Sustainable Home Updating and Remodeling

Sustainable building is a now a commonly used term.  But what does it mean and how does the average homeowner with a limited budget really make sustainability a priority?

Sustainable building is building that is environmentally responsible and resource efficient.  While popularly associated with new home and commercial building designations, such as LEED certifications, these simple concepts can be incorporated into the smallest home updates when you understand the components that make a building material more and less environmentally responsible and recourse efficient.

A research report by the Rhodium Group showed that 40% of all energy consumed in the United States is utilized to operate our buildings.  That equates to $432 billion being spent to power homes, stores and offices or the same amount spent on health insurance!  Making our homes more energy efficient is an important place to start, but it takes tremendous energy to make certain building products, so simply replacing components on our home to ‘waste’ less energy isn’t the most affordable to the homeowner or most environmentally responsible.

Factors that should be considered when selecting a material for your next home update, whether it be a new wall to wall carpet or replacement window, are the following:

  • They promote good indoor air quality (typically through reduced emissions of VOCs and/or formaldehyde)
  • They are durable, and have low maintenance requirements
  • They incorporate recycled content (post-consumer and/or post-industrial)
  • They do not contain CFCs, HCFCs or other ozone depleting substances
  • They do not contain highly toxic compounds, and their production does not result in highly toxic by-products
  • They are obtained from local resources and manufacturers
  • For wood or bio-based products, they employ “Sustainable Harvesting” practices
  • They can be easily reused (either whole or through disassembly)
  • They have been salvaged from existing or demolished buildings for reuse
  • They are made using natural and/or renewable resources
  • They have low “embodied energy” (the energy required to produce and transport materials)
  • They can be readily recycled (preferably in a closed-loop recycling system)
  • They are biodegradable


Since this can be a lot to research it is helpful to utilize some third party organizations which certify various products used in home construction.  See below for a table of certifications, their type and the area of focus for certification.

Government certification relying on manufacturer-provided data or third-party testing
U.S. EPA and U.S. DOE
Energy consuming products
Government label based on third-party testing
Showerheads, toilets, faucets, urinals, and valves
Third-party certification
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Forests and forestry products
Third-party certification
SCS Global Services
Wide range of products ( i.e. carpets, textiles, wood products, insulation, and more)
Third-party ISO Type 1 certification
Green Seal
Wide range of sectors (paints, adhesives, lamps, electric chillers, windows, window films, occupancy sensors)
Third-party certification, Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Product Standard is managed and updated by the Institute’s Certification Standards Board
Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute C2CPII
Building materials, interior design products, textiles and fabrics, paper and packaging, and personal and homecare products
Third party certification
UL Environment
Indoor air quality, children and schools focus
Third-party ISO Type 1 environmental labeling and declaration requirements (ISO 14024)
Tiles and tile installations


This can serve as a good primer for those relatively unfamiliar with sustainable remodeling practices and a decent resource for those knowledgeable and actively preparing to make home updates.  Next I’ll take a look at various building materials themselves and we’ll investigate what their made from, what it ‘costs’ to make that and what it costs to put them to work in your home.




Posted on July 25, 2019 at 2:37 am
Sean Coster | Category: Home Improvements, Home Maintenance, Home Remodel, Sean Coster, Sustainable building

Polybutylene Plumbing

Polybutylene is a form of plastic resin that was used extensively in the manufacture of water supply piping from 1978 until 1995. Due to the low cost of the material and ease of installation, polybutylene piping systems were viewed as "the pipe of the future" and were used as a substitute for traditional copper piping. It is most commonly found in the "Sun Belt" where residential construction was heavy through the 1980's and early-to-mid 90's, but it is also very common in the Mid Atlantic and Northwest Pacific states.  Read more

The International Association of Home Inspectors recommends replacing Polybutylene piping:  

Polybutylene Pipes Should Be Replaced
Although no regulations require the replacement of polybutylene piping with other material, many plumbers recommend doing this, at a cost several thousand dollars. Leaking can happen without warning and can result in flooding and serious damage to a home’s interior if it is not immediately stopped. PB pipes installed behind sheetrock can leak unnoticed for long periods of time and cause mold and water damage. InterNACHI believes it is far cheaper to replace polybutylene pipes before they fail and release their contents onto floors, appliances and furniture. They can also reduce a home’s value or prolong its time on the market. Homeowners might face higher insurance premiums or be denied coverage entirely.  For homeowners who are concerned about this problem and wish to replace the PB piping in their home with copper or other material, there are companies that specialize in this type of work.

Myths about Polybutylene piping

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Posted on April 17, 2015 at 11:20 pm
Sean Coster | Category: Sean Coster | Tagged ,

John Yeon Spec House


North Portland residents may recognize this residence and find it suprising to be on the National Registry of Historic Places.  Designed by John Yeon in 1939 and situated just yards away from his childhood residence in University Park, this home illustrated some of the desgin elements that would later be termed Northwest Regional Style of architecture.  

