Environmentally friendly renovations
Regardless the time of year, many of us spend time pondering all of those tasks (large and small) we've been meaning to get to around the house. From replacing kitchen appliances, to installing new lighting, to renovating an entire room or floor, there's never a bad time to tackle these projects. To help you clean up your renovations, we've talked to a group of experts who specialize in all things 'green'! Don’t wait until the dust has settled before you consider the environmental impact of your choices. Act now to make your next renovation environmentally friendly.
You certainly can't solve the world's energy crisis with one renovation. Nor can you be expected to paint a house 'green' overnight. "Instead of getting overwhelmed, start with small, simple tasks," says Cassandra Dass-Pearce, founder of Toronto-based Green for Life (greenforlife.ca). A certified green consultant, Cassandra works to help individuals and businesses make environmentally conscious decisions. Her suggestions include:
- Install energy-efficient lighting (choose CFL or LED bulbs)
- Have your home tested for indoor air quality
- Ensure your living space is mould-free
- Install a programmable thermostat to regulate indoor temperatures
- Cover your hot-water heater with an insulated blanket to prevent heat/energy loss
- Install low-flow showerheads in all of your bathrooms
- Design a rain barrel to capture rainwater and re-use it to water your garden
Integrate the old with the new
"Every time we buy new materials it costs us money and increases our carbon footprint," says Yee Jee Tso, Managing Partner with Vancouver-based, ArtiZEN Home Renovations Inc. (artizenrenovations.com). While choosing new materials and appliances is what can make renovating so much fun, Yee encourages homeowners re-use whenever possible. "I had clients who made the 'green' decision to integrate their existing heritage trim-work into their renovation," he says. "Even though it wasn't made from sustainable materials, it did not expend any new energy because it already existed and the money they saved not buying new materials far outweighed the labour costs of dismantling and reinstalling it with care."
Image courtesy of Duro-Design
Opt for more sustainable products
For Yee, who encourages his clients to consider the environmental impacts of their renovating decisions, materials like bamboo and cork are the ideal replacement for traditional hardwood flooring. "Bamboo is such a rapidly growing resource and unlike cutting down a forest, bamboo can be harvested again and again," says Yee. "It also looks great as a floor and is extremely durable." Perhaps people shy away from cork flooring because they think of the flimsiness of corkboards and wine corks, but Yee raves about this material, which is made from the bark of an oak tree (and can be harvested without cutting down the tree). "Once treated cork can be waterproof (think: bathroom and kitchen floors) and much more comfortable to walk on than tile."
Say no to VOCs
Quite simply, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are released as gases from products such as paints, lacquers, paint strippers, building materials, furniture and carpets. These chemicals are released at room temperature and are bad for the environment and your health. "Buy low or no-VOC paints and inquire about eco products when purchasing furniture and other building materials," says Yee.
Avoid the landfill: Donate what you can
With 58 stores across Canada, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores (www.habitat.ca/restores) help to promote the re-use of building materials, tools, and supplies. With revenues generated from their sales going toward local Habitat building projects and charitable work, you’re not only helping the earth but also supporting the development of affordable housing in your community. Before you demolish your bathroom and leave the rubble for trash, consider what materials (sinks, doors, light fixtures, lumber) can be donated. For larger items, ReStore will gladly schedule a pick-up from your home.
Before you buy new, try re-used
What if you could find second-hand appliances and cabinetry for a modern, stylish kitchen at half the price? "Recently our Toronto salvage crew took apart the kitchen of stunning Bridle Path mansion, all of which was donated to the store," says Derek Harney, Vice President of ReStore Operations with Habitat for Humanity Toronto. Without all the packaging and manufacturing costs, you’ll save energy and money if you opt to shop at a ReStore. "Last year alone the Toronto ReStores diverted one-and-three-quarter million tons of material from the landfill," says Derek. Now that’s green!
Think and shop locally
Finally, when it comes to choosing building materials, consider the distances these products have traveled to reach your home and the conditions under which they were produced. "I favour local products which help support our economy and create jobs," says Ken Ruest, Senior Researcher with Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) Sustainable Housing Group. "Remember, the cheapest products are not always the most sustainable or environmentally friendly."
Image courtesy of Duro-Design