Going Green with Home Improvement

Home remodelling to green standards brings numerous benefits that go beyond less expensive utility bills and being good to the environment.

A family home is the most important investment many people make. Rather than moving out of an existing home to buy new, remodelling of a structure gives homeowners a chance to improve their investment and go green at the same time.

There are good reasons for greening home improvement. Sustainable building practices cut back on green house gas emissions associated with the construction and operation of a home. Quality construction preserves indoor air quality. A well-designed and executed building envelope reduces energy costs.

Going green is not about tacking on green products at the end of the remodelling process. Homeowners and contractors need to be clear about their objectives and plan with the big picture in mind before initiating the construction process.

Essential Elements of Green Home Remodelling

What distinguishes green home improvement projects is a focus on five elements and how they are integrated into the building. Those five elements are:

Energy efficiency measures to reduce use of fossil fuels for heating or cooling purposes

Water reduction measures both inside and outside the home

Improving interior environmental quality to eliminate mould, dust and chemicals in the home

Sustainable site design that manages water on the ground after rainstorms, as well as precipitation channelled through gutters

Waste management, by diverting building waste from landfills and ensuring contaminants in building materials are contained and handled properly

Many green building rating systems incorporate these elements into the certification framework. Examples include LEED® for Homes (applies only to existing structures which are gutted and rehabilitated), and ReGreen, a rating system and guide to residential remodelling developed by the American Society of Interior Designers and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Systems Approach Required for Green Remodelling

Peter Yost of BuildingGreen.com is an expert in green remodelling. Reviewing the steps in realizing a home renovation project, Yost stresses the importance of a systems approach.

What that means is planning for how the different systems in the house—heating, cooling and ventilation systems, building envelope design (exterior walls, windows), to name just two—fit together. Changes to one part of the house may come with good intentions, but unwittingly cause problems for another system.

An example would be replacing older windows with double glazed units, to improve thermal or R value and eliminate drafts. Making the exterior shell of the home tighter and less leaky improves energy efficiency and occupant comfort. If there is mould already in the walls, however, and this is not removed, sealing up the house brings a whole new range of problems.

A systems approach requires an audit of the existing framework of the house and planning that takes into consideration how renovations to one part of the structure will affect other systems.

Green Value Proposition

“Will it cost more if I go green with the renovations?” is a common question from homeowners. The short answer is “Yes,” but consider the value proposition first.

Renovating a home to sustainable standards is an investment that repays itself quickly in reduced energy consumption and greater durability of the building fabric. Value also means better indoor air quality, which translates into improved health for the home’s occupants.

Other benefits of a green home renovation include greater comfort and liveability, and reducing the negative impact of the home on the environment. Given the initial investment made by owners in their homes, it just makes good sense to renovate to a green standard.