A Look at Sustainable Home Trends for Renovations
By Evelyn Long, editor-in-chief of Renovated
When thinking of eco-friendliness, construction isn’t typically the industry that comes to mind. However, those renovating old buildings have more opportunities to make a substantial environmental impact than the average bear. The built landscape exacts a climate change toll, but wise upgrades can transform an energy vampire into a unicorn.
What’s in style among the green set? What is there to consider for a full renovation of an older building, or if a household can afford to invest in one or two eco-friendly upgrades at a time? Here are the top sustainable home trends for renovations.
Many of the materials construction companies use the most can be recycled. However, even this eco-friendly practice requires energy.
In comparison, many reclaimed materials maintain their original shape and form when moved elsewhere. For example, steel beams often remain intact even after sledgehammers make short work of wooden walls. They need less modification and energy use before starting a new life.
Steel lasts nearly forever — think about all the scaffolds erected and dismantled multiple times without losing structural integrity. Unfortunately, much of the burden of mastering how to use reclaimed steel falls on individual contractors. They face other pressures, including:
- Short time spans given for demolition projects
- A lack of standardized components results in steel beams in every imaginable shape and size
- Lack of detailed knowledge about the material’s history, such as fatigue loading
- Worker health and safety concerns during the deconstruction process
- Cost of storing materials until needed for use
People inside and outside the industry have called for constructing warehouses to contain and catalog such materials to reduce the need for new ones. Hopefully, this transition can occur quickly to allow home renovators to take better advantage of this trend, as there’s no real reason for steel to ever end up in a landfill.
Reclaimed wood may cost a bit more than the original at times, although there are bargains. However, one reap the rewards in durability. Old wood has faced various environmental conditions that increase its stability, making it stronger than freshly harvested pine boards.
Furthermore, using reclaimed wood is an excellent way to incorporate history into a property renovation. Maintain authenticity in that century home with a reclaimed wood mantle that’s held hundreds of holiday cards for various families over the years.
Brick and concrete likewise take a lot to break. Therefore, scavengers can often find these materials at a nearby reclamation center. If there isn’t one close by, salvage yards often contain them, as they restock from larger centers. Online marketplaces are also worth checking.
Check with local paving contractors, too. Occasionally, such sites allow the public to sift through nonconforming deliveries versus shipping them back to the supplier for a refund. It doesn’t happen often, as it can impact profit margins, but occasionally, returning smaller shipments doesn’t make economic sense.
Thinking about converting those single-pane windows to energy-efficient dual-pane models? If careful and crafty, one can save a bundle and reclaim the glass from the old one. Use the reclaimed portion to add a second pane to existing windows, redo the caulk and trim, and the R-value has doubled without buying new.
Many people take advantage of this sustainable home trend when they need roof renovations due to missing tiles or leaks. It makes sense — it seems silly to install 25-year panels on a structure that only has five more years of life left.
However, this sustainable home trend might save the most money. Congress recently extended the solar tax credits through 2035 and many states have additional incentives. That’s not the only advantage of switching now.
Many people who opt for solar remain connected to the grid, but weigh the decision carefully. Grid-connected systems contain automatic shut-offs that prevent solar-powered homes from sending excess energy back over damaged wires, causing danger. That means the homeowners remain in the dark until authorities restore function.
Previously, the only alternative was an off-grid build, which kept the power on the property. However, such setups require expensive battery storage and cause additional headaches. If something goes wrong, the homeowner is solely responsible for fixing it. Trying to do so without power can be challenging.
However, today’s technology allows investment in a hybrid system that keeps the house connected. Although typically relying on the system’s battery power, the grid kicks on after the residents use up the supply, providing daily peace of mind. If the grid goes down, they know exactly how much juice they can use each day. As a bonus, the household get savvier about their energy usage.
Converting to solar is not the only rooftop upgrade that made the list of top sustainable home trends. Another renovation to consider is a green roof. Better yet, the two are not mutually exclusive — the best of both worlds is possible.
What is a green roof? It’s one with supportive infrastructure — including waterproofing and irrigation — to allow use of this space as a garden. In urban environments, such renovations considerably combat the heat island effect, as plants release water vapor when they “exhale,” creating a cooling mist while absorbing warming carbon dioxide.
This innovation has an obvious benefit if one buys an older home in the city and laments the lack of garden space. A renovation combining a green roof with solar could help the building achieve net-zero status, where the property produces more energy than it uses. Can the household get its carbon footprint negative? It could be fun to try!
