Construction companies that engage in eco-friendly building projects are well versed in the latest green practices, how to obtain environmentally sound materials (local, sustainable, recycled, etc.), and the art of engineering buildings that will use less energy and water and produce less waste and pollution. For the homeowner looking to reduce his/her carbon footprint while undergoing some renovations, this probably sounds ideal. And yet, you might not feel confident that you can manage your project like an eco-pro. After all, you have neither the knowledge nor the industry contacts needed to secure the products and services that will make your renovation process as green as, say, a LEED Certified structure. However, with just a few tips in hand you can do a lot to clean up your upgrades as you go.
For one thing, you need to assess the scope of the project. If you’re just painting and installing new flooring, there are so many ways you can easily go green. Paint is easy; all you have to do is look for non-VOC paints that lack the harmful chemical compounds that could pollute your interior air for years (yes, years) to come. And for flooring, choose faux stone (ceramic) tiles instead of the real deal, purchase reclaimed hardwoods, or opt for organic fiber (wool or cotton, perhaps) carpeting. And try to recycle the old flooring instead of tossing it in the landfill to languish for who-knows how long.
You can also do some easy and eco-friendly upgrades that will help you to conserve and save on your utilities without much hassle. Low-flow toilets and aerated faucets and shower heads could cut your water bill in half, but if you really want to go all out you could put in a cistern to collect rainwater for your garden (as well as landscape with native and drought-resistant plants). As for electricity conservation, consider installing a tankless water heater, an energy-star heating/AC unit, a thermostat with a scheduling function, and of course, eco-friendly lighting (CFLs, LEDs, etc.). And adding alternative energy (solar, wind, water, etc.) is expensive initially, but eminently green and clean.
But what if you want to do more? Suppose you’re keen to knock down walls for an open floor plan that will let the natural daylight in? Or what if you want to gut your kitchen and install all new products? Perhaps you have plans to build an addition on your home. These are the areas where you’re going to be looking at a lot of practices and materials that are not so eco-friendly. The trickiest part, in reality, will be cutting down on waste. But if you speak to the demo crew you can ask them to work carefully in order to preserve any materials that can be recycled or reused. Cabinets, if kept intact, could be sold to a vendor that specializes in reclamation (refurbishing for resale). Certainly plumbing, wiring, and other metals should be salvaged.
And when it comes time to rebuild, there are tons of options for green materials, such as insulated concrete forms (ILFs) for framework (instead of wood), non-vinyl siding, clay-tile roofing, EcoRock drywall, reclaimed-wood cabinetry, stained concrete countertops – the list goes on and on. For literally every product that goes into your home you can likely find an eco-friendly alternative. So if you thought there was nothing you could do to green up your renovations, think again. With just a little research you can find a million ways to work like an eco-pro and make your building projects less harmful to the environment.
Evan Fischer is a contributing writer for MorrisonHershfield, the leader in innovative, eco-friendly and cost effective engineering projects.