Chad Burden's little home remodeling project turned into more of a job than he bargained for.
"We never intended for this to go on this long," he said last week while sitting on the front porch of his newly renovated midtown home. "First, we thought eight months, then 10 months. We're going on 16 months now."
To be fair, this was no ordinary remodel. Burden -- a U.S. Navy veteran who graduated in May with his master's degree in environmental science from Oklahoma State University -- got the idea a year and a half ago to purchase the abandoned house adjacent to the home where he lives with his wife and three children and renovate it using sustainable techniques.
Burden not only planned on making the renovation his class project, he would seek certification status for the house from the National Association of Home Builders' Model Green Building Guidelines and the U.S. Green Building's Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
Now, with work on the home drawing to a close, Burden is awaiting final inspections from representatives of both of those organizations. If things go as expected, he will be the owner of the first dual green-certified remodeled home in the state and perhaps the nation.
But that status will not have been achieved easily -- or cheaply. A project that originally was budgeted for approximately $150,000 -- $41,000 for the acquisition of the property and $110,000 for the renovation work -- has turned into a far more expensive proposition.
"We're north of $200,000," he said.
Burden initially planned to renovate the house, then sell it for $170,000 to $180,000, splitting the profit with his in-laws, who partnered with him on the deal. But as time went by and he became more emotionally invested in the project, he decided to keep it and make it his home.
"We like the home," he said. "We'll appreciate the home. We'll live in this home a long time."
Burden will have himself a house unlike any other in Oklahoma. The home is filled with sustainable features, including highly efficient spray-foam insulation, double-pane windows, LED lights, ENERGYSTAR appliances, low-flow plumbing fixtures, a recycled steel roof, a rainwater harvesting system, tubular skylights, recycled glass countertops and drought-resistant, non-invasive plants -- many of which were obtained from local or regional vendors.
Those features, and the techniques employed in the construction of the home, will be certified by inspectors upon completion of the project, and documents certifying their sustainability will be issued to Burden.
That will serve as the end of a long road for Burden, who hopes to move his family into the home by August. He said he was largely ignorant of the construction process when he began the project and points to a plywood bulletin board in the front yard that keeps passers-by informed about the renovation as the first thing he ever built.
"The learning curve was trial and error," Burden said. "A lot of my budget overages were just flat ignorance. Things that I thought were free or cost a certain amount of money, I didn't factor in any labor costs."
Burden cites the reflective metal roof, as an example. It was donated by its manufacturer, TAMKO, saving Burden a considerable amount of money.
"But little did I know it was going to cost $6,000 to install it," he said.
His original budget was so unrealistic, he said, that he forgot to include the cost of sheet rock. Burden is able to laugh about those foibles now, with the end in sight.
"If I would have known exactly what I was getting into ... I was absolutely delusional," he said, shaking his head and laughing. "I put over 500 hours of personal time (into this project) in 2009, writing letters to product manufacturers, trying to get good deals, managing contractors, answering e-mails and writing stories for our blog. As a busy parent, it's just been an enormous (under)estimation on time."
One aspect of the project that went better than he could have hoped for was the response of product manufacturers upon learning what Burden had in mind. Most were eager to donate whatever they could.
"For the first five or six product manufacturers I contacted, it was one shot, one kill," he said. "And I was writing to the presidents of these companies."
Burden's list of free or discounted products and services is lengthy and includes EnviroGlass, which provided recycled glass countertops; Air Solutions, which provided the HVAC systems, LED can lights, ceiling fans and other items; Ozark InSEALators, which provided spray-foam insulation; M&M lumber, which provided Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber; Kohler, which provided low-flow plumbing fixtures; Pella, which provided double-pane windows; Perk Inc., which provided tubular skylights; Jay Rambo Co., which provided bamboo cabinets; Hahn Appliances, which provided ENERGYSTAR appliances; Pave-Stone of Tulsa, which provided a water-permeable driveway system; Anchor Paint, which provided latex paints; Colebrook's Nursery, which provided plants; and PSO, which provided the ENERGYSTAR for Homes service.
Each of those sponsors will play host to an open house weekend at Burden's home throughout the course of the next several weeks. A full schedule is available by visiting obgreen.blogspot.com.
But the house's sustainability isn't tied up exclusively in the goods that went into its renovation, Burden said.
"A lot of it is conservation, being smart about waste management," he said. "Reuse doors and floors, and don't throw something away just because you don't like the color. We used 97 percent of the original framing in the house, so we didn't have to buy hardly any lumber."
Burden acknowledges that what he has wound up with is a three-bedroom, two-bath house that is far beyond the normal price range for his neighborhood. He said he would consider selling it for $250,000 or so, though he acknowledges that at only 1,450 square feet, with a 400-square-foot garage apartment in back, he's not likely to have any takers.
Even so, he insists that price is well worth it.
"The values of the materials in here are well beyond $200,000," he said. "This is top-grade, durable, premium stuff."
Burden knows the cost of many of the sustainable products and services he received for free or at a discount price is beyond the means of many consumers. He encouraged anyone interested in building or remodeling a house using sustainable features to do their homework first.
"I would say just overdo the research," he said. "Get online and look local first. Look for local product manufacturers and service providers first. Look for multiple vendors and ask them to compete with each other. The hardest part about going green in Oklahoma is it takes a lot of willpower to keep going when you've heard no so many times."
Most of all, he said, don't do as he did, do as he says.
"Stay within your budget," he said. "Know how much you want to spend and work toward that. Don't work toward your taste."
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