Read More

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Posted on April 14, 2015 at 6:20 pm
Sean Coster | Category: Sean Coster | Tagged ,

Be Part of the Demolition Task Force in Portland

Demolition Task Force Recommendations Go-live April 20, 2015 

On February 12, 2015, the Portland City Council adopted Demolition Task Force recommendations in response to community requests for increased notification to abutting residences prior to commencement of residential demolitions and large remodel projects. These changes to Portland City Code Title 24, Building Regulations, that are effective April 20, 2015, will expand notification and delay requirements for residential demolition permits and create a new Major Residential Alteration and Addition (MRAA) permit type with notification and delay requirements. In addition, applicants will be required to submit a Certification Regarding Asbestos and Lead-Based Paint form for these types of projects prior to permit issuance.

Effective Monday, April 20, 2015: All Residential Demolition Permits will require:

  • Mandatory 35-day delay prior to permit issuance, with a possible 60-day extension through an appeal process. 
  • The City will mail a notice to all properties within 150 feet of the project site and to recognized organizations, Architectural Heritage Center and Restore Oregon at the beginning of the 35-day delay period.
  • Door hangers will be posted by property owner or representative on abutting homes at least 5 days prior to demolition.
  • New Certification Regarding Asbestos and Lead-Based Paint Form will be completed by the applicant and submitted to BDS prior to permit issuance. 

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Posted on April 13, 2015 at 11:25 pm
Sean Coster | Category: Sean Coster | Tagged ,

Appealing Property Taxes with Multnomah Co

Appealing your property taxes with Multnomah County is done through the Board of Property Tax Appeals.  The petition must be postmarked by 12/31.  Appeals will only be considered for the current tax year.  Hearings may be scheduled through the first Monday in February through April 15th.  Hearings are typically 10 minutes.
A written board order will be mailed to the property owners representative 8 to 10 business days after the hearing.
There is a $30.00 filing fee per account.
You can appeal the Real Market Value, Assessed Value or Specially Assessed Value of your property.
Multnomah County provides useful definitions relevant to an appeal on their site.   

Generally, to be successful in your appeal, you must provide evidence of the market value of your property on January 1 of the assessment year. This is the day the assessor uses to establish the real market value of your property.

Listed below are the types of evidence you could use to convince the board that your property's real market value should be reduced.

  • Documentation of an arm's-length sale of the property that occurred close to January 1 of the assessment year.
  • A fee appraisal dated close to January 1 of the assessment year which reflects the property's value.
  • Proof that the property has been listed for sale on the open market for a reasonable period of time at a price below the real market value on the tax roll.
  • A comparison of properties similar to yours in location, size and quality that have sold close to January 1 of the assessment year. If there are differences between properties, the differences must be accounted for in the comparison of values.
  • Cost of new construction that occurred close to January 1 of the assessment year and was performed by a professional contractor.
  • Cost to repair your property. You must provide written estimates of the cost of the repairs.
  • For commercial property, documentation of income and expense information or a comparable sales analysis.
Practically determining if you have a case
  1. Check Real Market Value (RMW) provided by the county 
    1. Could this be too high?
      1. Yes –
        1. Pull comparable properties to show the accurate real market value was lower.  These can be up to one year previous (ie.  January 1st of 2013 for a 2014 challenge). 
        2. And/OR – Proof of sale of the property ‘close’ to January 1st of the tax year.  This has been interpreted as within 12 months in previous cases.
        3. Is there any new construction that would increase the value of the property?  Provide documentation that with these new construction items it is still being taxed at too high a RMV.
        4. OR – Pay an appraiser to provide an appraisal of your property within the tax year.
      2. Comparable properties need to be in the same ‘class’.  This is found in Portland Maps under Property>Assessor>(heading) Improvement Details.
      3. If these comparable properties show a lower real market value and are in the same class you may have a case if their are no additional improvements that have taken place within the year that will increase your RMV.
  2. Is the Education portion of the taxes greater than 0.5% of RMV? If so document to what excess.
  3. Are the General Government taxes greater than 1.0% of RMV?  If so document to what excess.
Forms for use in appealing your property taxes
 Please consult the Multnomah County site for further details on appealing your taxes.  

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Posted on November 17, 2014 at 9:45 pm
Sean Coster | Category: Sean Coster | Tagged

Oil Tank Decommisioning

Putting an offer on a home with an underground heating oil tank can be a uncomfortable process when you begin to look into the liability a homeowner has with an underground oil tank.  While the 'lifespan' of a heating oil tank is estimated at only 25 years, most of those in operation are much older than this.  Therefore proper testing and possibly mitigation may be needed before an owner would want to take on the liability of an underground oil tank. 

Clearn up and official decommissioning of these tanks is overseen by Oregon DEQ.  They provide homeowners and contractors with guidance on the cleanup of an old oil tank and the decommisioning process. 

The video below will give you an idea of the process of removing and cleaning a tank. 


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Posted on November 7, 2014 at 12:36 am
Sean Coster | Category: Sean Coster

Monthly Market Review – September 2014

Monthly Market Review Sept 2014

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Posted on September 9, 2014 at 1:40 am
Sean Coster | Category: Sean Coster