The thought of remodeling their home is an exciting one for millions of Americans. Some cannot wait to implement a new interior design, while others may be creating more room for their growing families. When walking through the steps of how to accomplish the enhancement of your living space, there are so many things to consider, such as:
- What is the final objective (including project duration, disruption to lifestyle, and cost)?
- What parts of your home are fine just the way they are?
- What potential projects might be better-off nixed in deference to starting over from scratch?
Researching the myriad of trends and options for home remodeling in the current marketplace may help you decide how important Sustainability and Green Building are to you and your family.
The Green Building Movement
“Green Building” refers to construction practices that make homes and other buildings resource-efficient and sustainable throughout their life cycles, from sitting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. “Green buildings” are designed to reduce the overall impact on human health and the natural environment. Here’s what’s interesting to note: Simply by deciding to remodel in the first place, you’ve already made a green choice! (Just think of all the debris and waste materials that won’t need to be hauled off to the local landfill, for example. Not to mention the amount of labor and fuel saved, or the environmental toll of consuming newly harvested and wasted materials. Remodeling your home sustainably contributes to a positive impact on the world’s overall energy consumption.
The Ecologically Friendly Home
An eco-friendly home can improve the quality of life for you and your family in ways that preserve the quality of life for the rest of the planet! Sustainable appliances reduce the net cost of energy by 30-60 percent. And with the average American household spending $1,000 or more on monthly energy bills, the return on investment for a smart thermostat, for example, is rapid. Tax credits and other incentives offered by local, state, and federal agencies for going green further sweeten the deal, and the increase in home values seals it! More and more homeowners are having a look at the efficiency of their windows, doors, roofing, insulation, and HVAC systems for this reason.
What to Know Before You Begin
Creating a comfortable eco-friendly living space must be predicated by taking inventory of what you already own. We have personally seen men and women pleasantly surprised at the number of things in their homes that complies with sustainable living principles and performance!
Repurposing With Purpose!
Remodeling sustainably can also save you money over replacing various materials in a home, preventing additional purchases, and reducing the emissions from the manufacturing and transportation of new materials, along with generated waste. There will inevitably be net-new purchases necessary when re-using an existing appliance or piece of material isn’t realistic, and when these cases arise, we ask you to seriously consider green products and materials. In many cases, the newer sustainable technologies and processes are more durable and cost-effective compared to non-sustainable products.
Take Your Inventory
Environmental Refresher: Ozone is what is found in the upper levels of Earth’s atmosphere, and it protects us from ultraviolet rays. So, we like the Ozone up there…but not down here, because breathing it can cause respiratory issues.
Don’t Demolish: Deconstruct!
Traditional demolition has a massively negative impact on the environment, prompting the green building world to think strategically about the things we demolish and discard-of, deconstruct (and repurpose) or keep. Homeowners and builders can save money by skipping the purchase of long lists of new materials with just a little advanced planning. For example, performing a walk-through of your home to identify the things you may be able to re-use is a great start. Take note of molding, cabinets, light fixtures, and doors that might be repurposed.
It’s Okay To Start Small
Especially during this fateful pandemic of 2020, not everybody can undertake a complete home remodeling project. It may be more realistic and manageable to take-on something smaller, such as updating your kitchen appliances. (In our collective effort to save our planetary home, we are wise not to bypass progress in pursuit of perfection!) One easy way to have confidence that your appliances are sustainable is to reference Energy Star®, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary program supporting the energy efficiency movement. (The increase in purchases of Energy Star appliances has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 2.5 billion tons since its inception.)
You may also wish to consider taking a step back and rethinking just exactly how much space you actually need in your home, and for the support of what functions and purposes. For example, many homeowners feel dogged by “that room that doesn’t get much use,” right? Repurposing such a room into a space that can fulfill a vital purpose, such as a home office or fitness studio, which just might be what the doctor ordered to facilitate increased usage of your available square feet!
