In this post you’ll discover some incredible insights that will help you navigate the overwhelming process many face when remodeling their home with “GREEN” on their minds.
Last month I published a similar post on home buying where I asked real estate agents to share their best tip for buying fixer-uppers as a first-time home buyer. The tips shared were absolutely priceless (you can find the post here)!
This got me thinking – what about remodeling in a sustainable way that will help save us money and reduce our Carbon-footprint? And not those same boring tips from 10 years ago. But fresh and unique advice from real green experts.
So I contacted some of the most popular and successful green professionals in the business. The result was simply amazing. You could spend hours searching for green advice and you would never find so many actionable tips in one spot.
I asked all of them: “What is the ONE best tip you’d give to someone looking to remodel their home with green on their minds and where to start?”
21 incredible green pros ended up contributing!
So without further ado, here they are:
1. Start By Creating A Wish-list
Since “green” can mean different things, it’s a good idea to start by thinking about your wish-list for sustainable home improvement. Everyone will put different values on the basic categories of green features such as: energy, water conservation, health & air quality, materials efficiency, and outdoor/site environment.
The type and complexity of a remodel will determine how deep-green you can go. For example, it could take a major renovation to meet today’s home energy efficiency standards; but even kitchen and bath remodels can make an impact on energy by reducing hot water demands and increasing efficiency of lighting, ventilation, and heating. Decide which factors are most important to you and then dig deeper into the improvements that will meet your goals.
EverGreen Certified, Jeff Kinney
2. Be Sure To Stop Air Infiltration
Here’s my top priority: Air-seal at every opportunity, no matter what the scope of work. Replacing cabinets? Caulk the base of walls and around plumbing penetrations. Adding new light fixtures at the top floor? Use sealed cans rated for contact with insulation, even if you don’t have any yet, and caulk to drywall or plaster on the inside plane. Replacing a medicine cabinet? Seal as much of the wall cavity as you can access. Stopping infiltration in a remodel requires constant diligence but the rewards of a draft-free efficient home are well worth it. And don’t even think about adding insulation without air sealing!
Steven Winter Associates, Inc., Maureen McGeary Mahle
3. Avoid Products That Are “Too Good To Be True”
I’d start by looking for a great resource. The easiest way to navigate the murky waters of Green Remodeling is to use a respected certification tool like GreenStar. http://www.usgreenstar.org/ Whether using a design pro, contractor, or going DIY you can quickly see which strategies and materials are high value and pursue them.
It also helps you avoid sham products or systems that have little to no value in green building. I think most people come to Green Building excited about one or two facets, but seldom with an understanding of the depth and breadth of what is covered and the importance of striking a balance between the pillars of Green Building.
The one tip I’d have would be to stay far away from the energy efficiency focused programs like PassivHaus. The focus on energy first often creates a host of durability, health, and long term environmental issues. Green Building is about people, and the health and well-being of the workers and occupants must come first. Start with water, lead, radon, and ventilation.
4. Being Green Doesn’t Mean It Cost More
There are several great bits of advice you need to know if you’re looking to remodel your home, such as focusing on energy efficiency, choosing healthy materials and designing to conserve water. But if there is just one tip I can give you, it’s this: being green does not mean it costs more. All of our projects have a strict budget, and we have to build to that budget. The rules of finance don’t change simply cause we’re being “eco friendly.” Instead, we look at the things that are costing us money and find smarter and healthier alternatives.
For example, instead of building the walls with sticks of wood spaced every 16 inches, we can instead make them deeper and space them at 24 inches. We save a third of the wood, a third of the labor, a third of the cost, and the thicker walls hold more insulation.
It really only takes the will to look. An invaluable tool for me is the Environmental Building News at www.buildinggreen.com. It’s like a “Consumer Reports” of green building and a must to find the best alternatives
5. Do Not Over Build – Have A Plan
- Understand in advance the short-term and long-term sustainability factors concerning items such waste management, effluent management, water resources, materials, energy plans, and land use.
- No design should be set in stone; improvisation and changes for the better are usually required, so be prepared to get creative.
- Do not build too big; always keep efficiency and modest size in mind.
6. Seek Out Renewable/Recycled Materials
“If you are thinking of remodeling your kitchen, for example, try to incorporate as many Eco-friendly and sustainable materials as possible. For countertops, there are many options available nowadays made out of recycled materials like glass and even paper.
For flooring, consider cork, which is renewable and softer than wood, and is more ideal for families with small children. When choosing appliances, choose Energy Star products that will lower your energy bills.”
7. Think About Air Quality & Ventilation
With today’s super-insulted homes, air quality has become a big issue. A house requires ventilation, but that allows energy to escape, whether in a heating or a cooling season. A Energy Recovery Ventilator uses the exhaust air temperature to condition the incoming air, cooling it, or heating it (depending on the season) reducing those losses, and allowing a smaller HVAC unit to be installed, reducing capital and operating expenses.
8. Get A Home Energy Audit
Get a home energy audit before you do anything else.That way you know what’s possible to fix and at what price, without changing the shape of the home.For more on this subject, take a look at Chapter 22 of Not So Big Remodeling, which covers Green Remodeling in depth.
