How to Sustainably Remodel Your Home
Environmental Impact of Home Remodeling
Whether you can’t wait to implement a new interior design style you’ve always dreamed of, or are getting ready to make more room for your growing family, the thought of remodeling your home can be incredibly thrilling.
As you walk through the steps of how to accomplish enhancing your living space however, it can also become overwhelming. When remodeling your home there are many things to consider such as:
What parts of your home do you love that you want to keep?
What should be nixed and started over from scratch?
As you begin to research the vast amount of options for home remodeling, you will want to decide where sustainability falls into your remodeling priorities.
Positive Impacts of Green Remodeling
By choosing to remodel, you have already made a green choice. Instead of building a home from scratch, remodeling allows you to reuse materials in your home that are already in place. According to Natural Life Magazine, buildings make up approximately 40 percent of the energy and materials used in the world. Remodeling your home with sustainability in mind will contribute to a positive impact on the world’s energy consumption.
Having an environmentally-friendly home will allow you to avoid many negative aspects of renovating, such as:
Hurting the environment with newly harvested and wasted materials
Off-gassing of toxins
Increasing the amount of construction and demolition waste and debris
Having an eco-friendly home can change the quality of life for you and your family in many drastic ways. Sustainable appliances will ultimately reduce the cost of bills thanks to their energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the average household spends about $2,150 on energy bills, but sustainable houses have saved between 30-60 percent on those bills.
“The average household spends about $2,150 on energy bills, but sustainable houses have saved 30-60 percent on those bills.”
There are even incentives offered by local, state, and federal agencies for going green in your lifestyle. Windows, doors, roofing, insulation, and HVAC are all items of a home remodel that are subject to tax credits. Local utility providers sometimes offer rebates for green upgrades as well.
Choose refreshing over replacing
Instead of replacing all of the materials in your home, remodeling in a sustainable way by reusing materials can also save you money. Recycling is a huge aspect of living a green lifestyle. Repurposing items and materials prevents unnecessary, additional purchases for your home upgrades. Saving natural resources and reducing the emissions from the manufacturing and transportation of these materials does the environment a huge favor. Many green products and materials are also more durable and effective compared to non-sustainable products.
What to Know before Your Green Home Remodel
Before you dive into remodeling and creating your dream eco-friendly living space, investigate what you already have in your home that may comply with sustainable living.
Your home may already be more sustainable than you think; check its Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to tell what you are working with when remodeling your home. This certificate will provide insight into your house’s energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. The grading system goes from “A”, the most energy-efficient, to “G” as the least, and gives homeowners an idea of how green their home really is.
What’s Green Around Your House
Insulation is generally not green unless you specifically seek the use of sustainable materials, such as recycled resources. Making an investment in insulating your home however, can actually save you money on your power bill. Since energy is wasted in homes that are poorly insulated, this energy-efficient upgrade is good for your wallet and the environment.
Windows are another aspect of your home to look at updating. Double-glazed windows are sustainable and energy efficient. Wood-framed windows are also a sustainable option, as opposed to uPVC (unplasticized polyvinyl chloride) or metal. They insulate better, are easier to repair, and last far longer than other window framing options. UPVC, commonly used to frame domestic windows, emits harsh toxins into the air, making wooden frames in your home a more sustainable alternative.
What’s Not Green
A common energy-guzzling household item is often the air purifier. They are designed to clean the air and decrease odors, but produce ozone at a very minor level. Ozone is what is found in upper levels of the atmosphere and is what protects the world from ultraviolet (UV) rays, but breathing in this ozone can cause respiratory issues.
Carpeting and rugs are not green items to have in your home, as they harvest toxins like formaldehyde and later release it into the air. The glue used to install carpet also creates breathable toxins that harm human health.
Deconstruct Instead of Demolish
Demolition has an immense, negative impact on the environment due to material waste. Before remodeling your home, think strategically about what to deconstruct and what items to keep. Thinking sustainably ahead of time can save you money by minimizing your long list of materials to buy and reduce waste. Walk through your home and see what you can re-use. Light fixtures, molding, cabinets, and even doors can be repurposed.
If after doing your research you realize that you just can’t sustainably remodel your entire house at the moment, think about it in phases. If you want to start with running a more efficient household, focus on:
On-demand water heaters
The next step of your green remodel can tackle things like using:
Sustainably harvested woods
Reclaimed lumber for system rebuilding
Rainwater collection as part of your home plumbing system
If you love the idea of renovating your home to be more energy efficient, but can’t take on a full house remodel, think about remodeling on a room-by-room basis. It may feel more realistic to take on the upgrading of kitchen appliances to be more sustainable, instead of picturing all of the things in your home that need to be addressed.
