When you begin building or remodeling a home, you have an opportunity to start fresh. You can choose materials that won’t create lasting harm to ecosystems or your family’s health. A house design that fails to make eco-friendliness a priority will have unsustainable, wasteful, energy inefficient, and toxic materials. The only way to avoid these things is to make each choice thoughtfully and select ethical products.
As you start looking at the resources you’ll use for your new construction or renovation, promote a healthier home and a healthier earth by avoiding the following:
VOC Paints and Coatings
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic vapors or gases. They sound like chemicals that should be locked up in a laboratory, but unfortunately, they’re contained in many types of paints, solvents, varnishes, and other household products. They’re known to cause adverse health effects including respiratory illness, headaches, loss of coordination, and nervous system problems. These harmful emissions also contribute to air pollution.
One way to avoid VOCs is to choose water-based or milk-based paints rather than solvent-based, and to look for “no-VOC” on labels. But avoiding VOCs doesn’t start or stop there. Carefully select flooring, cabinets, countertops, and other surfaces with coatings as well.
Unsustainably Sourced Wood
A huge part of protecting the environment is preserving woodlands. If you want to discourage deforestation, consider using recycled or salvaged wood for features like flooring and framing. Research the company who will be sourcing the wood for your home and look for certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and other reputable organizations.
This is a tough one, because even though flame retardants have proven to be harmful, many furniture products are required to be treated with flame retardants for the sake of public safety. Certain chemicals known to be dangerous have been forced from the market, while others still hang around despite their proven negative effects. Choose your furnishings carefully and bring your questions to the manufacturer. You can find furniture, rugs, pillows, mattresses, and bed coverings without flame retardants – sometimes you just have to look a little farther than the nearest department store.
Traditional Incandescent Lights
Incandescent lights used to be the only option for residential, but now that far more energy efficient types have made it onto the market, there’s no reason to opt for incandescents. Instead, choose LEDs or CFLs, which last far longer and use less energy. If you don’t want to make the investment of switching all the bulbs in your home, start with the rooms your family occupies most and work your way through the house.
Asphalt or Fiberglass Roofing
Asphalt roofing is affordable and common, but that doesn’t make it the best option for an eco-friendly home. It only has about a 20-year lifespan, and doesn’t offer as much of a thermal barrier as metal and other types. After its time on your roof, it’s likely to end up in a landfill. Plus, you have to go through the hassle and expense of tearing off and re-roofing. Consider going with a more energy efficient material, like metal. It will require more of an initial financial investment, but it could also last you decades longer than asphalt and save you energy in the meantime. Metal roofing is usually made from recycled materials.
If metal is out of your budget or simply not your style, rubber roofing is affordable, energy efficient, made from recycled materials, and can mimic the look of asphalt.
Half of the average home’s energy bills go to heating and cooling. It’s worth the work to insulate your home as well as possible so that you don’t make your HVAC system work too hard to maintain a comfortable temperature. If you choose a cheap insulation with the minimum R-value (heat flow resistance), you may save money now, but you’ll lose it on your monthly utility bills. Invest in high quality insulation that’s Energy Star certified.
Every little choice you make in your home and lifestyle affects the earth and its resources, so these are just a few ways to avoid the wrong ones. Be sure to thoroughly research manufacturers, vendors, products, and contractors to make sure your renovation or construction project is truly green.
Hannah West writes for Modernize with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.