Green home remodeling is more attractive now than ever thanks to tax incentives for the use of energy-efficient building materials. The benefits of green remodeling go far beyond cash back from the government, though. You also save in monthly utilities, help reduce your carbon footprint, cut down on pollution of air and water, and help beautify the environment. While you're putting together your remodeling plans, here are some ideas to help you go greener.
Spruce Up Your Kitchen
In many homes, this is the most-used area of all. It’s also usually the most wasteful. Think of all those energy-consuming appliances, wasted water, pollutants, and non-sustainable construction materials. Now, you can buy energy-efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, ranges, and microwaves. You will know them by the Energy Star label.
Cabinets are available that are made with formaldehyde-free, low-volatility glues and varnishes and recycled or reclaimed wood. Countertops can be purchased that are constructed from 50-percent post-consumer recycled paper – and they’re as durable as stone. Flooring ideas include recycled and reclaimed wood or sustainable wood such as bamboo and cork (cork can be harvested every 8 years vs. 40 to 50 years for wood).
Bath and Laundry
Heating water consumes energy, and no room uses more hot water than the bathroom. Consider replacing older toilets, which waste up to 5 gallons of water per flush, with new models, which are required to use 1.6 gallons or fewer. Dual-flush models permit either a full or half flush, saving even more water.
Install flow restrictors or a shutoff valve on shower heads. Look for lifetime warranties on faucets, with durable, long-lasting ceramic disc valves that are easily replaceable. For flooring, consider tile and natural linoleum.
Buy Energy Star front-loading washing machines. Solar hot-water systems and hot water re-circulating systems are also great energy-saving systems for the bath and laundry.
According to the EPA, if every home in America replaced five of their most-used old lights with Energy Star-qualified lamps (such as compact fluorescent lighting or CFLs) the collective savings would be $8 billion per year and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking a million cars off the road. Other features of these new lights that help conserve energy are occupancy sensors, timers, and dimmer switches.
Energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights are another avenue for cost savings. Look for those that carry a U-Factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) less than or equal to 0.30. You can find this on the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label. South-facing windows provide more sunlight to warm the home. You might also consider salvaged windows and lumber.
Nothing changes the look of a home quicker than a new coat of paint. In green remodeling, however, choose paint with a paint formulation that minimizes environmental hazards. You want paint that is low in toxins and volatile organic compounds.
Roof composition isn’t something you think about too often, unless you have a leak or damaged shingles, but when you are remodeling, a green roof is another thing to consider. A rooftop garden, a roof deck, a solar-powered hot water system, and even a rainwater harvesting system are all options. Don’t forget gutters and downspouts that are made from recycled aluminum.
Water is a precious natural resource that, in many areas of the country, is getting ever scarcer. This doesn’t mean your outdoors need to revert to a desert or be planted with rocks, but it does require strategic planning and placement of plants and materials. When you replace living materials, buy drought-tolerant plants, trees, and shrubs. Place mulch around plants to reduce water use, inhibit weed growth, and reduce soil erosion.
Why not consider recycled pavers, broken concrete, or masonry for a deck remodel? There’s also recycled plastic and composite lumber that make good, green deck choices.