Green Portland: A Design & Remodeling Blog

Presented by Green Design & Remodeling to increase knowledge about home design and remodeling

5 Tips for Sustainable Design October 28, 2008

How to Easily Incorporate Being Green into Your Next Project

Sustainable design is in concert with the planet. When we feel good in our spaces, work and home, we are more productive, healthier and happier. It sounds hippie-dippie, but spending time in a beautiful, sustainably designed and built space is more than saving the planet; it is saving and expanding our “quality of life.”

Being green doesn’t have to be difficult. Every decision in a design project can have a green answer. Every choice can have the overlay of,  “Is it environmentally friendly/green = does it work with nature rather than against it?  Is it sustainable = does it meet my present needs without ruining my grandchildren’s chances to meet their needs?”

You might be asking:
How can I be sustainable, find the resources, make the choices?
Who works with sustainable materials?”
How can I do this without being overwhelmed?

Here are 5 simple questions to ask about being environmentally friendly and building sustainably:

1. Where do I find the most sustainable materials? There are more and more retail stores, websites and magazines devoted to sustainable and green materials.  Individual materials’ websites and product information can tell you a lot about them:  Just like the grocery store, check the “label”.  Ask questions like,  “Is the product made from rapidly renewable resources or is the material I choose depleting a natural source?”   “Is it made from recycled or innovative material?”  “Is the wood reclaimed or from a managed forest?”

2. Will my choices use less energy over time? Insulation, that keeps heat in and cold out, makes your life more comfortable and helps use less energy winter and summer. There is non-itchy insulation – blown in cellulose (newspaper) and shredded jeans (denim) material!  Daylight where you want it (slanting in from the south in the winter and shaded by leafy, deciduous plants or sun screens in the summer) through a double-paned, gas filled window allows us to light space naturally and also keep the heat in and the cold out.  Add skylights and the impact is increased.   Compact fluorescent bulbs may cost a little more to buy, but they last much, much longer and now can provide a light closer to the “warm” light of an incandescent light bulb.

3. Where do my materials come from? If they are grown, created, produced, manufactured or built within 500 miles of where you live, then you are using  “local”, supporting your communities and using less energy (usually fossil fuel) to get them to your home or work. It takes asking a question or reading a label to find out the information and use sustainable materials.

4. Is the product environmentally safe? Ask for paint that is “low or no VOC” It’s the VOCs that make that “new paint smell” and emit Volatile Organic Compounds. Know that you don’t have to be breathing those chemicals and neither do your children.  The quality of No-VOC paint has increased and almost every major brand offers one in all colors.  It’s an easy choice to make – just tell your painter that you want a No or Low-VOC paint.

5. Do my choices meet the old mantra – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? – It holds true in sustainable design.  Reduce the impact on the planet by choosing materials wisely – ask for sustainable products.  Reuse, by choosing products like Metro Paint (100% recycled paint – it is not Low-VOC, but it has been produced by mixing useable left-over paint in color batches – paint that would have gone into the landfill.)  Recycle materials you are no longer using by donating them to organizations like The Rebuilding Center and waste from your project by making sure that it is separated and disposed of correctly.  Each city has regulations for recycling metal and wood, separately from garbage.

I am including a short list to get you started on your sustainable way – it’s easy and it feels good:

I want to be like Portland….. the Office of Sustainable Development

Used/recycled building materials

New building materials – Environmental Building Supplies

Natural cotton fiber insulation

Build It Green (California) – information (cellulose insulation)

Cork products

Alternative countertops

Sustainably forested wood

Interface carpet tiles

Wood products and woodworking

Metro Paint

If you have any questions, please contact us:

Thanks, Karla


Be Choosy When Choosing a Contractor October 27, 2008

Choosing a contractor can be and should be a difficult task. Often times you will be living with this person for months, so it is important to be sure you have a good working relationship with them before you get started. I have a few thoughts on this, but before we get to that lets make a checklist:

1. Does the contractor have his/her license? -Most states and cities require that contractors have a license in order to work on other peoples houses. For example, in Oregon, all contractors are required to be licensed with the Construction Contractors Board (CCB). Usually to have the license they need to be insured and bonded. Just in case, ask them for their insurance papers.

2. Does the contractor have his business in order? -Ask to see his/her business licence. If their business is not properly registered do you really want them working in your house?

3. What associations do the contractors belong to? -There are two big national associations that help out construction contractors, the National Builders Association and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

4. Does the contractor have any liens on his/her projects? What is the cause? -Most states allow contractors and sub-contractors to place liens on houses if they have not been paid in due time. If the general contractor has placed a lien on a house, that usually means he has a client that has not paid him, if his sub-contractors have a lien on the house, that means that the general contractor has not paid his subs. It is okay to ask why this has happened.

5. Does the contractor have references? – If you are still a little hesitant about hiring someone, then ask for references. Good contractors and produce two or three references right away.

6. How does the contractor price projects? -This is a big one! If your project is over $5000.00, you better see at least two or three subcontractors coming by to see your job. Be very wary if the contractor is giving you a bid based on square footage or just off the top of his head. A well ESTIMATED project means that everyone that is going to work your house has come by to look at and given the general their price. -Remember too that no general contractor can give you a “FIRM PRICE.” That is total BS (excuse the French). There is always at least one thing that will come up during construction. Remember to set aside an additional 8-10% of the job cost.

