Dear EarthTalk: I’m planning a major home renovation and want to include as many green-friendly features as possible. Where do I begin to look?
- Matthew Glaser, NY
There has never been a better time to renovate green, given the abundance of Earth-friendly building material choices as well as contractors well-versed in energy- and resource-efficiency. Many homeowners don’t realize that they can save money in the long run, despite the up front costs, by choosing materials and strategies that will lower utility bills and reduce maintenance and replacement costs moving forward.
For starters, look for building materials that contain post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content that can be easily recycled later. Also, make sure the materials are sustainably sourced - such as wood certified as sustainably harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). And try to minimize the distance any building materials need to travel to help reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions.
In areas of the renovation that are not a complete tear-down and re-build, tighten things up by plugging holes, patching or replacing roofing or siding as needed and adding weather-stripping around doors and windows. Also, switch out older single-pane windows with more efficient modern double or triple pane styles. This can pay for itself in energy savings within just a few years while improving comfort. Also replace or add insulation to walls, attics and other spaces to keep heat inside and cold out (and vice-versa). And you can save lots of energy by swapping out old appliances with newer models that qualify for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar label. Such appliances must be 20-30 percent more energy efficient than standard models, and will reduce not only your carbon footprint but also utility bills.
For guidance on how to renovate as sustainably as possible, check out the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Green Home Guide, a free online resource which bases its recommendations on its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines for certifying "green" buildings. This site allows users to ask an experienced contractor questions on sustainable materials and techniques or find green home professionals nearby qualified for larger green renovation jobs.
Another valuable resource is the REGREEN website, a joint project of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the USGBC, which offers case studies for green remodeling projects, interactive tools and basic guidelines written so even do-it-yourselfer can understand. A REGREEN Strategy Generator widget can provide tailored tactics for specific green remodeling projects. "For example, if you enter the parameters ‘bathroom’ and ‘water efficiency’, the widget might suggest the installation of faucet aerators and low-water-use showerheads," reports USGBC.
Talking over projects and options with a design professional at a retail green building supply store like Green Depot, with locations in 10 states, can also help homeowners source cutting edge materials that will save energy and money in the long run. Green Building Supply, which offers an extensive free "online learning center," will ship a wide range of green building materials anywhere in the U.S.