Environmental concerns have captured the headlines over the past few years, with a focus on sustainable living. At the same time, inflation has been driving up utility costs. Many homeowners are looking for ways to make their homes more eco-friendly, and one of the most effective ways to do this is through a sustainable renovation.
Green renovating could involve a few upgrades or additions, or it could be an entire home overhaul. By making conscious choices in the materials and methods used during your renovation process, you can significantly reduce your home’s environmental footprint.
In this article, we’ll explore a range of green renovation ideas for creating your eco-friendly home, whether that’s a few minor fixes or through to a complete remodel.
What is a sustainable or eco-friendly home renovation?
A sustainable home renovation is going to be eco-friendly as well. It will minimize construction waste while maximizing the energy efficiency of your home. Sustainable renovations use recycled, upcycled, or green construction materials wherever possible. By increasing energy efficiency, your eco-friendly home with solar panels, triple-glazed windows, superior insulation and LED smart lighting could reduce energy bills by as much as 30%. With a renewable energy system, your home could potentially generate as much energy as it uses. At its essence, your eco-friendly home will be designed not to cause harm to the environment or any people.
Completing an energy audit
An excellent place to start in increasing your home’s energy efficiency and comfort is to conduct a whole-house energy audit. Many lists are available for do-it-yourself audits. An example is the Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audit published by the City of Vancouver. A diligent tour of your home, using a checklist, can help you evaluate how your home is currently operating while pinpointing upgrades that are needed to make it more energy-efficient.
You might also consider having a professional inspection and audit done. If you choose this path it’s best to hire an independent auditor, one who doesn’t represent a specific product brand or system. A professional auditor’s high-performance services may include a blower door test, duct pressure test, heat pump and A/C full commissioning, and thermal imaging.
In British Columbia you can schedule an EnerGuide Home Evaluation, to help you identify ways to improve your home’s overall comfort and efficiency, which will save you money on your utility bills. EnerGuide Home Evaluations are performed by certified energy advisors, who will check things such as your home’s air leakage, insulation, and furnace and ductwork. Following the EnerGuide evaluation, you will receive a personalized report with recommendations for upgrades that will have the most impact on improving your home’s overall efficiency.
Replace inefficient electrical components with LED lighting and Energy Star-rated appliances
One of the simplest and most effective ways to make your home more energy efficient is to switch to LED lighting. LEDs last longer, consume less energy, and emit less heat. If you’re using traditional incandescent and halogen bulbs, this one change alone can significantly lower your hydro bills. Upgrading to appliances with the Energy Star label will help you save energy and money without sacrificing performance.
BC Hydro offers rebates seasonally for products that improve the energy efficiency and comfort of your home.
Install Smart Home Technology, with programmable home thermostat and lights
Adding smart home technology can make your house more energy-efficient and convenient. Smart thermostats are internet-connected and allow you to control and monitor your home’s temperature using your smartphone, tablet, or another compatible device. They can be programmed to lower the temperature when you leave the house and then start warming again when your garage door opens as you arrive home. Some systems have advanced features such as learning capabilities, energy usage insights, and remote control through an app.
Your smart panel can also be used to control the lights in your home, either through voice commands or by using a smartphone or tablet. The system can turn off the lights in a room when no one is using it, helping you save energy and reduce your electricity bill.
Low- or zero-VOC paint and wallpaper
Traditional paints and finishes often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which release harmful chemicals into the air in your home. VOCs are the invisible chemical compounds we smell when we bring new paint products, wallpaper, other building supplies, and new furniture into our homes. The evaporation of these toxic compounds – formaldehyde, d-Limonene, toluene, acetone, ethanol, etc. – is called “off-gassing”, and it can continue for years after the initial odour is dissipated.
As you choose your paint and other finishes, look for companies that meet zero-VOC emissions standards – containing 5g/L or less of VOCs – and are willing to disclose the test results to consumers. It’s also important that your paint supplier doesn’t add VOCs to the colourants in their tinting process.
Most wallpapers also contain toxins like VOCs in the ink – some have mercury, cadmium, and lead – and PVC or vinyl. Again, you must choose wallpapers that are nontoxic, PVC and vinyl free, formaldehyde free, include no lead or phthalates, or fire retardants, and use pigment-based inks. You will also have to verify that you’re using non-toxic wallpaper primer and adhesives.
