Green Renovation and Remodeling: The Office

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Largely as a result of advances in telecommunication, more than 27 million people in the U.S. are working out of their homes. The home office should be as comfortable and energy-efficient as possible to keep you productivity high and your utility bills down.

This section will focus on energy-efficient equipment and lighting — but the planning, insulation, solar energy, and interior finishes mentioned previously are also important aspects to consider when remodeling a home office.

Job Site and Landscaping

As you plan for your new office space, consider what you will do with your obsolete electronic equipment. An estimated 30 million computers are thrown out in the US every year; of those, only about 14 percent are recycled.

“Electronic equipment is one of the largest known sources of heavy metals, toxic materials, and organic pollutants in municipal trash waste,” noted by Director of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a nonprofit group in California that studies computer industry waste. “The only household item I can think of that is worse would be pesticides.”

The lead in the cathode ray tube of a monitor is especially dangerous. ‘While the government has banned lead in paint and gasoline because it can cause brain damage in children, there is still an average of five pounds of the metal in each tube. In response to the environmental threat, California and Massachusetts passed laws in 2001 that require recycling of old monitors. Three other states have similar plans in the works. Encourage electronic equipment recycling in your jurisdiction and support retailers such as Best Buy and Staples that have started holding special collection days where people can bring in old electronics for recycling.

Green office installation options, remodeled for efficient use of space could include:

• windows glazed according to their aspect

• window coverings and overhangs

• landscaping to shade windows

• increased roof insulation

• compact fluorescent bulbs/lights

• recycled-content carpet and underlay

• low-VOC, water-based paint and finishes on walls and furniture

• unplugging equipment when not in use

Structural Framing

For information regarding structural changes you may need to make to the office, please refer to Section 9, Structural Framing.


For information regarding plumbing changes you may make to the office, please refer to Section 12, Plumbing.


Good lighting is the best way to increase your productivity Natural sunlight should suffice during the day. One great option is a light pipe — a long tube lined with a reflective surface to help channel significant amounts of light into your office without overheating the room. ‘When daylight is not available, fluorescent lights will provide the most light for the least amount of energy Inexpensive straight-tube fluorescents can be used in a variety of attractive ceiling fixtures for general lighting, and can also be placed in soffits directly over the desk for task lighting. Get the more efficient T-8 lamps with electronic ballasts for these fixtures.

Low-voltage halogen track lighting is an attractive option that illuminates pictures or credentials on a wall and it is a better choice than standard incandescent spotlights. New compact fluorescent track lights are also available, and are even more efficient than halogens. You can also get compact fluorescent wall sconces to highlight walls indirectly. Install separate switches for general lighting, task lighting, and highlighting so that you do not have to waste energy by having all the lights on at once.

As you buy electronic equipment, look for EnergyStar labels that indicate the device will have lower operating costs than other equipment. Also, many electronic devices continue to use electricity even when switched off, so physically unplug these appliances or turn off their power strips. This will also protect your equipment against voltage surges.

FYI: Laser printers use one-third of their printing power when they are on standby. Turn off your laser printer when you’re not printing!


Working from home can be a challenge when there are teenagers blasting music from their bedrooms, neighbors using their lawnmowers, and dogs barking. Insulating the interior walls between your office and the rest of the house will help you keep your peace of mind so you can get your work done more efficiently and truly enjoy “family time” at the end of the day. Insulation will also help the room maintain a mote comfortable temperature, saving you money on energy bills.

Avoid recessed can light fixtures that allow unwanted hot or cool air into your working space.

Solar Energy

If you’ve ever worked in a windowless cubicle, you know how important windows are to your productivity (and sanity). Look for low-E, low solar-heat-gain glass, especially if sunlight will shine directly on your electronics. A lower cost option is to use landscaping and window overhangs to shade windows. Orient desk surfaces and computer screens to avoid sunlight glare.

A solar space heater is a great way to heat a small space like an office. Active solar air heating systems have solar collectors that use the sun to heat air which is then used to provide space heat. They do not require a heat storage component, and they can complement most existing heating systems. Solar space heaters are the least expensive and simplest solar technology to install. and , just as important, solar power will reduce the amount of pollution and greenhouse gases that are emitted to the atmosphere to heat your home.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

Incandescent lights give off 90 percent of their energy as heat rather than as light. Computers, printers, copiers, and fax machines also create substantial waste heat. This may make your office and even other parts of your home uncomfortable in summer, and the excess heat can create problems with sensitive electronics like hard drives. In the summer, you may suddenly need air conditioning; in the winter, heating in your home may become uneven because of the excess heat in the office.

Your best solution is to eliminate sources of unwanted heat in the first place. Energy-efficient office equipment will also minimize waste heat. Operable windows and ceiling fans will help ventilate and cool your home with little energy expense. (See HVAC section under “Room Additions”.)

Interior Materials/Finishes

Select light colors for walls, ceilings and floors to reflect light deep into the room. Wood can be a light, attractive finish. Try to buy sustainable flooring like bamboo or FSC-certified wood. If you choose to install carpeting, use a formaldehyde free, recycled-content carpet and backing. Carpet tiles are now available, which allow you to simply replace small squares of carpet that get stained or damaged. Always use paints and wood stains that contain little or no toxic VOCs.

Office Checklist

Job Site and Landscaping

  • Recycle job site waste.


  • Install light pipes.
  • Install compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.
  • Install halogen lighting.


  • Increase insulation thickness.
  • Avoid recessed can light fixtures.

Solar Energy

  • Install double-paned windows.
  • Install low-E windows.
  • Install glazings tuned to orientation.
  • Install window coverings and overhangs.
  • Use landscaping to shade windows.
  • Install a solar space heater system.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

  • Install operable windows for natural ventilation.
  • Eliminate sources of unwanted heat.

Interior Materials/Finishes

  • Select FSC-certified wood flooring.
  • Use rapidly renewable flooring materials.
  • Install recycled-content carpet and underlayment.
  • Use low- or no-VOC and formaldehyde-free paint.
  • Use low-VOC, water-based wood finishes.

Next: The Basement

Prev: Room Additions

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