By Center for American Progress staff
For many homeowners the idea of renovating a house, especially in an energy-efficient manner, can be somewhat daunting. But don’t despair. Your home can be comfortable, livable, and green. Here are five simple tips to help you start your green home renovation.
1. Get a green contractor. Consider hiring a contractor with a broad depth of knowledge about green home renovations. A green contractor is trained to make sure that your home will be “energy-, water-, and resource-efficient.” In the best-case scenario, find yourself a green contractor guru. Two such masters exist: One is a contractor designated a Master Builder by the Energy and Environmental Building Association, and the other is a Certified Remodeler, certified as such by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. To find a green contractor near you check out the Green Buildings Professional Search from Sustainable Sources, this list of the top 100 green contractors by Engineering News Record, or this page of homebuilder resources from the U.S. Green Building Council. (Bonus: Take a look at this video put together by the USGBC on the benefits of having aLEED-certified home.)
2. Assess the heating and cooling needs of your home. In most homes in America, about two-thirds of a home’s annual energy use goes toward water and space heating, and about half of all the energy used in the home is wasted. Try using the Home Energy Savermodeling tool created for the U.S. Department of Energy to do a home energy audit and figure out the best upgrades for your home. Upgrades could include wrapping your hot water heater, insulating your attic, or better sealing leaks from windows and doorways in the house, which could prevent the 20 percent air leakage that most homes experience.
3. Update to greener appliances (not to be confused with green appliances) and lighting. Look into replacing appliances you’ve had for more than 10 years with Energy Star appliances. Energy Star is a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy aiming to help Americans save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. Last year Energy Starhelped Americans save enough energy to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 33 million cars, concurrently saving them $18 million on utility bills. Try updating your refrigerator, washer and dryer, and dishwasher first. (Fun fact: Updating a refrigerator bought before 1991 will pay for itself within one year.) And be sure to unplug appliances when not in use; you don’t want vampire energy sucking up all of your progress.
As for lighting, look into using LED lights and installing motion detectors in rooms to further prevent energy waste. Check out Treehugger’s “How to Go Green: Electricity” guide for more helpful tips.
4. Invest in reclaimed materials. Newer isn’t always better. Consider buying reclaimed materials, such as flooring, doors, and cabinets, for home renovations. Salvaged materials not only save you money, but also save the energy, resources, and materials it would take to make a new product. Check out your local antique stores and garage sales for new finds. You can also check out this salvaging guide from Planet Green, as well as browse the website for PlanetReuse, a nonprofit devoted to saving the planet by promoting the use of reclaimed building materials.
5. Watch your water usage. Water waste and conservation is another issue to tackle in home renovations. You should aim to minimize water use and maximize efficient distribution. Consider cutting consumption by installing a greywater recovery system; this keeps you from flushing fresh drinking water down the toilet by using water from the dishwasher, washing machine, or shower instead. Another good move is to invest in water-efficient appliances such as low-flow showerheads and water-efficient dishwasher and washing machines. Also take a look at the Water-Use It Wisely campaign’s list of 100 ways to conserve water for more ways that better suit your lifestyle. (You can even calculate your own water footprint with this nifty calculator!)
Keep these tips in mind during your home renovation and you’ll be helping out the planet in a big way. Home, green home, here you come!