April 22nd is Earth Day, a time to consider ways to be a better steward of our planet’s resources. Choosing to do home remodeling instead of new construction is a great way to be “green.” Green Remodeling has the goals to make the home more energy efficient, with healthier indoor air. Green Remodeling projects on average can reduce a home’s consumption of energy by 25-40% or more! Imagine how it would feel knowing your home conserved energy and water, was economical to live in, required less maintenance, and would be more valuable when it is time to sell?
The first step may be an energy audit to analyze the integrity of the building envelope. If you are suspecting there is a problem, e.g. you need to turn on your AC earlier than most people, and it runs a long time, temperature sensitive equipment may be needed to detect missing insulation behind walls, find leaking outlets or ductwork, poorly functioning windows or doors. If that’s not the case, and if you haven’t checked in a while, measure the depth of the insulation in your attic. It tends to settle over time, losing its efficiency, and typical roll in batt should be a minimum of 9 ½ inches thick. If it has compacted, more will need to be added. Having dual pane, low-E coated windows greatly improves insulation efficiency, and future buyers will value this. Besides a well-insulated home making a big difference. Energy Star rated efficient appliances (AC, refrigerator, stove, dryer) and lighting (including ample natural light) and solar power also makes a sizable improvement in utility bills.
A great concern for our health is the quality of the indoor air. We may not smell it, but the chemicals in paint, finishes, wood, fabrics (upholstery, carpets), plastics, and adhesives are continually off-gassing what are called VOC’s, volatile organic compounds. VOC’s indoors are measured to be up to ten times higher as compared to outdoors, and gets trapped in our air-tight sealed homes. Indoor pollution can cause headaches, fatigue, eye and nose irritation, sore throat, skin eruptions, weight gain, joint pain, and asthma. To breathe better quality air, specify no VOC paint, formaldehyde-free cabinets, Green-Guard certified insulation and drywall, natural flooring, and the use of low VOC adhesives or caulk. The Environmental Working Group has put together a home guide on what to specify for healthier home remodeling products. Also for warmer climates, get an Energy Recovery Ventilation unit (use Heat Recovery Ventilation for homes in colder climates). They bring in fresh air which is either preheated in the winter and precooled in the summer by the outgoing/exchanged air. It removes contaminants and toxic gasses, retains or gets rid of excess moisture, and provides more oxygen.
Another resource to conserve is water. Having a slow leak adds up over time. Put a small amount of food coloring in the tank of a toilet, it should not transfer into the bowl until there is a flush. Choose Water Sense Certified toilets, showerhead, and faucets, checking reviews or professional recommendations. The concept of a dual flush toilet may be nice, but if you have to flush several times to get all the contents out of the bowl, it defeats the purpose.
Other ways to lessen the impact on the environment is deconstructing and donating usable materials to Habitat for Humanity Restore, or recycling materials. If you have cabinets in good condition, you can freshen and update the style with new doors and have the boxes refaced to match. Choosing green products may cost more, e.g. choosing a wool rug over a synthetic one, but they will be a healthier, longer lasting durable choice.
Happy Green home remodeling!