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Putting the Buckminster in remodeling

To Northern Liberties couple, green building is smart building.

Kenny Grono at his firm Buckminster Green, with image of R. Buckminster Fuller on the door. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Kenny Grono at his firm Buckminster Green, with image of R. Buckminster Fuller on the door. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)Read more

KENNY GRONO and his wife, Bronwyn Reice, both 36, of Northern Liberties, founded Buckminster Green, a green remodeling firm, in 2005. The North Philly company was inspired by the author and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, who taught at Penn, Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore. It installs high-efficiency windows, doors and appliances; uses no-formaldehyde insulation; designs for limited waste; and recycles wood, drywall, shingles, cardboard and metal. I spoke with Grono.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the business?

A: I taught physics in the Philadelphia School District. During summers, we bought and fixed homes, then flipped them. We got interested in green building, and the firm was born. I taught until 2007 to save money to start it.

Q: What's up with the name?

A: Buckminster Fuller coined "Spaceship Earth" and invented the geodesic dome. He was a pioneer in using design in smart ways to reduce waste and make the planet better.

Q: How do you grow the biz?

A: People are comfortable buying a car or a house, not so much when it comes to remodeling. A lot of people compare this to new construction, and it's different. Most houses we work on are 100 years old and you find issues when you open up a wall.

Q: Where's most of your work?

A: In Society Hill, Fairmount, University City and Bella Vista.

Q: What are the costs?

A: The green part almost never drives the cost. You can remodel a kitchen, but if you don't make sure that what's behind walls is structurally sound, then you're doing nobody a favor. A typical project might be a kitchen where we combine multiple rooms, create access to a yard that's not there now, gut the kitchen and put in everything new. That's going to cost $80,000 to $100,000.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: It's a $1 million company and we have five full-time employees, not counting me and my wife.

Q: How do you and your wife divide job responsibilities?

A: Bronwyn does the accounting, payroll, tracking of jobs and 90 percent of the design work. I handle sales, on-site management and scheduling. I scope out a job when a customer calls.

Q: Who are your competitors?

A: There are probably eight or 10 similarly sized companies here working in this space. One of my competitors is focused on doing everything with salvage material, and we kind of let the design take us where it needs to go. We work with Revolution Recovery and they recycle our waste. We always look for locally sourced materials; the closer you find something to the job site, the less fuel you use transporting it.

Q: Who's a typical client?

A: A homeowner. Most clients are in their 30s to 50s, may have kids or one is on the way, and that may be driving the remodeling.

Q: How many projects per year?

A: Probably 30, about five of them large.