Getting a renovation project to produce energy is one side of the sustainability equation. Reducing how much those living there use energy is the other. This sustainable home trend is a breeze to implement when upgrading the kitchen or bathroom, even when not planning a whole-house remodel.
Most appliances sold today come with an Energy Star label. This sticker indicates the device meets the sustainability standards set out by the EPA, but smart consumers seek more than the typical label.
A complementary program is the CEE Tier system, which stands for Consortium for Energy Efficiency. There are four levels, with higher numbers corresponding to improved efficiency. All Energy Star appliances fall into the first tier, with the best two or three manufacturers occupying tiers two and three. The advanced tier is the stretch target, indicating a company that goes above and beyond in reducing energy use.
Smart home upgrades can make a renovation project more sustainable while easing the burden. Do family members often forget to adjust the thermostat before leaving for work? If it doesn’t automatically shift, they can manage the home’s temperature from their phones. Dialing it down or up by a single degree can make a significant difference in overall energy use.
Smart home innovations can turn or off lights and other gadgets, not just the thermostat. Automate every function possible to minimize waste.
Waste management is an often overlooked contributor to the climate crisis, but it’s a powerful way for individuals without an overflowing renovation budget to make a difference. The bottom line is humans need to reduce the amount of trash thrown into landfills. The household can do their part to get in on this sustainable home trend without breaking the bank.
First, they’ll need two organization areas — a smaller one in the kitchen, and a larger one in the garage, shed or backyard. Get the following bins for each area:
- Multiple recycling bins
- A compost bin
- An ordinary trash bin
Arrange these as artistically as one likes. Who says plastic buckets are the only choice? While okay in a pinch, get even eco-friendlier by searching thrift stores for covered containers that enhance decor or go the DIY route, installing a pull-out row of bins that slides from a bottom cabinet for easy sorting.
Even if the neighborhood offers single-stream containers, it pays to sort and separate recyclable materials. Single-stream processes lead to enormous contamination, resulting in much of the recyclable material ending in landfills, anyway.
The number of bins a home needs depends on what the local sorting center accepts. Most take cardboard, glass, steel and aluminum cans. Although many take plastic, use care. Read the code inside the recycling triangle to see if an item belongs in the bin:
- Types 1 and 2: Plastic jugs, which nearly every center takes.
- Types 3 through 7: Few centers accept these plastics and adding them contaminates the load. Some centers take Type 5. Some stores — such as Home Depot — offer plastic bag recycling, but it’s better to avoid using the bags in the first place, as it’s questionable how many see new life.
Even folks with backyard compost bins find it easier to deposit eggshells and paper towels as they use them. Fortunately, there are now countertop bins that eliminate odor and prevent people from placing organic material in the regular trash. Doing so contributes to methane emissions, a greenhouse gas heavier than carbon.
It’s also a snap to build a larger backyard compost bin the residents can also use for yard waste. A few free pallets from the local hardware store and YouTube instructional videos are all it takes. Here’s what to compost:
- Plant-based food scraps (no meat)
- Unbleached, plastic-free tea and coffee filters
- Unglossed paper and cardboard
- Used paper towels
- Vegetarian animal bedding, like a hamster’s cage. No dog or cat waste.
- Tree trimmings and yard scraps
This sustainable home renovation only requires a modest investment in bins — DIYers can often complete it for $200 or less. Of course, the family can always create a more elaborate waste sorting center if there’s extra money. However, it’s still possible to get in on the zero-waste trend, even without much spare cash.
Finally, this sustainable home trend gives the weekend back — xeriscaping. It’s the art of using native plants and groundcovers to replace an energy- and water-intensive lawn while greening a household’s footprint.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to kick that heavy mower to the curb? Use a landscape design app to plan the layout, using stones, paved walkways, gazebos and seating areas, and perhaps a water feature amid native foliage. Once completing this renovation project, the yard will only need work every few weeks instead of every sunny Saturday during the warmer months.
Key Takeaway on Sustainable Home Trends for Renovations
Make a Home More Eco-Friendly, One Renovation at a Time
If it’s time to spruce up the homestead, consider implementing these top sustainable home trends in a renovation. Doing so saves money in the long run while making a property clean and green.
It doesn’t matter if there’s a mammoth budget or simply a little left over for sprucing things up. Renovating a home with one of these top sustainable trends will make the residents feel good about where they live.
About the Author
Evelyn Long is a writer and the editor-in-chief of Renovated. Her work has been published by NCCER, Build Magazine and other online publications.