Green House

Barry Katz lives at 597 Westport — the new building across from Whole Foods that’s called “the 1st green apartment complex in Connecticut.”

He’d better live there. 

A home builder for nearly 25 years, Katz is now a green construction consultant. 

His most recent project — a book, not a building — was just published.  Called Practical Green Remodeling, it’s a lavishly illustrated, eminently practical guide showing people “of ordinary means” how to lower waste, improve energy efficiency, decrease maintenance costs and create a healthier environment.

All in their own homes.

Katz found his inner green over time.  After reading, attending conferences, and taking workshops and classes about environmental issues and climate change, he built a spec house on Bayberry Lane.  “It was as green as possible, without looking weird or strange,” he says.

The recent blackening of the economy has halted many new building projects — green and otherwise — so Katz turned his attention to remodeling. 

Drawing on his friendships with architects, engineers and consultants in the green building field, he spent a couple of years researching and writing Green Remodeling.  He visited many of the homes he chronicles; others he studied through photos and plans.

The book offers a wide variety of remodeled houses.  Katz found there are many reasons, too, for remodeling. 

Some homeowners want energy efficiency (“the holy grail of green building” is net-zero energy use).

Others care about sustainable materials — using less waste, or avoiding scarce resources.  (For every 6 homes, Katz says, builders have enough scrap lumber to build an entirely new one.)

Some remodelers are concerned about indoor air quality.  “People buy homes to raise families,” he says.  “But there are toxins in the air — from paint, wall coverings, shower curtains — that can harm families.”

Barry Katz

Whatever the reason, Katz has one message:  “It doesn’t really cost money to go green.  In fact, building or renovating costs for energy efficiency are offset by much lower energy bills.”

In addition, Katz says, some green homes sell for substantially more per square foot than others.

So how does our town — environmentally conscious, able-to-afford-these-things Westport — fare, green-wise?

“There are not many green homes here,” Katz says.  Despite easy, inexpensive steps — more efficient light bulbs, programmable thermostats, sealed air leaks — most homeowners haven’t taken them.

Katz is particularly nettled by inadequate insulation.  Even high-end construction, he says, “just meets code.”  Proper insulation can be very cost effective, whether in new buildings or renovations.

Nor is the level of awareness particularly high here. 

“It’s not really up on most people’s radar screens.  People in Westport tend to be environmentally aware, but when it comes to taking conscious steps to make their homes more sustainable, not a lot of them do it.

“They probably think it’s difficult and expensive.”

Westporters write plenty of checks to environmental organizations, he notes.  At the same time, they may opt for a certain ceramic tile because it looks good — regardless of the cost in dollars, or to the planet.

“Why not choose the sustainable way to go?” he asks.

If you’d like to go there — but don’t know the way — Barry Katz will happily show you.

(Barry Katz posts green remodeling tips on his blog:

8 responses to “Green House

  1. Staples 09 Alum

    Sustainability?! Are you serious? Why would anyone even try to be sustainable? All environmental problems are a hoax, especially those so-called problems dealing with water availability and fossil fuel use.

    We have infinite supplies of fossil fuels left on this Earth and should use them all as much as possible so that we never have to waste our time with those silly sustainable energy sources.


  2. The Dude Abides

    Wrecker 09: Clever but not contagious. I hope. I have been in one of Mr. Katz’s houses and it is remarkable to see the advances he has made in the “Greening of America.” Whether such trends will continue is left to be seen. We all heard a lot of the same rhetoric in the 70’s as we stood in line for gasoline. I would like to see the same advances in the computer world where creating social networks seems to be the main focus rather than cutting edge developments.

  3. Checked out the blog – great stuff! Reminded me of this interesting article in the NYT on the passive-house standard. Very cool.

    Hope the link works:

  4. Staples 09 Alum

    Dude: In all seriousness, I hope that Mr. Katz continues his good work and I agree with you on the computing world. Sustainable development has to start in places like Westport and I hope it really takes effect soon.

    • I wonder why Jeffsx hasn’t attacked this guy yet? Whats the point of sustainability when global climate change is just a great big hoax?

      O yah, that was sarcasm also…

      • The man can spend his money anyway he wants, as can you. Knock yourself out. The sky is not going to fall. There is big money in “green” ask Al Gore.

      • Maybe when you grow up, you will learn the difference between global warming and the MMGW hypothesis, and then again maybe you won’t. You do seem to have definite limitations.

  5. The Dude Abides

    09: It will be your generation that will have to do it. We boomers sold out a long time ago. It was all down hill after Woodstock. But “green” is big money now. For awhile. Maybe. Set your sights.