27 percent of the average household’s water is used in toilets, so efficient hardware and plumbing systems are critical to sustainably remodeling your bathroom. Looking into low-volume and dual-flush mechanism toilets is a great way to begin. Shower and sink faucets can be swapped out with low-flow devices to save water. 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 key to success with all of this. Homeowners need to know what to look for when purchasing products, materials, and appliances, as labels like “natural”, “organic”, and “sustainable” aren’t required by the EPA. Certifications that indicate a level of sustainability, such as the Greenguard certification, are a definite help.
Important Health Note
Especially when working in bathrooms (and other tight spaces), try to avoid the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The “off-gassing” that are caused by compounds like these can cause long-term health problems like, such as:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea
- Damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system
- 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 roughly 45 years. In the same manner, natural linoleum has twice the life as vinyl flooring. Of course, many are already aware that granite is one of the most popular countertop materials because it can last for generations.
The two factors that can make painting eco-friendly are, 1) The types of paint you select, and 2) How you dispose of the waste.
Most water-based paints employ natural pigments, making them the closest thing to an “all-natural” paint as you can get. However, oil-based paints are used much more frequently in new home-builds and existing home-remodels. This is bad news for the environment because the production of oil-based paint is far less energy efficient.
Another advantage of using water-based paints is that they contain low or zero VOCs. These toxins evaporate during the paint drying process, contributing to indoor air contamination. (That unpleasantly familiar fuel-like smell isn’t for no reason.)
Want a third reason for going with water-based paint? How about no more scrubbing your arms and legs for days after painting a room! That’s right, water-based paint rinses off with just soap and water.
Now, after (hopefully) having selected your water-based paint color and finish, and your painting project is near completion, it’s critical that extra paint in cans is not just thrown away, or even worse, poured down a drain, into the water, or onto the ground. Both choices will lead to bleeding into local streams, ponds, and even well-water. Turning water-based paint into solid waste is the only proper way to ecologically dispose of paint. Simply leave the can open until it hardens, or mix it into an absorption/hardening agent such as kitty-litter.
Solar Electricity & water Heating Solutions
The use of solar panels to create electricity produces zero global warming pollution while providing many benefits to your home and our global ecology. There can be no overstating the danger posed by global warming, as it threatens the glorious creatures of the world – and our very species – with extinction.
In addition to the fact that solar power addresses this major issue, it’s also extremely cost-effective for individual residences and society overall! Americans who install solar panels atop (or behind, or alongside) their homes can save over $25,000 in energy costs per year. In the sun-drenched Southwestern US States, like Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, homes and businesses and facilities are often allowed to sell their excess solar-generated power back onto the grid that sells power to them in the first place!
Additional solar energy products include light tubes that replace traditional bulbs for optimal lighting during the day, cutting back on your need for electrically powered lighting. An investment in solar light tubes is returned in an average of five to seven years, and comes with the added benefit of having much more daylight in your home. Solar Light tubes actually aren’t that dissimilar to skylights (which are also technically solar), as neither requires plugging-in to an A/C current.
Solar technology can also be used for heating water in a home, building, or facility. Solar water tanks are used in solar heating packages to act as buffer tanks. When the sun is shining, the water will be heated in the solar storage tank for later use, most commonly in the evening. Most solar water heaters contain a heat exchanger to separate the potable water from the solar heating solution (Water/Glycol) and have a great insulation value that can retain the heat for a day.
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, which are often found on lawns as well. Grants and tax incentives are made available by organizations like the Energy Investment Tax Credit, known also as the Solar Investment Tax Credit, providing federal tax credits for residential solar systems.
What is “green building”?
Green building (also known as sustainable or high-performance building) is the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use and harvest energy, water, and materials, as well as protecting and restoring human health and the environment throughout the building life-cycle.
What makes a building “green”?
A green building is a structure that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout its life-cycle. These objectives expand and complement the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment.
How is green building related to smart growth and sustainable development?
Smart growth is development that serves the economy, the community, and the environment by supporting healthy communities while creating economic development and jobs. Sustainability, or sustainable development, is the ability to achieve continuing economic prosperity while protecting the natural systems of the planet and providing a high quality of life for its people.
Green building fits nicely with these concepts, as it promotes building practices that conserve energy and water resources, preserves open spaces through brownfield development, and are accessible to public transportation. EPA has more information on smart growth and sustainability.