Why Sustainable Renovation?
This is a value-laden question. On one level is the purely environmental response. Energy-efficient homes use less of many resources to heat, cool, and light. Reusing and repurposing means less for the landfill, as does selling or donating items you no longer can use.
The health of the family is another level. Insulation, many types of flooring, paints, stains and furnishings off gas unpleasant and sometimes toxic fumes.
Sustainable renovation sounds complicated and expensive, but it is really straightforward. As eco-friendly building products and finishes have become more mainstream, the cost has become comparable to other quality products.
Does the Reno Include Demo?
The complexity of the renovation exposes opportunities for sustainable renovation. There will be more opportunity if you are taking a room or rooms down to the studs or replacing windows versus updating paint colors, remodeling the kitchen or getting new furniture.
Down to the Studs
When the renovation takes a room down to the studs, there is an opportunity to seal gaps and add insulation. There are many insulation options that are environmentally friendly and respect indoor air quality. The envelope in building and remodeling means the exterior walls. Openings in the envelope are things that create a hole or penetrate those walls. Windows, doors, skylights, and range hoods belong to this category. In sustainable renovation, it is important to consider the impact of replacing these items, and to use care in installation. Ensuring openings are properly insulated and sealed is critical.
Double and triple pane windows are more energy efficient, as are windows filled with argon or krypton instead of air. Low-E glass moderates the ultraviolet light passing through the windows and keeps warm air inside in the winter and reflects the heat in the summer. This style of window is marginally more expensive than air-filled, uncoated windows, but there are significant energy bill savings.
Another consideration is replacement windows versus prebuilt windows. Replacement windows are just that. They are built to fit the existing openings exactly. That means a tighter fit. Prebuilt windows come in basic standard sizes. There is more opportunity for air leakage since they are not constructed to fit the opening exactly, so greater attention needs to be paid to installation to be sure the opening is properly insulated and gaps caulked.
Thoughtful Design in Sustainable Renovation
Sustainable renovation requires a little more creativity than just gutting a room to start from scratch. A primary principle is to reuse and repurpose wherever possible. For example, let’s say the kitchen cabinets are in good condition. One possibility is to paint or re-stain them to incorporate them into the new design. Trim and hardware can update the door and drawer fronts. Another popular option is refacing. This simply means refinishing the cabinets and replacing the fronts. Pullout shelves, units for pots, pans and lids, and other task-specific make them functional.
This solution is practical and reduces the overall cost of the renovation. Even where the layout is changing and new cabinetry is required, an experienced design firm will puzzle out how to incorporate as much as possible while finding sustainable solutions for the balance. Solid wood cabinets themselves off gas less than cabinets made from material that is glued together, such as plywood or MDF (medium density fiberboard). They are more expensive, but the investment for indoor air quality and durability is a valuable tradeoff.
Finishes for all surfaces are available in less toxic formulas. Low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and stains are widely available. Floor covering and upholstery in natural fabrics is both beautiful and environmentally friendly.
Appliances and systems are a huge consideration in a sustainable renovation. Large and small kitchen appliances are energy users but all come in efficient models, from countertop toasters to whole house heating and cooling. One way to identify them is their Energy Star rating. Right-sizing heating and cooling combined with energy efficient appliances and systems ensure comfort and lower costs.
Sustainable renovation and remodeling are on trend for 2024. Environmentally- conscious behaviors of repurpose and reuse, purchase of energy efficient and eco-friendly products, along with concepts such as biophilic design are at an all-time high.
Straightforward and Affordable
The basic tenets of sustainable renovation are simply:
- Repurpose and reuse
- Sell, donate and recycle anything that isn’t repurposed or reusable
- Purchase energy efficient and sustainable everything possible
- Seal the gaps
- Consider indoor air quality when selecting finishes (paints and stains), flooring, and upholstered furniture
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are sustainable renovation and energy efficient products from roof to foundation. With just a little research and the right renovation firm, sustainable renovation is within everyone’s reach.