying their own labor and helping contractors with the green learning curve. For example, many of the HVAC contractors that Lake requested quotes from "were not knowledgeable about advances in radiant heat technologies, so they raised their price to compensate for the learning curve."

The Lakes aren't alone. According to a recent National Association of Home Builders' Research Center survey, nearly half of home buyers would incorporate green products into their dwellings. Interestingly, of the buyers who said they didn't necessarily want to go green, 56 percent said it was because of "a lack of awareness of green product options and benefits." The same survey found green retrofitting, or remodeling, represented a huge marketing opportunity for builders. The opportunity extends to woodworkers, furniture makers, and cabinetmakers as well, since consumers are increasingly demanding that these products be green as well.

It's easy being green
This is where Lori's grandfather and the Lakes' new kitchen cabinets come in. "My grandfather made cabinets and furniture, actually almost everything his family needed," remembers Lori Lake. "I worked with him when I was young. He was a great influence."

Before remodeling the kitchen, Lori apprenticed with a green cabinetmaker to brush up on her skills. Below the cabinets are countertops, but the distinctive design element is a long, gently curved counter with a stone top that contains the sink and principal food preparation areas. It's not what you might expect of an eco-friendly kitchen, but Lori says they followed all of the green building techniques developed over the years.