Go Green: Achieving a Sustainable Home

Photo: Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

A remodel provides the perfect opportunity to make green updates since areas of the home are likely already cleared of furniture; studs, wiring, and pipes may become exposed; and the contractor is already there to work.

For homeowners, there are three main objectives to focus on when incorporating sustainability into a remodel; Resource conservation, energy efficiency, and a healthy indoor environment.

Thanks to major advances in both selection and performance, homeowners who are interested in tackling these challenges have a wide variety of products and methods they can incorporate into their renovation projects. Still, to gain in one area you might have to give up part of another.

In this article, we are going to discuss the basics of green updates that an experienced builder can execute for you to help you save money on your utility bills and support the environment in the process.

Before your contractor starts ripping out sheetrock, get your ducks in a row with the following preliminary and key steps:

1. Conduct an Energy Audit
First, conduct an energy efficiency audit with a blower door test and thermal imaging survey. Check your lighting, appliances, venting heating system, and water heater. You can audit yourself, but the best way to really find out what’s going on is to hire an energy audit contractor. A certified assessor can conduct an energy audit and give you a rating on your current energy usage, as well as make practical suggestions for improving efficiency. The Department of Energy’s online tool can help you find an assessor in your area.

2. Research and Brainstorm
Next make a list of materials, appliances, fixtures, and surfaces that will go into your project. Search the web or call or visit local vendors to see if there are green options and locally made choices for those options. Find a contractor who has a green building certification indicating he/she has training in this area.

Common Energy Efficiency Upgrades

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Windows

When you’re adding or getting replacement windows, you can boost their energy-saving abilities by installing windows with features to keep heat out in summer, and in during winter. These include double or even triple panes, high-quality frames of vinyl, fiberglass, or wood, low-e glass coatings, gas injections between panes, and pane spacers. Intelligently located, large windows and “no-leak” skylights can also be used to light rooms such as the kitchen and remove the need for turning on the lights during the daytime.

Photo: Forbes

Solar panels

Doing roofing work or adding to your home? Then you might consider incorporating the gold standard for energy efficiency: solar panels, or even solar shingles, the newest entrant to the photovoltaic products industry. Some roofs aren’t big enough or angled properly to make a solar installation worthwhile, but if you’re renovating, you may be able to design the roof to get the perfect orientation for your panels to capture the most sun rays and maximize their output. You could also choose shingles made of recycled material.

HVAC and Smart Thermostats

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With your home properly sealed up, you can also take advantage of a remodel to move in a new air conditioning system and/or furnace that’s high-efficiency. These systems have variable speed motors that optimize airflow while better controlling humidity. Pair the new system with a smart thermostat such as Nest that automatically adjusts the temperature in your home based on your schedule to prevent energy waste when you’re away.

Appliances

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Speaking of water heaters, renovations make a great time to switch to newer appliances such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, and dishwashers. Energy Star-certified products can save as much as 50% of the energy of non-certified appliances. In the store, look for the Energy Star sticker, which will tell you the operating cost of the appliance, to get an idea of how much you could save.

Plumbing

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A tankless water heater saves water by providing instant hot water, eliminating the need to run water to warm it up and the energy to keep hot water on standby in the tank. Installation is fairly complex, requiring re-routing piping, wiring, and connecting to a gas line (for gas models). That is why a bathroom remodel makes a perfect time to switch from a storage tank heater.

In addition, if your pipes are going to be exposed during the remodel, insulating them will reduce heat loss as the water travels from the water heater and provide additional water and energy savings. New eco-friendly taps, showerheads, and toilets can also cut down on your water usage, as well.

Insulation

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Once your home audit results are in you can target those places where the air is entering and escaping the home. Caulking and weather stripping spots of air leakage need to happen before adding insulation in walls, windows, doors, or the attic, because it may need to go on top of any areas that need sealing. A radiant barrier is another attic upgrade that helps block heat from entering through the roof, reducing the strain on your air conditioner. For new attic and wall insulation, you could opt for fireproofed recycled denim, which is manufactured in a zero-waste process.

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