Renovating a home can feel like such a fresh and healthy start -- until you start worrying about issues like the environmental impact of newly harvested or wasted materials, the off-gassing of newly introduced toxins, and more. Fortunately, you can take steps to make any remodel more friendly to both the planet and your own health. And well-planned green renovations can even save you money.
The time to begin thinking about the environmental aspects of your remodel is during the planning phase. Consider the environment when you hire professionals, decide what to do with demolished materials, and choose materials.
Hire green-savvy professionals. If your remodel is a serious undertaking, like redoing an entire kitchen or adding a family room, you most likely will hire a host of professionals, such as an architect to design the project, an engineer to review your plans, and a general contractor to manage the construction.
Hiring the right professionals is your first opportunity to make environmentally friendly choices. Begin by asking friends and neighbors with remodels you like for the names of professionals with experience doing green remodeling. When you meet with professionals, ask to see examples of their work and to explain what makes it environmentally friendly. Experts will know more about the toxicity and sustainability of certain products, as well as how to take advantage of natural light and heat, reduce consumption, and lower energy costs.
Consider what to do with demolished materials. While you're planning how to demolish what you have, think about what you're going to do with it. The less waste, the better. Consider whether you can reuse or repurpose old materials -- for example, by turning the brick from a non-functioning fireplace into a backyard path. Also, figure out how to resell or donate any usable materials -- local salvage yards may be happy to receive them.
Choosing materials. The planning stage is also when you'll decide what materials you want to use. Look for products certified by The Greenguard Environmental Institute ( www.greenguard.com), the Forest Stewardship Council (www.fscus.org), or Cradle to Cradle (www.mbdc.com/c2c/). All have undergone rigorous certification procedures to test for environmental impact, described at www2.buildingreen.com. And those same salvage yards may have doors, windows, tiles, doorknobs, and other materials from either demolition or left over from other new building projects.
Look also at environmentally friendly substitutes, many of which won't cost more that their less friendly counterparts. For example:
Here are a few of the most common remodeling projects, along with some specific advice on what you can do to make them eco-friendly.
Kitchens are high on most home remodelers' wish lists. If you're remodeling yours, here are some ideas for making it green:
Bathrooms are another place where remodelers have plenty of opportunity to make wise choices. Eco-friendly ideas include:
If you're adding a new room to your home, pay attention to these particular possibilities:
For tips on other ways to make your home eco-friendly -- without spending buckets of money -- see Nolo's article Go Green at Home, Save Money.