Looking to refresh your home? Do a sustainable renovation from start to finish by reducing waste, recycling, upcycling, and using eco-friendly materials.
If you’re about to undertake a home renovation, making smart choices can cause a difference in the amount of waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the work.
The first step to a sustainable renovation is to make waste reduction part of the conversation. Whether you’re working with an architect, designer, or construction company, start by discussing how to tackle a green home improvement project without demolishing the environment.
Next, look at what you already have with an eye for upcycling. The most eco-friendly materials are the ones already in your home. Those old cabinets might look brand new with a fresh coat of paint and gorgeous hardware. You can turn an older dresser with character into a new bathroom vanity with just a remnant or recycled glass countertop and fixtures. You could even find fixtures at an antique shop or salvage yard to mix the old with the new for a very on-trend vibe.
Of course, you may have to demo some things. A gentle demo allows functional and often desirable items to be donated, keeping them out of the landfill. Organisations like Habitat for Humanity accept donations of sinks, toilets, bathtubs, cabinets, working appliances, doors, windows, lumber, and more.
When you do have to buy something new, choose materials made of natural or recycled products. Natural fibres emit less volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for better air quality inside your home.
Making energy efficiency a part of your plan will help the environment and save you money, especially over time. If you’re replacing appliances, look for the Energy Star logo, which means you’ll save on energy bills for years to come and probably get a tax incentive.
From Waste to Resource
Construction and demolition materials can be kept out of the landfill by choosing used or recycled materials. Demolition is everything you’re taking out, and construction is what you’re putting in. So how do you recycle the materials you’re taking out? The answer depends on how you built your home.
Wood, especially old-growth wood, is highly recyclable and reusable, particularly if the wood was fastened using nails and screws rather than adhesive. Many construction materials have a high resale value. These materials include hardwood flooring, multi-paned windows, architectural moldings, and unique doors or plumbing/electrical fixtures. Who knew your home demo could actually build up your wallet?
Another option is to buy pre-owned. Many companies now specialise in selling pre-owned high-end kitchens, including appliances and cabinets. This approach saves both money and the environment. A sustainable renovator can save big by purchasing a pre-owned or former display kitchen. In this way, all the costs and environmental pollution associated with creating and transporting new materials are also saved.
Of course, you can do more than donate your gently demolished construction materials to a re-supplier. You can purchase there as well. People just like you have done ‘delicate demos’ and donated those materials, which you can use for your renovation.
Another option is shopping thrift stores and antique malls for well-crafted furniture you can use in your sustainable renovation, which gives you bonus points for thrill and adventure. Imagine finding that special end table for your living room or a bedroom set that contrasts perfectly with your new paint colour.
And upcycling isn’t just for the professionals. You can also use your creativity to get a custom piece you’ll never see in another home. Maybe that special end table isn’t quite perfect, but with light sanding and a coat of paint, it would be the perfect pop to set off your new natural fibre area rug.
This approach - called a circular economy - is even better than recycling materials because recycling often ends up being ‘downcycling’. Ideally, recycling something would mean it is broken down to its basic materials and remade into something new. This process would ease the pressure on using virgin raw materials. However, in many places, recycling includes incineration, which doesn’t actually replace using virgin materials.
Building with Purpose
Saving virgin materials and all the environmental costs associated with processing and transporting them is why sustainability is so critical. Proper waste disposal is one aspect of this, as it reduces the need to process and transport new materials. The longer something lasts and the lower its environmental impact, the better it is for everyone. Older buildings are good examples of how to make something durable.
Fortunately, today there are plenty of low-waste alternatives for materials and finishes, eco-friendly materials, and energy-efficient ways to reduce a renovation’s carbon footprint.
Many companies now take natural cork wine stoppers and turn them into different products. Consumers can drop their used corks off at locations across the country, where they are picked up and turned into mosaic flooring or acoustic wall and ceiling panels.
Newspapers are being turned back into wood through a process that uses compression and glue to create the look of wood grain texture and can be used for many applications.
The logging industry throws tree bark away, but some companies now repurpose that bark for natural siding. It makes perfect sense - after all, the bark is what protects trees from weather, disease, and insects.
Old windows and solar industry waste are being turned into 100% recycled glass tiles with no VOCs and colour options that resemble sea glass. Recycled glass is also being used to create countertops that don’t carry the resource-intensive manufacturing process of granite or marble.
Ash-byproduct from coal combustion mixed with cement makes a product called AshCrete, which reduces the amount of coal fly ash going into the landfill. And it’s perfectly safe as the coal ash is encapsulated in the concrete - the same idea used to cover old asbestos flooring - so that it’s safe for the consumer.
Enviroboards are made of materials like magnesium, sawdust, and fibre cloth. These boards replace timber for the inner portions of a home, roof linings, and underlay systems. They are stronger than regular lumber and won’t warp over time because they are water- and humidity-resistant.
And let’s not forget energy efficiency. It’s good to start with an energy audit from your local power company so you know exactly where your home can be improved. The resulting report will give you recommendations for improvements. Check with your insurance company to see if any modifications are covered.
You might need to increase the insulation in your home (with eco-friendly products like denim), along with air sealing, to improve overall performance. However, some simple steps you can take to improve energy efficiency include:
- Making the most of your natural shade and sun
- Using cold water whenever possible
- Unplugging unused appliances
- Replacing your lightbulbs with energy-efficient LEDs
Now that you have plenty of tips and tricks to make your renovation more sustainable, it’s time to choose what you can use and make a plan. Remember to keep sustainability part of the conversation from beginning to end, and recycle at every opportunity. Talk about it early and often with all your contractors, and you’ll be sure to have a renovation that leaves a beautiful mark on your eco-friendly home and the environment.