The Not So Big Life, Sarah Susanka, Architect and Author of: The Not So Big House series and The Not So Big Life
9. Try To Plan Ahead
Before you commit to any kind of activity, large or small, ensure that you’ve thought about all of the retrofit measures that your house will need in the future. We call it a ‘whole house plan’ and it ensures that every time you think about raising a floorboard, moving a light switch, installing a cupboard, you know what energy saving measure should be installed at that moment as it is the cheapest time in the life of that building to do so. Here’s how we create that plan for clients: http://www.parityprojects.com/
10. Remodeling Begins As A State Of Mind
Remodeling really begins as a state of mind. First, green and lean down your own daily consumption choices in every area that can save you money, and use that to pay forward into greening your property. Then pick home projects like rooftop solar or energy efficiency that are affordable for you and pay you back financially as well. These savings can then assist with more expensive remodeling items later in your plans and are immediate cash rewards for going green. Don’t forget you community. Support organizations and officials who support your goals towards living sustainability. This gets a virtuous cycle going that is economically rewarding for you, your home and your locale as well.
11. Efficiency & Comfort Should Be Your End Goals
There are many motivations for remodeling. It could be the desire for greater comfort in your home from improved insulation or heating and cooling options. Or perhaps you want to create new space for activities or family members. Or maybe you hope to achieve increased efficiency and savings on utility bills. Sometimes toxic materials can be replaced with more benign, natural choices. Perhaps you simply want your house to be prettier. All of the above goals can be accomplished with a carefully planned green remodel.
greenhomebuilding.com, Kelly Hart
12. Think About How Much “Green” You Want To Go
I think the first best step is two-fold: 1) determine just how green you want to go. As much as going solar? As simple as no-VOC paint? Somewhere in-between? Second, choose your contractors wisely for their green commitment and experience. My go-to resource would be the National Green Pages, an excellent reference guide produced annually by Green America. It’s got everything from architects to construction materials to reusable products. There are so many levels of living green, I think these steps would be the most valuable places to start any green remodeling journey.
13. Take The Time To Find The Right Remodeling Contractor
Take your time to find the right contractor. A referral from someone you know is always best, but if you don’t know anyone who happens to know a contractor who specializes in green remodeling, search online, contact green building organizations or ask around at local lumberyards to make a shortlist of possible choices then call them up to get to know them and to ask about their green remodeling experience and credentials. Good questions to ask include: what green projects they’ve worked on in the past, what projects they’re currently working on, how long they’ve been working for, and whether they can handle a project like yours. Don’t hesitate to ask for references, then call them up.
Green Building Canada – greenbuildingcanada.ca
14. Ensure Proper Insulation
I would say that most attention needs to be paid to insulating and making sure that property temperature be retained and not lost through windows, doors and of course walls. When this is done Gas and Electric utilities can be lowered which obviously reduces those expenses but also leaves less of a foot print on the environment. The additional costs associated with such a project can usually be recouped within a couple of years in utility savings
15. Be Sure To Properly Insulate Your Home
As much insulation as possible in walls and roof–and a good internet connection so they can take part in the growing movement to weaken the fossil fuel lobby and change policy, which is the only real way we’re actually going to do anything about climate change.
16. Have the Right Strategy That Makes You Happy
Making a home more sustainable should start with what makes you happy and healthy, include a well thought out assessment of what types of sustainability measures buyers in the community value, and finally, should fully consider the effective lives and condition of equipment, the roof, landscaping and other potential areas of modification to reflect the most financially viable “right timing” strategy.”
17. Get A Comprehensive Energy Audit Of Your Home
Before you get started, get a comprehensive energy audit of your home. Find out where your home is leaking energy and money and fix those as part of your green remodeling project. Check with your utility to see if they offer and reduced-cost audits or energy efficiency incentives.
www.sustainablefrederickcounty.org, Lisa Orr
18. Be Sure To Seal All Of The Gaps
The cleanest- not to mention cheapest- energy is the energy we don’t use. For that reason, sealing the envelope of the house and focusing on energy efficiency is one of our top remodeling priorities. Sealing the gaps along windows, doors, framing and joints is one of the easiest ways to be green.
19. There’s Something For Everyone’s Remodeling Taste
Remodeling your home with Eco-friendly building resources should be incorporated into every building plan. Whether it’s ensuring a tightly sealed envelope, proper air-flow, to building with reclaimed wood – there’s something for everyone’s tastes.
My number 1 tip would be: Get a Energy Audit of the entire home and look for ways to make proper changes that would make sense both financially and aesthetically.
MBM Construction, Scott Martin
20. The Best ROI Is A Tightened Up Envelope
The highest ROI is to tighten up the envelope of the house to decrease air infiltration. Using an air blower test and expert is the path to go here. They use foam and weather stripping and can decrease the air loss by 50% for more in one day. The ROI is very high, like 50% or more.
21. Research Energy Saving Devices
Wow! That was one incredible list of Expert TIPS! Thank you so much to everyone that contributed. This will be a valuable resource for those looking to remodel their homes with Eco-friendly building resources.
If this post helped you – be sure to share it with your friends and family!
Now it’s your turn – do you have a GREEN PRO tip to share? What was your BEST takeaway from these tips? Share your comments below:
Some great green home improvements: