Sustainable eco-friendly home renovation

Green Remodelling: Sustainable Renovation Ideas for an Eco-Friendly Home (Part 2)

This week’s article is a continuation from Part 1. We will resume the exploration vof a range of green renovation ideas for creating your eco-friendly home.

Insulation upgrade and minimizing thermal bridging

If your home was built before 1990, it may have very little wall insulation, if any at all. An energy audit can identify areas where your home is currently losing heat or cooling, to help you prioritize improvements. Energy retrofitting involves sealing gaps, improving the insulation, and ensuring your home is as airtight as possible.

To prevent thermal bridging you cover the entire building envelope with a continuous layer of thermal insulation, except for openings for fasteners, windows, doors, skylights, and building service systems.

For continuous insulation (ci), expanded polystyrene (EPS) makes an excellent external wall insulation solution that’s highly customizable and has a high R-value, making it possible to create a nearly impenetrable building envelope to keep heat in. Manufacturers produce EPS blocks in large sizes to cover an expansive wall. With longer spans, there are going to be fewer air gaps and connections, with reduced opportunities for thermal bridging. EPS doesn’t off-gas, so it won’t leave the cellular structure over time, and R-values remain stable over its lifetime.

Spray insulation is another very popular solution during an energy retrofit. It can be used to seal and insulate between the roof rafters, creating a continuous barrier against heat transfer. Insulating between and over the floor joists in unfinished attic spaces and insulating the attic access door can further improve energy efficiency. Most air leaks occur via the chimneys, vents, plumbing pipes and electrical boxes in the attic, and they can account for substantial heat loss and moisture-related problems.

Install energy-efficient windows and doors

Windows and doors are crucial for energy efficiency. Double- or triple-pane windows offer greatly improved insulation and energy efficiency over the single-pane windows typically found in older homes. Low-emissivity (low-e) coatings on the glass help control heat transfer, reflecting heat into the room during winter and away from the home in the summer. Argon or krypton gas in the space between the glass panes further improves their energy efficiency. Insulated frames create a thermal break to minimize thermal bridging.

High-quality vault-style storm doors use low-e glass and are triple-glazed with argon or krypton gas-filled spaces to increase energy efficiency. They’re at least four inches thick, with multiple gaskets and latches to ensure maximum sealing, and at least R-10 insulation, while creating a thermal break to minimize thermal bridging.

Apply a cool roof or vegetation roof

Traditional roofs are usually made of dark, heat-absorbing materials. They contribute to what is known as the heat island effect and therefore require more energy to cool your house. Cool roofs are typically light-coloured or white and are designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat, so they help keep your home cooler during the summer. Traditional roofs can reach temperatures of 66°C or more in the sun, while a reflective roof should stay more than 33% cooler under the same conditions. The main benefit of installing a cool roof is energy efficiency. By reducing the amount of heat absorbed by your home, a cool roof can decrease the need for air conditioning, leading to lower energy bills by 10%-30%.

Also known as vegetated or living roofs, green roofs consist of a waterproofing membrane, soil and then plants, overlying a traditional roof. From an environmental perspective, green roofs contribute significantly to energy conservation by providing insulation that reduces both heating and cooling costs. Soil and vegetation layers shield the roof from temperature swings and damage from UV exposure, contributing to a 72% reduction in heat transfer between the interior and exterior of the home. Green roofs can also absorb and filter stormwater runoff, which helps in preventing flooding and water pollution.

Maximize natural light and airflow:

Natural light has been shown to have numerous health benefits. It stimulates the production of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and immune system function. It can also help ward off seasonal depression and improve sleep quality. Natural light has also been linked to increased focus and productivity, making it particularly beneficial for those working from home or studying for college or university.

Sun tunnels can enhance your home’s energy efficiency by reducing your dependency on electric lighting. They channel sunlight from your roof down a highly reflective tube into the space below. Sun tunnels are more flexible than skylights if space is an issue. They are ideal for small spaces like hallways or closets that don’t usually get any natural light. The tubes can extend through multiple floors and bend around obstacles to place the light where you want it.

Skylights are more efficient, however. They have a larger footprint and are inserted directly above the area that needs light. Skylights can be fitted with solar blinds, to control the warmth and light they allow in, and they can be opened for fresh air in the evenings, decreasing your need for artificial lighting and air conditioning.

Install an energy-efficient water heater and heat pump

Traditional water heaters consume a lot of energy, continuously heating and storing water in the tank, even when it’s not being used. Tankless water heaters heat water on demand, eliminating the need for a storage tank. They heat water as you need it, and bring hot water to your appliances quickly, and they never run out.

Most homeowners who have heat pumps use them to heat and cool their homes, but they can also provide hot water. Heat pumps have significantly higher Energy Factor (EF) ratings than tankless water heaters. They use electricity to extract energy from the ambient air and move heat from one place to another, rather than generating heat directly. Heat pump water heaters are safer to operate with dramatically lower total carbon emissions.

Heat pumps are very versatile in retrofit projects, utilizing any existing ducting. They can also perform well within a hybrid system that includes both ducted and ductless components that feed off the compressor located outside your house. Heat pump systems are very efficient, typically using half the energy of traditional electric home heating systems.

Waste water reduction

Reducing water waste in your home is another important step towards sustainability and it can represent significant savings in some municipalities. Low-flow showers and faucets are designed to use less water than traditional fixtures. A low-flow shower head can save over 100,000 litres of water per year for a household of four people. Low-flow faucets work on the same principle, reducing the amount of water that’s used for washing hands or dishes.

