The reality is any home renovation project can be difficult. Throw in an eco-friendly remodel of a home that is 50 years or older, and now you’ve really added to the challenge. But the good news is, you are probably already thinking about doing some renovation work on your older home, so why not go green with the project and do something good for you and the environment. A few main things to consider with your older home sustainable remodel include size and space. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to sustainable living––remember the whole idea of going green means using less new materials and creating as little waste as possible.
While going green has obvious environmental benefits, there are also some big positive emotional benefits to remodeling sustainably. First of all, you’ll have a brighter home with better-ventilated rooms. And choosing to live sustainably in your home can also feel great––think less toxic chemicals, lower energy rates, and a focus on recyclables and compostables. Isn’t it nice to know you are doing something good for your family and for the environment? Let’s take a look at where it makes the most sense to add sustainable practices to your older home and some guidelines for what to include.
In the Kitchen
One of the biggest energy suckers in conventional kitchens are the appliances. The truth is your kitchen appliances use up to 10% of the energy in your home, with the refrigerator being 5th on the list of appliances using the most energy. That’s why when considering your kitchen remodel, one of the best long term investments you can make is replacing your existing appliances with those that are ENERGY STAR certified. An ENERGY STAR certified refrigerator uses about half as much energy as a 15-year old refrigerator, and a dishwasher is about 12 percent more energy-efficient and 30 percent more water efficient than standard models. Not only will you love your new appliances, your energy bills will be less too!
When it comes to kitchen cabinets, they also play a role in creating an eco-friendly kitchen. You want to look for options that use coatings designed to reduce VOC emissions and offer the lowest possible formaldehyde content levels. Choose a cabinet company that is committed to sustainable practices both in the products it offers and in its business practices, and offers options that include safer materials, sustainable wood such as beech or bamboo, or wood alternatives. Other items to consider include lighting (look for ways to add more windows to your older home, and replace with new ones that are Energy Star certified), room for recycling (talk to your cabinet designer about pull-out storage areas for recycling, and/or a compost drawer), and sustainable flooring options (bamboo is also a very popular wood species right now, both in cabinetry and flooring.)
In the Bath
The bathrooms are another place where there is potential for a lot of water to be wasted. Since more than twenty-five percent of all household water usage comes from just the toilet, installing efficient water and plumbing systems are extremely important when it comes to a sustainable bathroom. Also add low-flow water sink faucets and shower heads to help save water. When remodeling your older home you might also consider getting rid of your tub. The fact of the matter is the bathtub is a major waste of water. A full bath uses 70 gallons of water, compared to a five-minute shower that only uses about 20 gallons. Plus older homes also often have smaller bathroom layouts, so removing the tub may give you more room for other things during your bathroom remodel.
Anyone considering going green in their home should also want to improve their home’s indoor air quality and reduce toxins. Pay careful attention to the materials used in your bathroom sinks, countertops and cabinets. Natural ceramic and nontoxic cement are good eco-friendly solutions for sinks and countertops, while materials that are formaldehyde-free, have no-VOC or low-VOC water-based finishes, along with FSC-certified wood are all ideal eco-friendly approaches to look for when choosing your bathroom cabinets.
There are many other updates you can make to an older home that will make it more sustainable too. Here are a few other suggestions:
- Replace the gas water heater with a much more efficient on-demand water heater
- Add solar panels and rainwater collection systems
- Install energy-efficient home insulation
- Upgrade your A/C unit to one that is energy efficient (don’t forget to look for those rebates!)
- Plant shade trees and shrubs close to your home