7. One last thing you should ask: How are payments made on your project? -If you are doing a $150,000.00 addition, you do not want to hand the whole amount over at once. Make sure there are appropriate progess payments in place. For example 30/20/20/20/10.

So now that I have given a few things to think about, lets talk about the design. Who is doing the design work? You the client, the contractor, or have you hired a designer/architect? Here is my thinking–and granted I am totally biased, but it is grounded in some logic. You should always consult with a designer!

“Why? I have perfectly good taste! Thank you very much!” This may be true, you might have impeccable taste, but do you know what all is involved? Do you know your local codes? Do you know how things are built and placed together?

“Okay, fine! I will have my contractor review my design.” Very good idea, but don’t expect a general contractor to know a good design when he sees one.

“So what do I need a designer for?” A designer can offer a number of services. For example, most designers know the majority of showrooms in the area and can point you to new places to look for things like tile, counters, appliances, hardware, cabinets, etc. A designer knows when you do and do not need an architect. If you are moving a bearing wall, or changing the exterior often times all you need is engineering. Architects are great, don’t get me wrong, but they are expensive and a designer can save you a ton of their time by helping get straight to the point.

“But designers are expensive too!” This can be true. In fact I know a lot of designers that charge by the hour, and the costs can skyrocket if the client has a hard time making choices. In my firm, as long as we are planning on building the project, we charge a flat rate for the design. This keeps costs low up front and allows us and the client to get to know each other better.

“You mean I can hire a designer who does contracting?” Yes! It is often referred to as design/build. But again, be wary! If a company says they are design/build, ask for their design credentials.

I will write another entry later this week on how to choose a good designer. Until then, I hope you have found this article helpful, and please check out our website at

Thanks for reading!

Daniel Milligan


Scheming for Color: How to choose an interior color theme October 25, 2008

Filed under: Color Theory,Home Design — greendesignllc @ 7:00 pm
Tags: , ,

This blog is going to be mostly about design and the importance of design when it comes to working on your home. I figure a good place to start is with color. Color is one of the first things your brain registers when it walks into any space. In this article I am going to stick with interior spaces, although you may be able to apply it to exteriors as well.
Let me start with color trends. What are color trends? Color trends are the colors you see when you shop for just about anything; towels to rugs, cars to clothing, dog collars to dishes. The largest problem with color trends, is that they are just that-trends. So unless you want to redo your interiors every year, or get stuck with a color theme you may get tired of (I will talk about themes shortly), then I suggest trying to avoid trends altogether.
So how does one go about choosing color? My suggestion is to base your color selection on either a piece of furniture you already have or one that you want to purchase. And by furniture I mean anything from a rug, to an upholstered chair, to a cherished piece of art. I think it is better to try and work with something that already has a color scheme that appeals to you. For instance, lets take a photo that you might want to hang on the wall.

Photo of fall leaves
Photo of fall leaves

This is an excellent start, from here you can choose a wall color. But keep in mind this: The most important thing to remember when it comes to color is that it is ALWAYS relative.  Color is relative to other colors that are adjacent to it.  This basically means that a color may look one way next to this color and different when next to that color… Here is an example to make this clearer:

Red blocks on fields of color

Red blocks on fields of color

  • As you can see the red and black squares have the greatest contrast, and as such is used in a lot of color schemes. In fact I would call it a classic color theme.
  • The red square on the white, looks the most red, but lacks definition.
  • Orange is created by using red, and thus is an analogous or related color. In other words they don’t fight each other, and could be used in a color scheme.
  • Blue on red is typically not a good relation-especially in this example. The red is considered a warm color, whereas blue is considered a cool color. Now there are warmer blues (blues that have more red in them), which is why the color scheme of the U.S. flag works, because the red and blue in the flag are closer in value.
American Flag
  • One last thing I want to point out about the blocks above: the blue and the orange. Those two colors are what as known as complimentary colors, along with red & green, and purple & yellow. They fight each other, and such color schemes are often used for flags, signs, school colors-and Christmas. When the two colors are laid next to each other they seem to vibrate. Usually not a good combination for a soothing interiors.

So enough color theory-there are text books written on this, just look at Amazon. We are suppose to be talking about how to pick color-Let’s start with our photo: examing the colors in the photo, we can tell we are dealing with warm colors. In fact the colors are generally considered to be comforting, soothing and a strong. We have some reds, oranges, and yellows.

Safe Color Scheme

Here is one idea you could use. This is a pretty safe option. Neutral color, goes well with the photo, probably would go well with anything else one might own.

Safe Color Scheme
Bolder Color Scheme

Bolder Color Scheme

This is a little bolder, again, looks great! But might be a bit much if you are surrounded by it.

Okay so here is what I would do. I would start with a nice bold, but not over powering color on the walls. I would then pop them up with a color that is a little warmer, but stays in the same area of the color wheel. To accent all of this you can swing to warm greens and browns. And ta-da! You have your self a color theme.

Complete color scheme

Complete color scheme

Now, if this does not seem like the most obvious solution, that is because color is tricky. We can spend hours choosing colors for clients, usually having to go off of something very little. We are here to help.
If you have questions about color, color theory, or just want more information-send me a question or visit our website at

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