By: Anne Reagan, Editor-In-Chief of Porch.com
Earth Day celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, and looking back over the past 45 years and what we know now about climate change, sustainability, energy efficiency and how our actions impact our planet is alarming but also empowering. We now understand that what we choose to purchase or produce, or what we choose to use or waste, can have a direct impact to the health of our planet as well as the health of our bodies and surrounding environment.
Nowhere is this extraordinary potential seen more than in the decisions we make with our homes, and particularly with home improvement. Even a small DIY project like painting a wall gives us the opportunity to choose a product that doesn't negatively impact our health or our environment. And when it comes to major home remodeling or improvement projects, homeowners have a wide array of choices that can ultimately make a positive, rather than a negative, impact on the environment. As we celebrate Earth Day, let's take a look at some of the best ways to approach your next home improvement project that not only makes your home look beautiful, but adds value to your property, your health and the planet.
1. Get educated about sustainability
Before starting any remodeling or home improvement project, become educated about which materials and supplies are "green" and which ones you might want to do without. Reclaimed wood or cork seem like obvious flooring materials for your next green project, but did you know that linoleum has one of the lowest manufacturing emissions of any flooring product?
You may know that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are bad for your health, but did you know that VOCs are emitted by thousands of products you might already have in your home like paints, cleaning supplies, building materials, craft materials, and furnishings? Smart homeowners looking for earth-friendly home products will also want to consider which products might be negatively contributing to the overall health of their home, and also look at how products are manufactured and their overall impact to our environment. It may be an overwhelming process to become educated on this topic, but understanding your options will make you feel like you are truly adding value to your home, as well as your environment.
2. Tour green homes
Touring a green building or home is a fantastic way to see first-hand how other families have incorporated green building practices within a budget. Very often the builders are on-site to answer questions you might have about costs, practicality or longevity. Another great example of green building and how it works in real life is the Bullitt Center, a commercial structure recently built in Seattle, Washington. Not only did they incorporate the usual eco-conscious materials like solar panels, composting and energy efficient fixtures, they required that no materials used in building the structure (including paints, sealants, fasteners, and insulation) contain any "red list" hazardous materials like PVC, lead, mercury or hormone-mimicking substances, all of which are commonly found in building components. In a sense, they have built a building that is healthier for the environment, healthier for the builders who worked on the project and healthier for the employees who work there every day.
3. Work with eco-friendly brands
Some manufacturers and brands pride themselves not only on the quality of their materials, but on their commitment to sustainable business practices. Carlisle Wide Plank Floors, based in New Hampshire, sells reclaimed and antique wood flooring. After 45 years of working in the wood plank flooring business, Carlisle is the most-requested supplier of reclaimed wide plank flooring in North America. In fact, in 2014 their mill recycled 4.4 million pounds of sawdust, which was turned into wood pellets (called BioBricks), which can be effectively used for heating and is a clean burning choice for fireplaces and wood stoves. Their finishes have no measurable volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and there is no off-gassing on site. Their sourcing is also conscientious: their made-in-the-USA products use mostly local wood and will not deal with any suppliers who engage in clear-cutting. Taking the time to research your suppliers can be an excellent way to become educated about the products available to you, as well as make you feel better about where you are spending your money.
4. Shop at green stores
Shopping for green building supplies is easier than ever, even for the average homeowner on a tight budget. Suppliers and stores are getting better at labeling the "ingredients" of typical materials and some stores are implementing policies with regards to the types of materials they will stock. Much like a health food store, these green building supply companies want their customers to feel educated and empowered when it comes to comparing products. Stores like Treehouse, Green Depot, and Green Building Supply encourage homeowners to think carefully before buying home building supplies. Many of these stores supply a wide variety of typical project materials like paint, insulation, drywall, cabinets and countertops as well as tools and other housewares. Some stores even offer in-store classes or consultations to make your learning curve go faster.
5. Hire green contractors and builders
If your project requires a contractor or builder, you can narrow down your search by hiring a pro that is trained in green building practices. Organizations like the Building Performance Institute certify professionals, like contractors, in the field of energy efficiency for the home. This means that they lend expert advice and solutions for homeowners wanting to ensure important home safety functions like mold prevention, carbon monoxide, solar solutions, geothermal or other types of energy upgrades.
The National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is another organization that helps homeowners understand the value of using green methods when remodeling or building a new home. An NGBS certified home goes beyond energy efficiency. It measures remodeling or new building construction in site design, resource efficiency, water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and building operation and maintenance. It's a holistic approach to home remodeling or new home construction and helps homeowners understand the cost benefit analysis of choosing green construction over standard practices. You can read more about the NGBS certification process here.
6. Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose
The three original "R's" of Earth Day still ring true today. One of the simplest ways to reduce your waste is to recycle what you already have, reuse it in another way or repurpose it. Many local organizations accept donations of unwanted building materials like cabinetry, countertops, stone or other materials. Better yet, many of these places sell those pieces at a discount, perfect for homeowners looking for a creative DIY project or a vintage piece that lends character to their home. When removing or tearing down an existing structure or room, work with your contractor to save or recycle what you can. Even if you can't reuse these materials, chances are another organization or homeowner can. If you choose to purchase older materials for your home, make sure that they are free from lead, asbestos or other known hazardous materials.