Green Remodeling Products… Don’t Stop There!

Bob Alf Construction
Bob Alf Construction

Green home improvement products are everywhere! These products are helpful and fun to use for a green home remodeling project, but they are not the solution to making your home as efficient and sustainable as possible. For example, how sustainable is it to pay a premium for recycled wall tiles for your new kitchen if your home is hemorrhaging heated air all winter long? We present here a strategy called The Sequencing Strategy, a method to making your home as sustainable and green as possible. Rather than promoting specific green products, this strategy offers an approach that can lead to financial and environmental savings.

The Sequencing Strategy will provide you secret savings:

We all enjoy newly remodeled spaces (FUN). Yet, sometimes we have to spend money to repair or replace items already in our home (YUCK)! Secret savings are awaiting those willing to proactively sequence the YUCK with all of the FUN.

Let’s consider an example:

FUN: Kitchen—full remodel


  • Water heater 13 years old (average life 12–15 years)
  • Furnace 20 years old (average life 22–30 years)
  • Chimney crumbling (needs re-build in about 5 years)
  • Roof 5 years old (average life 13–20 years)
  • Insulation & air barriers (air-gaps in attic, no insulation in walls)

Presented here are two methods to approach this example above. Scenario A offers a typical approach. Scenario B offers The Sequencing Strategy.

Scenario A: Typical Approach.

Scenario A is the most common approach that many contractors and homeowners pursue. We do the fun kitchen remodel first and then react to broken systems when necessary. In the example above, Pat Homeowner spent $30K on a kitchen remodel which included beautiful new FSC certified wood cabinets, new bamboo flooring, new energy efficient appliances, repainting, and a new location for the sink. A few years later, the water heater failed, flooding the basement. In panic mode, Pat called Ms. Plumber who installed the same kind of (low efficiency) tank-type water heater, utilizing the existing chimney exhaust. This reminds Pat that the furnace is old and the chimney needs to be rebuilt, and she decides to fix these before serious operational or safety issues happen. Finally, about 10 years after the kitchen remodel, Pat replaces the roof before any problems develop. View the ‘Scenario A’ chart on the opposite page.

Scenario A: Typical Approach

Costs Savings


Kitchen Remodel



2013 Water heater leaks, causing damage to personal items $1k  

New water heater, tank-type 0.60 efficiency factor (EF)


  New furnace (93% efficient & sidewall vented) $4k  
  Chimney Rebuild $5k  
2018 Energy Savings from new furnace (last 5 years)*  




Roof replaced


  TOTALS $50k $1.7k
  NET COSTS $48,300

Scenario B: The Sequencing Strategy.

This approach takes planning, strategy, and patience. Yet, the financial savings and added sustainability are significant. Before the kitchen remodel, Pat Homeowner carefully reviewed the assessment of the home and saw opportunities to reduce future costs by replacing the water heater, adding insulation, and air sealing at the time of the kitchen remodel. Since the total cost of this expanded project exceeded her budget of $30K, Pat delayed purchasing the new refrigerator and decided to keep the kitchen sink in the same location to reduce plumbing costs. A cost analysis of these choices shows the resulting savings as shown in the ‘Scenario B’ chart below.

Scenario B: The Sequencing Strragety

Costs Savings


Kitchen Remodel (minus new frig & minus sink move)


  Water heater replaced (tankless .98 EF, sidewall vent)


  Insulation added to sidewalls & air seal entire house


2013 Energy savings from last 5 years*  




Refrigerator replaced (energy star model)

  Furnace replaced (93% efficient & sidewall vented) $4k  
  Chimney removed and roof patched $2.5k  
2018 Energy Savings from last 5 years*  



Roof replaced but zero chimney flashing


  TOTALS $47.5k


  NET COSTS $40,300

Savings from Using the Sequence Strategy

Scenario B shows $8,000 or 17% savings! In addition, planned sequencing of home repairs provided a cascade of other benefits from improved water heater performance to a lower carbon footprint for the home. It is clear that environmental sustainability can be compatible with financial savings for your home. 

*Energy Savings Assumed: natural gas price increase 35% in 2008 (July ’08 prediction by major gas suppliers) and 8%/year thereafter; savings will vary dramatically by home as these calculations were simply for illustration purposes.

Read Up

Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, & L. Hunter Lovins, Little, Brown and Company, 1999.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things, by William McDonough & Michael Braungart, North Point Press, 2002.

Act Locally

Bob Alf Construction (remodeling/construction coaching)
St. Paul, MN

Blaylock Plumbing (energy efficient water heaters)
Richfield, MN

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