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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 15, 2010

This green house

BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Matt Neal sits in his Pälolo home on stairs that use mostly recycled and refinished materials. The oak floorboards were also recycled and refinished. The entire house took about a year and a half of weekends to complete.

Photos by BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Neal stands on the länai of his house, pointing out the beams he salvaged from the original structure and used to frame the roof.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The upstairs shower in the house uses the old glass louvers saved from the original house as the wall material.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The space beneath the stairs uses recycled doors along the back wall.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Environmental scientist Matt Neal stands on the rear deck of his house, which features recycled floors of refinished boards and slate tile in the laundry area at left.

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When Matt Neal decided to remodel his Pälolo home, he wanted to prove he could build something that didn't sacrifice the environment for the sake of comfort and style.

The challenge he faced was huge: A 1928, single-wall, plantation-style structure with original electrical wiring, plumbing and all the grief that comes with a house as old as your parents.

But Neal, a 37-year-old environmental scientist for a local consulting firm, created a shining example of green ideas.

Neal used salvaged wood from his house, as well as other O'ahu remodeling projects, for railings, door frames, floor trim and the framework of his länai.

His ceiling is made of redwood planks that were once the walls of a Mänoa home. His floors are made of oak that came from a house two blocks up the street and fir that was once covered by carpet in his home.

"That was one of the major things I could do to save the material from going into the landfill and get some good material into the house," Neal said. "A lot of that old lumber is really good quality. It just needs to be shined up a little, sanded down and you can reuse it and it looks good."

Wherever he could, Neal got creative when it came to recycling materials, from the glass jalousies lining a shower to the basalt stepping stones that were once part of his pier-and-post foundation.

There's even a church pew he bought from the salvage firm Re-use Hawai'i, a hardware store of used materials that he turned to often.

"I just wanted a breakfast-nooky thing," he said. "I need to work with it a bit. It's uncomfortable. You feel like you're in church."

Neal didn't plan on tearing down the whole two-bedroom, one-bath house when he started, but that's what happened. The completed home now has a loft, another bedroom and another bathroom.

The home has a breezy, funky feel with lots of windows to keep it cool, a hot tub in the back and an outdoor shower.

Neal estimates that 25 percent of the project involved reused materials. The bulk of the framing, all the interior drywall and exterior siding are new, however, and he installed a new solar water heater and a photovoltaic system that stores electricity in batteries under the house.

Even his roof is eco-friendly. Neal has a metal roof and rain gutters that will allow him to create a water catchment system in the future.

The son of a home builder from Bend, Ore., Neal grew up learning how to frame homes. But he had never done an entire home when he decided to tackle this project, helped by a steady stream of family, friends and neighbors. It took about a year and a half of weekends — and a lot of beer — to complete, but there are numerous small details that Neal still needs to finish.

"I tried to do what I thought I could do and not go crazy and have the project last 15 years," he said. "The whole project was fun. Having all the friends and family involved, they all kind of got into the idea of using the recycled stuff."

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