Green Made Easy: Eco-Friendly, Efficient Remodeling Tips

by Donna De Palma

 

Consider the environment when remodeling your home this season.  It’s good for the planet and can save on both energy and water bills:

 

-Try a sustainable product such as a low-flow faucet with aerator and restrictor as a good first step in your kitchen.  Water usage is reduced from 2.5 gallons per minute down to 1.5 in low-flow faucets.

-The reduced flow will be almost undetectable.  Aerators force air into the water stream to maintain pressure and rinsing efficiency.

-Great design while preserving the planet can be achieved in the bath too.  Water-efficient showerheads optimize water flow without compromising performance.  A water-efficient showerhead’s 1.5 gallon per minute flow rate uses 30% less water.  Eco-performance tub and bath faucets reduce water usage by 32% on average.

-Replace a standard 1.6 gallon per flush toilet with a high-efficiency model to reduce water usage by 20%.  If you’re replacing a pre-1994 model with a high-efficiency model, you can reduce water usage by 60% or more.

-To cut down on your home’s carbon footprint and reduce energy costs, select Energy Star® appliances.  Induction or gas top stoves are 85% more energy efficient than electric.

-When selecting lighting, install LED lights.  LED lights keep your rooms cool and require less electricity.

-Insulate your home with wool, cotton, soy-based, even denim insulation.  These eco-friendly materials hold in heat or cooling efficiently and because they’re non-toxic, they’re much easier to install.

-For heating, geothermal and solar are rated highest as eco-friendly options.  Geothermal systems use earth heat— typically between 45 and 75 degrees—as a base for home heating.  The system works using buried coils that contain liquid—typically, a mix of water and antifreeze.  The liquid is warmed to the same temperature as the earth and then runs through to your house where a compressor extricates the heat.  No fossil fuels are required for this type of home heating.

-Passive solar heating systems align building features using the building’s orientation to the sun to reduce heating needs.  The three categories of passive solar heating: direct gain, indirect gain and isolated gain convert sunlight to thermal energy to keep a home warm and comfortable.

-When remodeling, select local materials when possible to lower your environmental impact.  Rochester, New York has plentiful hardwoods—oak, chestnut and maple— that can be locally-harvested.  Consider reclaiming hardwoods and choose recycled tiles, whenever possible.

-Wood is a beautiful and clean building material with excellent wear-resistance properties.   Not only is it hypo-allergenic but often free of chemicals.  When finished properly, it’s easy to clean and maintain.

-When considering which countertop is best for you, try Corian.  It’s 100%  recyclable.  Corian is seamless and was invented in Buffalo, New York.

-Quartz is another great option for countertops because it can be recycled and has the look of marble—with the same pattern and polish— though easier to maintain.

-When choosing cabinets, look for manufacturers who use sustainable construction practices and materials that are sourced in Rochester, New York or its surrounding counties.

-If you’re painting walls, select paint with low or no VOC’s—Volatile Organic Compounds—especially if you’re chemically-sensitive.  VOC’s have high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature so large numbers of molecules evaporate and enter the indoor air you breathe.

-For flooring, consider engineered floors made of thin veneers sandwiched on top of one another—or even luxury vinyl—that can have the look of wood or tile.  Both are worry-free options.

-Recycled ceramic or porcelain tiles are also good flooring choices. Try natural cork for an unexpectedly luxurious feel.  Cork comes in a wide variety of colors and its soft finish is easy on your feet.

-To save time and money while being eco-friendly, repurpose and recycle items you already own. Vintage parts make great hardware for cabinets.  Reclaimed corbels under a kitchen countertop can make a space your own.

-Stay warm this winter and conserve on heat with a heated floor.  If it’s a new build, a hydroponic system will allow your domestic water to run through a heat pump so it does double-duty.   In radiant floor heating, channels or tubes under the floor are warmed by warm water.  Some radiant floors are warmed by electricity, and others, by air movement.

-Hydroponic systems are most popular but require the system be hooked up to a water heater or boiler.  Electric radiant floors are much simpler to install and maintain.  They work through cables beneath the floor, or through mats that conduct electricity.

-The advantage of an electric radiant floor is that it comes with its own thermostat so temperature isn’t dependent on the thermostat that controls the rest of your house.   And they’re energy-efficient—an electric radiant floor in an average bathroom uses the same amount of energy as three 100-watt light bulbs.

-When a heated floor is turned off it still generates heat especially when the floor is made of a dense material like concrete.  Ceramic tile in a bath or mud room is a good choice for an electric radiant floor because it’s a great conductor of heat.  Most radiant heat systems can also be installed under hardwoods.

-Maximize outdoor space with a deck, patio or rock garden.  A simple berm planted with native plants and flowers creates an area of interest.  Laying stone or brick is more than a DIY project for most homeowners.  Consult an outdoor or gardening specialist.  Select trees and shrubs that provide shade.  Providing shade for an outdoor space is key to enjoyment on hot, sunny days.

-Railroad ties define sections of a yard or hold back erosion on a hill or alongside a driveway.  Conserve on watering with flowering plants that retain moisture like lilies and deep root plants and trees.

-Try a terrace.  When you build layers into a hill you can retain moisture and prevent water run-off.  Place large stones around trees to trap moisture.  By creating condensation, you’ll have a natural drip irrigation system.

 

Going green doesn’t necessarily require complex or expensive products or hard-to-find features. Instead, it can be the right solution for reducing energy costs and optimizing comfort for you and your family.

 

References

Home/Eco-Home — Is Electric Radiant Floor Heating Good for the Environment?

Houzz — Eco-friendly Cool: Insulate with Wool, Cork, Old Denim and More

Moen — Eco-friendly Bathroom Faucets, Eco-friendly Kitchen Faucets, Eco-performance Showerheads, Eco-performance Aerators

The Permaculture Research Institute — Water Retention Landscape Techniques for Farm and Garden

Mother Earth News — Best Options for High-Efficiency Toilets