In the spirit of Earth Day, the following will highlight 16 sustainable and energy efficient upgrades to make during your next remodel:
1. Insulation: Proper insulation is par for the course when opting to create a sustainable living environment. In fact, the better you can insulate a home, the more energy efficient it becomes. Keeping heat out and cool air in during summer months can drastically cut down energy consumption. Regardless of whether you are using a spray foam, cellulose or fiberglass, make sure you are using enough. You also have to make sure you have every corner covered. The foundation, attic and exterior walls must all be properly insulated.
2. Air Sealing: It is not uncommon for air to seep in – or out for that matter – via holes leading to the exterior of the house. Air can come and go through openings in windows, cracked ventilation and a number of other places. Your job, as a green rehabber, is to detect these breaches and mitigate them. There is one method, in particular, that can help you detect any air infiltration: the blower door test. This test identifies where air can be coming into the home. Remember, a tightly sealed home requires less energy to heat and cool.
3. Windows: Windows are another staple in the world of sustainable, energy efficient living. However, windows serve a duel purpose. They can simultaneously add value to a home through energy savings and curb appeal. That said, you would want to purchase the best windows your budget will allow. Manufacturers offer several options: design, frame material, color and efficiency are all interchangeable. There are double and triple-pane windows, as well as gas-filled ones – each of which offer their own level of insulation and energy retention. It is also a good idea to have more windows on the south side facing exterior wall, as to take advantage of solar gain.
4. Appliances: The key to a sustainable home is efficiency. And since the majority of homes rely upon a number of appliances, it only makes sense that they too are efficient. ENERGY STAR-rated appliances consume far less energy than their non-rated counterparts.
5. Non-Toxic Materials: In making a home sustainable, you also have to reduce the presence of hazardous materials. There is one component, in particular, that needs to be removed from the premises: volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. With that in mind, be sure that you look for items that contain no VOCs.
6. Solar Panels: Otherwise known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, solar panels have been trending for quite some time. The instillation of PV panels is specifically designed to capture photons from the sun and turn them into energy. Essentially, thy will provide energy for the house as long as there is a sun to take advantage of. They are expensive to install, but save a lot of money over the long run.
7. Passive Solar Orientation: Take advantage of natural sunlight. In other words, orient windows in a way that sunlight is maximized throughout the day. You may even consider adding additional windows to the side of the home that gets the most sun exposure. This limits the need for artificial lighting and saves money on electricity, while also reducing energy costs.
8. Ventilation: Maintaining a healthy indoor environment is of the utmost importance when constructing a sustainable home. One of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy environment is to maximize ventilation efficiency. Adequate ventilation will routinely change the stale air inside with fresh air outside – while simultaneously retaining the warmth or coolness you desire.
9. Reduce Water Consumption: As I am sure you are aware, the consumption of water is reaching critical mass. Nature’s most valuable resource is becoming scarcer by the day in cities like San Diego. The need to preserve water has never been higher. Therefore, low-flow faucets, showerheads and dual-flush toilets are absolutely necessary in any sustainable home. In fact, they should be required in every home. Their addition can significantly reduce the amount of water being used. Essentially, they cut back on water costs and consumption, making the home that much more efficient and sustainable.
10. Incorporate Recycled Materials: The use of recycled materials can’t be overlooked. Their inclusion in construction materials and finished products can dramatically reduce the depletion of natural resources. There are many types of recycled, reused and reclaimed materials — including countertops made with recycled glass, reclaimed flooring and antique furnishings.
11. Lighting: If you haven’t yet noticed the trend, energy efficiency is the key to sustainability. Lighting, in particular, is one area that advancements in technology have allowed us to conserve more energy. The advent of LED and CFL lighting has enabled bulbs last longer while consuming less energy. While the cost of these bulbs is higher than traditional incandescent bulbs, they will pay for themselves in the long run.
12. Overhangs: In a less-traditional approach to sustainability, rehabbers may want to consider extending their overhangs around the house. Over the course of summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, larger overhangs will provide more shade, keeping the house cooler. Subsequently, in the winter months – when the sun is lower – heat is permitted to enter and warm up the house.
13. Tankless Water Heaters: Tankless water heaters conserve water, which – as stated above – is a critical component to any sustainable home. However, their primary objective is to conserve energy. Traditional water heaters maintain a full tank of warm water, which requires constant energy to keep warm. Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, only heat water on demand. That way you do not have the extra energy consumption occurring when hot water is not being used.
14. Landscaping: While a little unorthodox, a lot of rehabbers may be unaware that the landscaping can cultivate a sustainable environment. Consider using plants indigenous to the area, as to eliminate the need for additional fertilization and irrigation. Plants from the area should not require any additional attention. On another note, be sure to incorporate plants that don’t require a lot of watering. Succulents, in particular, are known for their water retention and therefore do not need a lot of water to survive.
15. Permeable Pavement: Yes – even pavement can be considered sustainable. Using paving materials that are permeable, such as gravel, allows rainwater and melted snow to return to the water table.
16. FSC-Certified Wood: Hardwood floors are a hot commodity and can add significant value to a home. However, their very inclusion in a sustainable home can appear paradoxical. How can you use wood on a floor in a sustainable home – knowing all well that trees were cut down to provide the material? The answer may surprise you. Using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council helps provide healthy forests for future generations.