While minor refurbishments can make many older homes energy-efficient, sometimes you have to do major renovations. Unfortunately, renovation can have an impact on the environment – new materials may have environmentally toxic finishes, old materials end up as landfill, and there’s also the risk of what you’re exposing to the air during demolition.
Thankfully, with recent developments in sustainable construction techniques, there are things you can do to make your remodel more eco-friendly, and better for your overall health.
Hire Professionals with Experience in Green Construction
Most large renovations require a team of people to get the job done, including architects, contractors and sub-contractors. Making your renovation eco-friendly starts with these professionals.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to find green professionals in your yellow pages, or the online equivalent. If you have no luck finding them through those avenues, you can also ask friends, family, and neighbors with similar remodels for leads on eco-friendly professionals. You can also look for eco-friendly and passive construction in your area, and find out who is doing the project. For example, Green Generation Building Company built a passive house in Yellow Springs, Ohio as a means of advertising their services. Check your area for something similar.
While you are looking for professionals with green experience, you should also make sure they have all the necessary certifications and paperwork, including liability insurance. If you are contracting the project yourself, look into general liability insurance quotes to make sure you’re covered in case an accident happens on the project.
Have a Plan for Your Demolished Materials
Instead of disposing of them, consider repurposing them in your new design. For example, consider using old, uninsulated windows to build a backyard green house; or, repurpose old bricks for paving stones or borders for your vegetable garden.
You may also be able to sell or donate the materials to companies that are part of the Building Materials Reuse Association. These companies take everything from structural materials to gently used appliances and resell them to the public at a deep discount. That old refrigerator that works well but isn’t Energy Star compliant could go to a less fortunate family. While it might not be Energy Star compliant, it can help them save on food costs, and waste, by having a better-working machine that prevents spoilage.
Choose the Right Replacement Materials
Look for materials that are certified by the Greenguard Environmental Institute, Cradle to Cradle, Energy Star, and/or the Forest Stewardship Council.
Some of the stores that offer repurposed business materials also take surplus from new construction, such as windows, door, and even heating and cooling systems, that could be high-efficiency and green certified.
There are also materials that might not be green-certified, but they are a more eco-friendly option versus certain other products. These materials include:
- Low or non-VOC paints, sealers and caulks over regular materials. Regular paints, sealers and caulks could release volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the air, even after they have dried. These compounds can be toxic to people and animals. Non-VOC materials do not release these compounds, and the prices for these products are usually close to those of the traditional products.
- Use true linoleum instead of vinyl. Vinyl is one of the most environmentally harmful plastics because it is made from PVC and contains toxic substance like phthalates and dioxin. If natural stone and ceramics aren’t in your budget, consider true linoleum, which is made from linseed oil, instead of vinyl.
- Use reclaimed wood, bamboo, or cork instead of hardwood, laminate, or carpet. By using reclaimed wood, you reduce the number of trees that are cut down to make hardwood flooring. Bamboo and cork are both sustainable crops because they regrow so quickly. Bamboo can cork are also durable and make beautiful flooring. Like paint, carpet can emit VOCs, which is why it’s best to avoid it.
Remodeling your home to make it more eco-friendly not only helps the environment, it can also improve the appearance and value of your home. You just need to make sure the professionals you choose, as well as your methods and materials, match your intention.