When thinking about starting small, you can also take a step back and conceptualize how much space you actually need in your home. If you have a room that doesn’t get much use, you can either reduce your overall square footage or repurpose it into a space that would be further enjoyed. Smaller living spaces are ultimately more affordable, and have less negative impact on the environment by using less materials and emitting less toxins into the air.
Another idea that is mindful of space is to double up on the purposes of your rooms. You can easily add a washer and dryer to a kitchen or bedroom in a discreet way, or even into a hallway or a closet. Open-concept homes often have one large room that serves as the kitchen area, living room, and dining room.
Room by Room
An eco-friendly kitchen possesses a design that embodies healthy living as well as energy efficiency. Nontoxic materials used in the kitchen are central to having a sustainable kitchen as well.
From cabinetry to flooring, these products often have added urea formaldehyde, which emits gases and endangers healthy living. Glue, sealant, paint, and coating also have toxins that should be avoided.
When designing your kitchen, it is advised to go for more classic looks, rather than adhering to today’s trends. Not only will it cost you money to replace out-of-style colors and countertops, but it also fuels waste buildup by frequently ripping out and replacing these materials.
A stone backsplash is a favorite final touch for many homeowners. This can be one of the most sustainable elements in your green kitchen. Norstone Rock Panels are commonly used for stacked stone backsplashes as they have one of the most durable finishes, and use a natural stone sealer. When combined with chic glass in a modern kitchen, stacked stone really stands out in kitchen design.
One easy way to have confidence that your appliances are sustainable is to use Energy Star®, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s defining, voluntary program in the energy efficiency movement. Since 1992, Energy Star has served as a voluntary labeling program that allows consumers to identify and use energy-efficient appliances. In fact, the increase in purchases of Energy Star appliances has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 billion tons since its inception.
Pro Tip:In addition to having only the most sustainable appliances in your kitchen, it will also make a difference where you place them. Choose to locate your refrigerator in an area of your kitchen where it will not be exposed to direct sunlight to optimize its energy-saving capabilities.
You may be surprised to find out that 27 percent of household water is used in toilets. Installing and maintaining efficient water and plumbing systems are critical factors to consider when sustainably remodeling your bathroom. Your shower and sink faucets can also be swapped out with low-flow devices in order to save on water.
In order to conserve more water, low-volume and dual-flush mechanism toilets are becoming more popular as well. As for sinks, know what materials are safe to use in your green bathroom. Natural ceramic and nontoxic cement are popular options for hardware and sink basins.
Knowing what you are purchasing when it comes to remodeling your home is arguably the most challenging aspect. Homeowners need to know what to look for when purchasing products, materials, and appliances. Keep in mind that there are currently no EPA regulations around terms like “natural”, “organic”, or “sustainable”.
“Keep in mind that there are currently no EPA regulations around terms like ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘sustainable’.”
All sustainable products are not created equal. Like Energy Star, there are certifications that indicate a level of sustainability, such as the Greenguard certification. This will help optimize the indoor air quality of your home. The best way to do this is to look for materials that will not emit toxic chemicals into the air.
Avoid volatile organic compounds (VOCs), since due to off-gassing; they greatly contribute to air pollution. For some, this may be difficult to prioritize in your remodel because it is intangible. However, according to the EPA, VOCs pose long-term health problems like:
eye, nose, and throat irritation
headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea
damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system
some organics can cause cancer in animals and humans
In general, green home products are more durable and effective than man-made products. For instance, a wool rug will outlive a synthetic rug by about 45 years. In the same manner, natural linoleum lasts twice as long as vinyl flooring. Granite is one of the most popular countertop materials since it can last for generations.
When it comes to countertops, backsplashes, wall space, and flooring, natural stone is hard to beat. Norstone Rock Panels use natural stone products, such as quartz, quartzite sedimentary stone, and lava stone for Rock Panels. The durability and sustainable installation process of these natural stone products make them a top option for remodeling materials.
There are two aspects that can make painting eco-friendly:
The types of paint you select
How you dispose of your paint waste
Water-based paint with natural pigments is as close to all-natural paint as you can get. Most conventional paint types for homes are oil-based. The production of oil-based paint, however, is less energy efficient. Oftentimes, water-based paint with natural pigments has a smoother finish as well.
