Outdoor Home Renovations for a Green Home and a Green Thumb

A Look at Sustainable Outdoor Home Renovations

By Evelyn Long, editor-in-chief of Renovated
Reviewed by Brett Stadelmann, managing editor of Unsustainable

Far too many people have a love-hate relationship with their outdoor living space and landscaping. The right home renovations make the outside another room, transforming a lawn and garden from a chore-laden headache or eyesore into a beloved treasure. The best upgrades benefit the planet and human health by minimizing maintenance and heavy equipment needs while increasing aesthetic value.

Everyone wants to pull into the driveway of a nice-looking home. However, humans have an environmental impact every time they alter the landscape and wise choices preserve precious resources for future generations. What should folks consider? Here are eight outdoor home renovations for a green home and a green thumb.

See Also: Designing Eco-friendly Outdoor Spaces: 10 Green Tips

8 Sustainable Outdoor Home Renovations

1. Xeriscaping

Why people battle with lawnmowers and leaf blowers that produce nasty emissions and create a racket on otherwise peaceful weekend mornings remains one of life’s greatest mysteries. Fortunately, an aesthetically pleasing alternative already exists — xeriscaping. This landscape style uses native plants and elements like rocks to minimize irrigation and maintenance needs, saving time and money while sparing aching backs.

Xeriscaping outside the US Capital
An example of xeriscaping outside the United States Capitol in Washington, DC.
Credit: Potomacpalms – Own work

For example, a xeriscaped “lawn” may feature no grass outside of, perhaps, a small run for Fido. Instead, it may contain multiple garden areas surrounded by decorative stone, with larger boulders creating rock rivers. Although the style is popular across the southwest, it works elsewhere, too, as using native groundcovers is a less-labor-intensive alternative to grass that requires far less mowing and fertilizing.

Xeriscaping enables other architectural elements, such as:

  • Gazebos
  • Kids’ play areas
  • Meditation gardens
  • Seating areas
  • Windmills

Although xeriscaping can initially seem intimidating for those uncertain of their green thumb, it’s no harder than planting a lawn and far easier than maintaining one. Use design software programs to plan a layout and strike before the growing season starts in earnest. Then, kick back and reap the rewards every sunny Saturday free from mowing.

What about autumn leaves? Use a broom to sweep them from porches and patios. Otherwise, leave them, as they provide valuable habitats for tiny living creatures and replenish the soil.

Special Notes on Windmills

Although a windmill isn’t an essential component of xeriscaping, it’s an attractive addition for homeowners who want to switch to green energy. Models that produce 1,500 watts of electricity retail for around $500, meaning the device pays for itself after a few electric bills. They fuel existing solar batteries or use a separate battery for storage.

A windmill makes an attractive garden feature and can complement off-grid solar systems for greater power reliability. It’s also an appealing option for those into prepping.

2. Roof Renovations

Upgrading leaky roofs is a valuable way to decrease a property’s carbon footprint while making the exterior greener. Begin by choosing the right shade. Darker colors are generally best for cooler climates, as they absorb more heat from the sun’s rays, keeping the home naturally cozier in winter. In warmer climates, lighter roofs reflect light, so inhabitants stay cooler. Therefore, choose shingles with care.

Also, switching to solar is the ultimate way to a green home — many homeowners convert when they need a roof replacement, anyway. Those who do can take advantage of federal and state incentives to reduce their tax bill come April. Lower energy bills are a huge draw, and some homeowners may even earn residual income as America converts to new grid technology that diversifies and protects energy production.

Remember the green home benefits of routine roof maintenance. Repairing major damage often has a larger planetary impact than fixing minor issues as they occur. Therefore:

  • Clean out gutters twice yearly to prevent water from entering interior walls and causing structural damage, possible electrical fires, and mold growth.
  • Replace damaged shingles as they occur, inspect the roof when cleaning the gutters, and pay particular attention to areas around the chimney and flashing.
  • Keep trees trimmed away from the home to prevent storm-tossed branches from causing structural damage.

3. Deck, Patios and Lanais

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the benefits of outdoor gathering spaces. Plus, spending more time outdoors is healthy for everyone and children who do so tend to embrace better environmental attitudes as adults. The right deck, patio or lanai lets parents work from home outdoors while keeping a watchful eye on the littles and provides a safe space for entertaining.

How do these structures provide a green home while promoting a green thumb? One way is passive solar heating and cooling. A porch or patio roof adjacent to south-facing windows cuts the worst summer heat inside the home, lowering air-conditioning needs. Opening up a screened-in porch on pleasant days airs out the house while creating a bug-free outdoor workplace or secure play area for young children.

