Turn Your Home Renovation into a Green Remodel with These Sustainability Ideas
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 (especially water) 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.
A deep dive into this is beyond the scope of this article (YouTube is a good resource for more info), but here are the basics of green updates that an experienced builder like Legal Eagle Contractors can execute for you to help you save money on your utility bills and support the environment in the process…
How to Get Started
Before your contractor starts ripping out sheetrock, get your ducks in a row with these preliminary steps:
Conduct an Energy Audit
First, conduct an energy efficiency audit with blower door test and thermal imaging survey. Check your lighting, appliances, venting heating system, and water heater.
You can do this 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.
Expect to pay $1,000 – $1,500 for a good audit on a 2,000-square-foot home. Is it worth it? Absolutely! You’ll be surprised how many “holes” you have in your house. These are letting in hot air during the summer, and cold air in the winter.
Research and Brainstorm
Next make a list of materials, appliances, fixtures, and surfaces (e.g. countertops, tile, flooring, and even paint) 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.
Legal Eagle Contractors is Certified Green
At LEC, sustainable building and remodeling is in our DNA. These practices and products are incorporated into our company operations, impact our projects and our clients’ lives, and help raise awareness of what can be done in the community.
Our president, Dan Bawden, is a Certified Green Professional by the National Association of Homebuilders who encourages all builders and remodelers to suggest green, sustainable products and materials to their clients for every build and remodel.
Common Energy Efficiency Upgrades
Doing roofing work or adding onto 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 sunrays and maximize their output. You could also choose shingles made of recycled material.
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’s 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.
Speaking of water heaters, renovations make great times 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.
Air sealing and insulation
Once your home audit results are in you can target those places where 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.
Bonus: Watch as we apply caulk to exterior windows
HVAC and smart thermostats
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.
When you’re adding or replacing 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.
Xenon lights may be tempting to use in a kitchen remodel for under-cabinet lighting, for example, but LEDs are more energy-efficient. Compared with incandescents, LEDs use up to 90% less energy. Look for bulbs with a color temperature of around 3000k for the best results.
- Low- and no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints
- Rainwater harvesting
- Concrete countertops
- HardiePlank siding (yes, it’s green!)
- Low-maintenance surfaces such as recycled glass countertops and floor materials
- Formaldehyde-free cabinets
- Reclaimed wood for sanded wood floors
- Recycled brick
- Recycled glass tiles for wall tile (showers and backsplashes)
- Bamboo and recycled flooring
- Locally sourced materials wherever possible
- Scaled down square footage, building only what you really need
Frequently Asked Questions
Are green upgrades easy to add or do they require extra work?
In many cases, making a sustainability upgrade requires no more work than it would to do it the conventional way. Often the only difference is the choice of materials.
Do energy-efficient upgrades cost extra?
Energy-efficient products can cost more, but they can also cost less, if not up front, then over their lifetimes. Although an undertaking like installing solar panels runs in the thousands of dollars, green products also include such budget-friendly items as weather stripping and caulk.
How much will they save long-term?
Making a blanket assessment of savings is difficult, if not impossible, but let’s take a look at some of the theoretical cost and savings estimates with different upgrades:
- Windows: $385–$785 per window cost, $27–$583 savings per year (depending on whether you’re replacing single- or double-pane windows)
- Refrigerator: $500–$3,200 cost, $200+ savings over the life of the fridge
- Solar panels: $10,000–$14,000 cost (for a 6kW system), $10,000–$40,000 savings over the life of the system
- Tankless water heater: $1,300–$2,600 cost (for system and installation), 12-27 years payoff time
- LEDs: Costs vary depending on the type of bulb, but converting the entire house can save you up to $1,000 over 10 years
- Radiant barrier: $300–$2,000 cost (for a 1,500-square-foot attic), 10 years typical payoff time
- High-efficiency HVAC: $3,000–$8,500 cost (including purchase and lifetime operating cost), $100–$500+ savings per year
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If you live in the Southwest Houston area and you’re interested in combining a new build or renovation with greater energy efficiency, give us a call or schedule a free consultation.