Low-flush toilets are another effective way to reduce your water waste. Traditional toilets use between 9 and 18 litres of water per flush, while low-flush units only use between 4 and 6 litres.

Passive solar home design

Passive solar home design is a sustainable approach that takes advantage of your home’s building lot, climate, and materials to minimize energy use. In addition to insulation and air sealing, other energy-efficient strategies can be employed. With an existing home, it’s difficult to change the primary orientation of the building. However, putting in larger south-facing windows could maximize solar heat gain in winter, while proper shading and glazing control minimize heat gain during the summer.

Materials with high heat storage capacity, like concrete and water can be utilized or added. Concrete pillars and floors, for example, could absorb and store heat during the day, releasing it at night to maintain a comfortable temperature. While natural ventilation and airflow can help cool your home in the summer, strategically placing windows and vents can improve heat distribution in the winter. Well-designed passive solar homes have ample natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting while improving the well-being of the family.

Planting seasonal deciduous trees will provide shade during the summer months, reducing the need for cooling, while allowing sunlight to pass through the branches in the winter months to provide natural warmth. Motorized smart blinds and shades can be programmed to adjust the natural light and heat gain automatically throughout the day.

Solar chimneys use the stack effect to draw warm air out of your home. to provide some natural ventilation and assist in cooling during the summer. Applying heat-reducing films to the windows can block a significant amount of solar heat gain, reducing the demand for cooling, while eave overhangs and awnings can provide shade to windows. Awnings can also be controlled by your smart panel, so the level of shade is adjusted automatically.

Solar panel renewable energy system

Solar power is clean, efficient, sustainable and economical. It’s the best energy source for almost every geographical area, and West Coast homes with frequent rainy and cloudy days still benefit from solar power, unless a mountain or dense forest canopy is blocking the sun.

When considering adding a solar panel system, space is your first consideration. The amount of power you will be able to generate will depend on the total surface area of the panels you can install. Peak energy production takes place when the sun is highest in the sky, so a roof or wall facing the south or west would be the ideal place for unobstructed access to the afternoon sun. Other factors such as angle, placement, and shade can all impact your solar electric system’s efficiency.

BC Hydro offers a net metering program designed for homeowners who generate electricity for their use. Net metering allows you to power your home with renewable energy, to become self-sufficient, but with the flexibility to rely on their power grid if you need it. When your solar system generates more electricity than you need, your smart panel feeds it to the grid, and you’ll get a generation credit towards your future electricity use. And when you don’t generate enough to meet your needs, you buy power from them.

Consider renewable heating systems

Renewable heating systems, that use evacuated tubes or flat plate collectors to draw energy from the sun to heat your water, are another sustainable solution for saving energy. Evacuated tube collectors consist of a heat pipe, surrounded by a glass tube under vacuum. They can produce water up to 95°C and perform better in colder and cloudier conditions than flat panel collectors.

Flat plate collectors are a simpler design and easier to manufacture, generally making them more affordable. They can heat water up to 82°C and are better suited for homes in southern climates, or for seasonal use in Canada, as they must collect most of their heat in the middle part of the day.

Create a rainwater harvesting system

Rainwater harvesting (RWH) involves collecting and storing rainwater for later use in supplying your household’s non-potable applications such as landscape irrigation, wash water, toilet flushing, and laundry. They are usually composed of a roof catchment, a gravity flow conveyance network of collection gutters and downspouts, rain leader pipes, some kind of filter to remove dirt and debris, a rainwater barrel or larger storage cistern, a pump and the fixtures where the rainwater is put to use.

Once your rainwater harvesting system is set up, you can connect it to various non-potable applications in your home, such as irrigation systems, toilets, and washing machines. With additional treatment, rainwater can also be used for potable purposes to supplement municipal water supplies. Rainwater harvesting systems require regular maintenance to keep them functioning properly. This includes cleaning the collection surfaces, checking for leaks, and monitoring the water level in the storage tank(s).

Sustainable landscaping and composting

Sustainable landscaping and composting are two practices that can be implemented to create eco-friendly and climate-appropriate landscapes. Sustainable gardening and landscaping practices support native plants and local wildlife, conserve energy and water, and protect the air and water quality.

A sustainable landscape begins before the first plant is put in the ground. The planning involves a soil and site assessment, landscape design, and reducing water and energy use by incorporating trees and plantings that protect your property from winter winds and a chilly house in the winter months, and the paved areas in the summer. Planting native and drought-tolerant species, using permeable paving materials, and including rain gardens to store stormwater runoff can reduce your need for city water or rainwater for irrigation.

Composting is a resourceful way to recycle food scraps and yard trim and reduce waste. Carbon-rich “browns” such as dry leaves, plant stalks, and twigs will provide food for microorganisms to consume and digest. The nitrogen-rich “greens” such as grass clippings and food scraps will heat the pile to create the ideal conditions for the compost material to break down. Designate a space in your yard for your compost pile that is easily accessible year-round and has good drainage.

The takeaway

Incorporating some of these sustainable renovation ideas into your home upgrade will not only reduce your environmental footprint but also create a healthier, more comfortable living space. From small, low-cost upgrades like lighting, to larger investments like a solar panel system, there are many ways to make your home more eco-friendly. The improvements you make can also increase the value and curb appeal of your home while lowering your utility bills.

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