Use locally sourced, low-impact, high-performance materials
Using locally sourced materials and local labour will reduce the carbon footprint of your renovated home by minimizing transportation distances. Low-impact, sustainable building materials also help lower waste in landfills and the energy needed to source, manufacture, and transport new building materials.
Purchasing locally sourced materials supports local businesses and the people behind them. Local quarries, mills, and other suppliers rely on the support of their community to thrive. By choosing their products, you keep money within the local economy, supporting jobs and fostering growth.
The quality of the materials is more likely to be consistent and of higher quality than if they were sourced from a distant location, particularly if the supplier relies on steady orders from your renovation contractor. When materials are sourced from within the community, it eliminates the need for long lead times for materials to be delivered from a distant location. This can help to ensure that the construction project is completed on time, while reducing the risk of delays and added costs.
Choose sustainable non-toxic flooring
When renovating your floors, explore natural and sustainable flooring options. Bamboo, cork, reclaimed wood, and linoleum are eco-friendly choices. These materials are renewable, very durable, and can add a unique touch to your home’s design. Natural and reclaimed materials are typically less likely to emit harmful chemicals when compared with synthetic materials, free from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which could cause respiratory problems and other health issues.
There’s a timeless appeal to environmentally friendly flooring because caring about the world we live in will always be on trend. Many sustainable flooring options are also long-lasting. They either need to be replaced less often, or they can be refinished or renewed. This not only saves money over the long term but will reduce waste and the environmental impact of the flooring industry.
Refresh instead of replacing: use recycled materials when possible
We’ve touched briefly on flooring, but other materials can be refreshed instead of replacing them. When you can refresh your home materials instead of replacing them you’re helping the environment by reducing waste and emissions. You want to design your spaces for adaptability, disassembly, and reuse of the materials in the future. If the space you’re designing today will change in function in a few years, such as when the children move out, can you design for that now, so many of the elements can be repurposed?
Recycling is an important aspect of living a green lifestyle. Instead of buying new materials, consider investing in used or recycled items. Reuse stores often carry high-value items such as used furniture and antique fixtures, and some companies use secondhand materials to manufacture new products. Instead of buying new furniture and decor, consider refreshing your existing pieces. This can be done by repainting, reupholstering, or adding new hardware. When purchasing products, look for items that are packaged in sustainable materials.
Deconstruct instead of demolishing
Deconstruction is the process of carefully disassembling the house to repurpose the materials used during its initial construction, while demolition involves quickly and forcefully tearing down the building and hauling away the resulting waste to landfills. Demolition has an enormous negative impact on the environment due to material waste. Before remodelling your home, take some time to think strategically about what you can deconstruct and what items you can keep.
Deconstruction is going to allow for higher levels of material reuse and recycling when compared with conventional demolition. Up to 25% of the material in a traditional residential structure can be readily reused, while up to 70% of the material can be recycled. This sustainable approach helps to conserve natural resources, reduce landfill waste, and lower carbon emissions associated with the production of new materials.
Deconstruction is not yet a mainstream practice in the construction industry. Barriers such as demand, cost, and building code stipulations still hinder its widespread adoption. But when it comes to green renovation, it should be a top priority.
Air sealing of leaks
Uncontrolled air flow through the building envelope is a major source of heat loss and it is one of the primary means by which moisture enters the home. During the winter months, the warmer air inside your home is allowed to escape through the envelope, while cooler incoming air creates drafts and dries out the interior. Holes in the envelope and differences in temperature and air pressure between the inside and outside cause the air to move.
Wind can create a high-pressure area on the windward side of the house, forcing air in through the openings, while creating a low-pressure area on the opposite side of the house, drawing air from the inside out. There’s a stacking effect that occurs when you heat your home. Warm air rises and expands, creating a high-pressure area at the top of the house. This can cause air to escape through holes and cracks in the top storey or attic. It also creates a low pressure at the bottom of the house, drawing in cooler air through wall and floor openings. Oil and gas appliances, furnaces, and wood fireplaces exhaust a lot of air, reducing the pressure in the home. The air that has escaped must be replaced, and outside air is consequently drawn in through any leaks in the envelope.
Your home should be made as airtight as possible, by sealing drywall seams and joints, replacing faulty drywall with airtight panels, and caulking tight to windows and doors. If your air sealing is successful enough, you may require a home mechanical ventilation system to take out stale air and deliver fresh, filtered air to every room.
Continued in Part 2