From Burden to green dream: Tulsa man takes on abandoned house for sustainability project
by D. Ray Tuttle
Published: July 7th, 2010
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories on creativity in business, education and the arts in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City will host the World Creativity Forum in November.
TULSA – Chad Burden’s dream of earning a master’s degree in environmental science from Oklahoma State University became something of a nightmare as he tackled an abandoned house, overgrown with vegetation that resembled the jungles of Vietnam and filled chest-deep with unopened mail and garbage.
Burden said he was delusional when he started a college master’s degree project to turn an abandoned house into a superefficient green home. Nevertheless, he blew away a panel of Ph.D.s when he defended his thesis in May.
After examining his thesis, he said, the stunned jury asked if he would teach a class on green home building.
Burden, who has been working on the project for 18 months, can see the finish line and laugh about all the gaffes and lessons learned about remodeling.
In 2007, the Navy veteran, looking to use government assistance for schooling, decided to earn a master’s degree in environmental science.
“Green is hot, so I decided to re-educate myself for the green economy,” Burden said.
Burden decided to buy an abandoned house next door to him and turn it into his class project, using sustainable techniques. He decided to earn certification from the three most-recognized green building codes in the United States: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star for Homes program, the National Association of Home Builders’ National Green Building Standard and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Standards for rating a building’s greenness have been established by several organizations, using point systems to rate energy, water use, materials, design and more. Burden’s home will be triple certified, using all three green building platforms.
“Since the Energy Star for Homes program contains so many important facets, it is actually a prerequisite of the LEED protocol,” said Burden. “An Energy Star-certified home is great for Tulsa – a triple-certified Energy Star /NAHB/LEED home is unheard of.”
It is the only triple-certified home in the state, he added, and perhaps in the nation.
Reaching this point has not been easy – or cheap.
Burden has spent about 750 hours – all nights and weekends – turning the 60-year-old three-bedroom house into a top-of-line green-certified remodeled home.
Burden originally budgeted $150,000. He expected to spend $41,000 for the property acquisition and $110,000 for the renovation.
He blew through that cash pretty quick.
“We’re well north of $200,000,” Burden said. “If I would have known exactly what I was getting into … I was absolutely delusional,” he said.
Burden said he was naive about the remodeling process when he began, forgetting to budget for items like drywall. He points to a plywood bulletin board in the front yard that informed passersby about the renovation.
“My first building project,” he said.
Burden nearly gutted the house, moving the bedrooms to one side, adding a three-quarter bath and combining the living room with the kitchen, which served to open up half the house.
By the time Burden reached the backyard, with the money gone, he was ready to do be done with it.
“Not another dime,” he said. Instead of laying sod, Burden used mulch.
He initially planned to renovate the house and sell it for $175,000. But as time passed and the investment grew, Burden became convinced he’d need to keep it and maybe sell his original home. Plus, there was the emotionally investment he’d made.
“We like it,” he said.
Burden, who lives in midtown Tulsa with his wife, Amy, and three children – Isaac, 9; Nate, 7; and Billie, 3 – works in the finance department at Winnercom Inc. and coaches two children’s soccer teams. After doing all that, he’d spend a few hours at night and weekends on the house.
It took two-and-a-half months just to empty the house. Burden painstakingly sorted the metal, plastic and cardboard, saving 28 percent of the material for recycling.
And he started writing letters.
“I wrote to product manufacturers, trying to get deals, managing contractors, answering e-mails and writing stories for our blog,” Burden said.
Burden was surprised by the response from product manufacturers, who quickly jumped on board his project. He received many donations and discounted products from product manufactures. In total, he figures to have at least $300,000 in retail value into the home.
The home is filled with tons of sustainable features, including a recycled steel roof by Joplin, Mo.-based Tamko Inc., spray-foam insulation, rainwater harvesting system and drought-resistant, noninvasive plants. Virtually all the merchandise and equipment came from local or regional vendors.
The features and the techniques Burden used in the construction of the home have been certified by inspectors. Burden has the documents verifying the sustainability.
“I am ready to move on to something else,” Burden said, with a tired smile, like a man who has had a burden lifted from his shoulders.