Water-based paints also contain low or no levels of VOCs. These toxins are especially dangerous in paint because they evaporate during the drying process, can contribute to indoor air contamination, and leave the unpleasant smell that is associated with painting.
You can generally find water-based paint with the same durability and performance of conventional paint. Being based from water, the paint is also safer to use overall. No more scrubbing your arms and legs for days after painting a room – water-based paint rinses off with soap and water. You’ll also find yourself having to repaint less often because of the acrylic technology many water-based paints use, allowing for longer-lasting life.
After you have selected your water-based paint and the painting is done, it is critical that paint cans and extra paint are not just thrown away or poured down a sink drain. Waste disposal of this type will be drained into local streams and could potentially pollute ponds. To properly dispose of paint in an eco-friendly manner, turn it into solid waste. Leave the paint can open to harden it, or mix it with hardening agents, such as cat litter, to speed up the process.
Solar Paneling and Solar Energy
Solar panel systems create electricity without producing global warming pollution and provide many benefits to your home and the environment. The biggest benefit is that it decreases your home’s contribution to global warming, one of the biggest environmental threats to the survival of human society and the world as we know it.
It is also extremely cost efficient for society, saving billions of dollars as more homeowners choose to install it on their homes. The average savings over 20 years for Americans who install solar panels to their home in 2011 is projected to be just over $20,000. Other uses of solar energy include light tubes for day lighting, allowing you to bring in more light therefore cutting back on the need for artificial lighting. An investment in solar light tubes is returned in five to seven years, but comes with the added benefit of having much more daylight in your home. Though the design of skylights is different, the intent is similar to that of solar light tubes, as your energy is being used more efficiently for more lighting.
Solar technology can also be used for heating your water. Buying solar hot water panels for your home heats the water you use in your home and your pool. In some countries, these hot water panels are commonly adopted. In the U.S., government incentives are available to help homeowners afford solar thermal panels. On average, hot water panels decrease water bills by 50 to 80 percent and have a financial payback in 6 to 10 years. If you find your lighting needs frequently changing, you can use solar landscape and patio lighting. They’re oftentimes found on lawns, but they are easy to relocate. Grants and tax incentives are made available by organizations like the Energy Investment Tax Credit, known also as the Solar Investment Tax Credit, providing a $30 federal tax credit for residential solar systems.
Unless you live in a green community where there are networks upon networks of sustainable contractors for remodeling homes, it is wise to do your own research to be able to offer suggestions on eco-friendly materials when it comes to your remodel.
With that being said, do not feel discouraged, as there are countless designers that are fully informed and have a driving principle to make people’s homes more sustainable. In fact, nearly one third of builders say that more than 60 percent of their projects are on green remodeling. It is safe to say that for many builders and designers, it is an expectation to build in an eco-friendly way.
Even if some products say that they are “green” or “all natural”, they may not be completely free of toxins. It is imperative to enlist a designer who knows your need to be green, and the extent that sustainability exists in the remodeling of a home.
Here are some sample questions that an environmentally-friendly designer should be able to answer:
“What is your process to incorporate my needs into a successful kitchen design?”
“How are you positive that the selected design and new architecture of my home will last a lifetime?”
“What materials do you find to be more durable, and also do not emit toxins into the air?”
“What are some fads you are seeing that we should avoid when creating a green living space?”
Being able to know what you want and how to describe it to the experts requires doing your own research. Articulating your needs and expectations are a must to be able to have your builder put your vision into motion. Visiting building supply stores to look into Energy Star appliances, recycled material options, and efficient lighting is a great way to start. You can also take tours of local green homes near you to scope out designs that match your dream home ideas.
Sustainability on a Budget
Contrary to popular belief, remodeling your home sustainably does not mean it has to be expensive.
Buying reclaimed materials, like wood, is an environmentally-friendly choice. Reclaimed resources are becoming more popular among home renovators. Reclaimed wood, for example, is a durable and sustainable choice for countertops, flooring, and walls. This saves not only time and energy, but money.
Refacing instead of replacing will also save you money. Find ways to salvage what is already yours to help your budget remain conservative. This remodeling strategy allows for creativity, as one piece in your laundry room may really bring out your new design in your remodeled kitchen.
Shopping locally will allow you to save on shipping. Though shipping may not be the first cost that comes to mind, having green materials shipped across the country, or the world, can quickly add up. By searching locally for handmade materials, you will save on resources and materials.
Buying pre-owned materials is another general way to cut renovation costs. There are many local sources for used hardware, plumbing, cabinetry, appliances, and countertops. Salvaged building supply stores are growing and becoming more popular all over the country, as well.