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GreenRenovationWhat does it means to renovate “green?” Well it starts long before you think what you are going to use as your kitchen countertops because renovation or building new is often a wasteful process.

The first thing to do is to start at the beginning and that means thinking about starting with an existing house. A renovation creates less waste, and existing buildings are often close to established infrastructure like transit, large trees and established shops.

When you are either building new or renovating, well-designed spaces don’t need to be oversized to meet typical needs. And if you can renovate your existing home to allow your existing spaces work harder instead of moving to a larger home in a different neighborhood, you can save energy, and often increase happiness! Think of the savings on cardboard boxes and packing tape!

Solar panels don’t always make sense as a smart financial investment, because of the time it takes for them to pay for themselves. But because the suns direct light and heat are free, we can use it in other ways to get a payoff.

You can bring daylight into your home, and it will lift your spirits for more reasons than the reduced electrical bill. Sunlight brings heat with it and with some forethought working with your designer, you can renovate your home to take advantage of the sun when you want it and keep it out when you don’t.

Also adding reflective roof coatings, installing tubular skylights and creating thermal mass (heavy walls inside the house to soak up the suns heat during the day and radiate it out again at night) are just a few ways to work with the sun.

Before you think about the countertops and faucets, think about where you can take the waste produced during the construction. Construction and demolition account for roughly a third of all residential and commercial waste, but the majority can be recycled. Some cities sort through all construction waste and divert up to 75 percent from landfills- a number that is growing as new markets and technologies emerge. If you can’t find a use for your construction waste onsite, and you can’t donate it to an organization like Habitat for Humanity, try to find a construction waste management firm in your area that can recycle it. It doesn’t have to cost more or be more work.

A lot of attention in green building materials goes into reducing off-gassing. You should use low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, sealers and caulks. Look for products that don’t contain formaldehyde.

Paying attention to moisture levels in the house after construction is just as important. Baths and kitchens must have good exhaust fans to reduce carcinogens in the air (mainly in the kitchen) and moisture that can lead to mold (necessary in both the kitchen and bath). Plan to install a timer switch in the bath or a fan with a humidistat so the fan stays on long enough to clear the air.

Natural gas may cost a lot less these days, but as we’ve seen in the past energy costs change, and you don’t want to be stuck with an energy hog when rates go up in the future. Utilities and the government offer incentives, often in the form of a substantial credit, toward the purchase of high-efficiency equipment. And in some the incentive covers alternate energy equipment.

Don’t forget the impact of getting those materials and equipment to your house. If you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint, shop local businesses for your renovation. A green product can look a lot less green when it has to be shipped across the world to your house.

Along with thinking locally, think re-usably. Salvaged materials get a lot of hype these days, and prices are increasing as others jump on the up-cycling trend. If you think creatively, you can find the right materials for many aspects of your reno without buying new. Salvaged items don’t have to look a certain way, (e.g. “shabby chic”) either. You can use a variety of salvaged materials in interesting ways for a distinctly modern look.

There’s no telling what tastes will be like in the future, but in my experience, a space that is well designed and well executed with quality materials is much less likely to be renovated -even if it doesn’t match the new owner’s taste. The greenest thing you can do with your project now is create something that people many years from now will still be able to enjoy.

This doesn’t mean being conservative or stifling your own taste. Something that is classic and won’t look dated in five years will stand the test of time and has less chance of getting ripped out when the owners get tired of that style.

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So, what do you think ?