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October 4, 2021
What does “green home renovation” mean to you? For me, it meant air sealing drafts, adding insulation, and having solar panels installed. It meant months of planning and nearly a year of construction. And it meant embracing minimalism, budgeting for quality, and prioritizing the planet’s best interests over Pinterest-worthy designs.
Looking back, the lessons I learned from my green home renovation were probably the most valuable part of the whole process. They challenged my notions of what it meant to be green, pushed me to think creatively about things like waste and want, and made me more grateful for the four walls and a roof I call “home.” I thought I would share them so they might help others do the same.
My obsession with greenifying my life began with my first houseplant. Early on, I didn’t have the resources to invest in big changes. So, I started small by setting achievable goals. Between that first house plant and today, I moved from buying energy-efficient light bulbs to replacing outdated appliances to becoming more intentional about my consumption. Then, after a violent storm dropped a tree onto my deck, I replaced it with one made from environmentally friendly materials.
It was after this that I decided to go even further and aimed to redesign my home to achieve net-zero energy. It was a big undertaking, but I was ready thanks to years of ramping up my efforts and knowledge about sustainability, greenwashing, minimalism, and timeless design elements. In other words, I’m caught up in the green wave now, but the ripple started with a simple houseplant.
It’s Not as Expensive as You Think
If you are ready to do a full renovation, start by researching the costs. Plan your budget based on your goals. (For me, that meant prioritizing windows, insulation, and solar power.) There will be many green-certified products and materials at various price points, but those aren’t always your most budget-friendly option. Simply using recycled and locally-source materials can save money and reduce the total energy footprint of the project.
Keep in mind, however, that sustainably-designed products often have the added benefit of savings over time. For example, the cost to replace windows with energy-efficient models may be more expensive upfront, but it could save you up to 15% on your energy bills moving forward. Though saving money doesn’t have to be the first goal of sustainability, it can be a deciding factor in how you spend your funds.
Sustainability is a Circle
If your goal is an Instagram-worthy living space, it can be tempting to replace items that still work with newer, prettier versions and to fill every corner with trendy decor. However, living sustainably requires thinking about waste in a new way. In some cases, it may make sense to replace older appliances, electronics, fixtures, and furnishings with newer, more efficient models. But you also have to consider the environmental impact of sourcing and manufacturing that new product and where the old item will end up. In a lot of cases, it makes more sense to refinish, repurpose, or reuse what you have.
That said, at the end of our renovation, we did have some leftover materials. We were thrilled to find out that Habitat for Humanity has ReStores that accept donated building materials. This was an indirect way to extend the impact of our green renovation, even after its completion. It also directly helped others who may want to use second-hand products as they undergo a green renovation of their own.
Be a Green Champion for Your Friends and Family
Now that my renovation is complete, my house is efficient and producing almost all of its own energy. While not quite net-zero, I am pleased with the outcome. The work doesn’t end there, though. Be a green champion and explain the benefits of going green to your friends and family. Better yet, allow your house to do this for you. Many of my neighbors expressed interest in solar panels upon seeing them installed on my roof. Most also said they could never afford them. It wasn’t until I explained the numerous solar tax credits (and my non-existent power bill) that they realized a project like this was within their reach.
My next step was turning a good portion of my yard into a garden. Not only does it now produce fruits and vegetables for my family, but it provides a beautiful habitat for beneficial critters, including bees and birds. We’re also saving money by growing our own organic produce instead of paying premium prices at the store.
Renovating your home for energy efficiency is a great idea. But remember: Replacing light bulbs is just as important as installing solar panels. The smallest steps can have the largest outcomes. No matter where you are on the path to living green, the key is to keep moving forward.