Remodel your home sustainably

This is a shortened version of the article "How to Sustainably Remodel Your Home," on Norstone USA's website, and is presented here with permission. Read the full version.

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. 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 your bills thanks to their energy efficiency. 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.

Refresh instead of replacing

Recycling is a huge aspect of living a green lifestyle. Repurposing items and materials prevents unnecessary 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.

Deconstruct instead of demolishing

Demolition has an immense 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.

Start small

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

  • Energy-efficient appliances.
  • On-demand water heaters.
  • High-efficiency insulation.
  • Solar technology.

The next step of your green remodel can tackle things like using

  • Sustainably harvested woods.
  • Reclaimed lumber for system rebuilding.
  • Reclaimed fixtures.
  • 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.

Photo courtesy of Norstone USA.

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 fewer 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.

The kitchen

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 may also have toxins that should be avoided.

When designing your kitchen, it is advised to go for more classic looks. 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.

stone backsplash is a favorite final touch for many homeowners. This can be one of the most sustainable elements in your green kitchen. Rock panels are commonly used for stacked stone backsplashes as they have one of the most durable finishes, and use a natural stone sealer. 

Photo courtesy of Norstone USA.

Energy-efficient appliances

One easy way to have confidence that your appliances are sustainable is to use Energy Star, the EPA’s defining, voluntary program in the energy efficiency movement. 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.

The bathroom

Twenty-seven 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.

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.

Choosing materials

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.”

Photo courtesy of Norstone USA.

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). According to the EPA, VOCs pose long-term health problems. In general, natural 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.

Green experts

It is wise to do your own research to be able to offer suggestions on eco-friendly materials when it comes to your remodel, but there are countless designers that are fully informed and have a driving principle to make people’s homes more sustainable. 

Enlist a designer who knows your need to be green. 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?”

Articulating your needs and expectations are a must to be able to have your builder put your vision into motion. Visit building supply stores to look into Energy Star appliances, recycled material options and efficient lighting. 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.

  • Use reclaimed materials. Buying reclaimed materials, like wood, is an environmentally friendly choice. It 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. 
  • Shop local. Having green materials shipped can quickly add up. By searching locally for handmade materials, you will save money. 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. 

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