Screening in a porch or deck is fairly easy, even for the novice DIY crowd. It takes a single afternoon to build individual wood frames and stretch metal mesh across them. Adding plastic or glass inserts to screens in colder weather creates an instant makeshift greenhouse gardeners can use to sprout seeds in winter and extend outdoor living into a four-season joy.

4. Vegetable Gardens

Growing vegetables at home is an obvious way to hone a green thumb. However, it also makes for a greener home in several ways:

  • It reduces trips to the grocery store, reducing emissions.
  • It lowers the amount of fertilizers and pesticides in the soil when homeowners choose organic compost and natural methods.
  • Growing things absorb carbon dioxide.
  • Children and other family members learn about the life cycle and develop environmental consciousness.

Planting gardens can be among the most economical and greenest outdoor home renovations. Homeowners can save seeds from the organic produce they buy at the farmer’s market and use compost from food scraps to enrich the soil. Scrap yards provide castaway railroad ties, bricks and concrete blocks for defining spaces while keeping these materials out of landfills. Used palettes available free from hardware stores create climbing trellises and herb gardens.

Pink/red dahlia up close with a veg garden in the background - Outdoor Home Renovations for a Green Home and a Green Thumb

5. Compost Bins

Composting hones green thumbs by transforming food and other biodegradable scraps into nutrient-rich soil to enhance gardens. It’s also one of the most eco-friendly outdoor home renovations because it keeps organic materials out of landfills.

Why does that matter? Even though banana peels and coffee filters break down, landfill conditions deprive them of the oxygen they need. As a result, the anaerobic breakdown process creates methane — a greenhouse gas heavier than carbon dioxide.

Composting works best with a one-two punch, such as combining a small countertop compost bin with a larger outdoor model. Savvy DIYers can make a separate section in the larger bin for lawn waste using wooden pallets from local hardware stores. Fill one half with the dirt many countertop models create, and the other with branches and cuttings.

What should go into compost? In general, any plant-based food scraps and plastic and chemical-free paper waste are OK, including:

  • Fruit peels
  • Eggshells
  • Unbleached tea and coffee filters
  • Used paper towels
  • Used paper napkins
  • Seeds, stems and unused or rotten bits
  • Non-glossy paper such as newsprint or old notebook paper

6. New Windows

Windows are a home’s eyes from the indoors to the outdoors, but they also account for a significant portion of total home energy loss. The following signs indicate a need for replacement:

  • Drafts
  • Soft window frames
  • Foggy glass
  • Difficulty opening and closing windows
  • Water seepage

Sometimes, it’s sufficient to replace a single broken pane. In others, adding a line of caulk provides the necessary seal. Homeowners who opt for a full replacement should consider dual-pane models, which can reduce energy consumption by 24% in the winter and 18% in summer.

Homeowners nearing the need for a replacement but can get by with a more conservative approach for now have another reason to do so. Although they aren’t yet widely commercially available, companies like ClearView PV have been hard at work designing windows that double as solar panels that could help many homes go green without the aesthetic of rooftop panels.

7. Tree Planting

It’s no secret that planting trees qualifies as a green activity. A typical hardwood tree removes 48 tons of carbon per year and although the scale of necessary reforestation appears daunting, individual homeowners can do their part on their properties.

Strategic tree planting is best — not only for preventing damage. As a general rule, put those growing 25 feet or higher at least 15 to 20 feet away from the home to avoid accidental storm damage. Placing larger shade trees around the south-facing side of a home blocks considerable sun in the summer, keeping the home’s interior cooler.

8. Exterior Painting

A fresh coat of paint can make an aging home look new and reduce energy consumption. Remember — the rule is dark colors absorb heat, whereas light reflects it. Therefore, those in tropical or desert climates should stick to lighter shades, where deeper browns and grays conserve power in cold regions.

When selecting paint, look for formulations low in volatile organic compounds. VOCs are emitted as gasses under certain conditions, contributing to air pollution. They can also cause health woes, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Organ and nervous system damage

Keeping the Home and Yard Green

Pulling into the driveway of a neatly manicured home is nice, but maintaining a traditional lawn and exterior can result in environmental damage. Making wise, mindful home renovations lets homeowners improve their property value while decreasing their impact on the planet. Some even lower the weekend chore load.

The eight ideas above outline techniques for outdoor home renovations that create a green home. They also make the perfect canvas for homeowners to paint with their green thumbs.

Evelyn Long

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.

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