family relaxing during home renovation project

Renovating a home is a great opportunity to make a home more functional, improve comfort, and revitalize drab spaces. A green approach to contracting and choosing materials helps reduce waste and makes your home more water and energy-efficient.

Apply these green tips during the planning phase of your home renovation project, whether or not you do the work yourself.

Repurpose When Possible

Begin by exploring what existing materials and fixtures can be repurposed, donated, and recycled before sending them to a landfill.

Cabinetry, lighting fixtures, flooring, and plumbing fixtures can sometimes be refinished and repaired for a new look. Consider replacing inefficient appliances and plumbing fixtures to save money and resources in the long run instead of replacing cabinets and counters.

Donate Unneeded Materials

You can donate items that are still in good condition but don’t suit the needs of your project. The Habitat for Humanity ReStore accepts a variety of appliances, building materials, furniture, and more.

Replace Inefficient Toilets & Appliances

Low-flow toilets can use half — or even less — water than inefficient traditional models. The same can be true of water-saving washers and dishwashers.

When deciding whether to replace appliances, compare their water and energy consumption to new models to make an informed decision. A recently manufactured dishwasher, for example, may use half the energy of one installed 20 years ago.

Find Salvaged Materials

Home renovation projects that use salvaged materials can have unique character and charm. When shopping for new materials, explore where you might use reclaimed items instead. Look on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, the ReStore, or even visit a local demolition site.

Use Natural Finishes & Products

Many paints, varnishes, stains, and flooring materials release chemicals, contaminating indoor air quality. Whenever possible, select finishes with low or no volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and look for Green Seal-certified products.

Look for Certified Green Products

Use Forest Stewardship Council-certified products to ensure that the wood in your renovation materials came from responsibly-managed forests. Look for ENERGY STAR appliances, which meet more stringent energy-efficiency requirements.

The Leadership in Energy and Efficient Design (LEED) certification program also has recommendations for purchasing sustainable products, such as concrete with 30 percent fly ash or sourcing bio-based materials that meet the Sustainable Agriculture Network’s Sustainable Agriculture Standard.

Reduce Construction Waste & Debris

Using salvaged materials for your renovation project typically generates less packaging waste.

When purchasing new materials, look for items with as little non-recyclable packaging as possible. Consider donating surplus materials or finding new ways to make good use of them when your own home renovation is complete.

Make Energy-Saving Improvements

Is your home properly insulated and air sealed? Are there certain parts of the home that have drafts or uneven temperatures? Home renovation projects create an excellent opportunity for making home performance improvements. An infrared camera or having a home energy audit is a great way to learn more about where your home is losing energy and to address these issues.

Replace any soiled or ineffective insulation, seal gaps and cracks, and consider replacing leaky or single-pane windows. Whenever possible, choose insulation products that contain natural materials, do not contain harmful flame retardants, and do not off-gas VOCs.

Conserve Water

Do your sinks have water-saving fittings and are there water-saving showerheads? If not, a renovation project is a great opportunity for water-conserving retrofits and to fix any plumbing leaks.

This article was originally published on October 30, 2019.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.