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Green remodeling and renovation

By Josh Hauf

We live and work in buildings; sustainability and climate action are more achievable than we think.

One of the best ways to reimagine and repurpose a space is remodeling. Home improvement and DIY projects are of growing interest across the United States, particularly as a response to COVID-19 when people are spending more time living and working in their homes. The Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates that nearly $420 billion was spent in 2020 on home renovations and improvements, with a major portion spent on DIY projects.

As remodeling continues to grow across the country, contractors and homeowners must take a green approach and incorporate sustainability into all aspects of the remodeling process. Green remodeling is a holistic and strategic approach that incorporates sustainability into every step of a renovation and home improvement project.

In 2018, the construction of buildings accounted for nearly 36% of global energy consumption and 39% of carbon emissions according to a study conducted by the International Energy Agency. The full report can be found here. Homeowners taking on renovating and improvement projects can directly engage in climate action by following a few key principles of green remodeling:

  • Purchasing appliances that are energy efficient, built to last and designed to be repaired

  • Incorporate reused and salvaged materials whenever possible

  • Buy local materials to reduce transportation costs and emissions as well as support your community

  • Know how to manage the unavoidable waste of the project and do your best to reuse and recycle before sending anything to the landfill.

While green remodeling may seem costly upfront, durable and efficient appliances, and materials will last longer and save you money on monthly utility bills. In the long term, green remodeling wins every time. Additionally, individuals can use their purchasing power and influence to show the demand for sustainable materials and products in their community. If you’re a Hennepin county resident, take advantage of the grant opportunity for using reclaimed materials in your home improvement project.

If you are doing a more intense remodel or building an addition, consider what you want the space to function as. One way to incorporate sustainability into your design is to create spaces to serve multiple purposes. This reduces the amount of space required for the expansion and allows for more strategic planning. Additionally, if you’re building new spaces, keep in mind the location of the building and try to build around the environment. This could mean placing windows where you will maximize natural light or being strategic when it comes to wind, rain, and particularly in Minnesota, snow.

Not sure where to start in making your home greener? Here are some common projects that can save you money and reduce your environmental footprint:

  • Finding and fixing air leaks in your home is a great first step in decreasing utility bills. Depending on your comfort level, you can hire a professional to help you out or head over to this Sealed article for some DIY tips.

  • If your windows are on the slate for remodeling/renovation, consider fixing them! Rethos hosts window repair and restoration courses throughout the year. Check out our class calendar to stay up to date.

  • The easiest project you can undertake is ensuring you have LED lightbulbs throughout your home. Energy-efficient light bulbs are an easy investment that yields significant savings annually.

Always be sure to consider deconstruction and reuse when remodeling your home. If there are opportunities to reuse any materials on-site, save yourself the time and trouble of finding a new home. If you do not need the salvaged items, consider donating them to a nonprofit that repurposes building materials and receive a tax deduction on qualifying donations. For home furnishings that may not serve well in your new space, consider donating them as well! If you’re in Minnesota, Bridging connects people in need with furniture and other home essentials.

In addition to the cost savings and reduction of environmental impacts, green remodeling adds character and story to your home. Check out Hennepin County’s guide to green remodeling and see where you can pick up unique and repurposed building materials. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency provides additional tips for homeowners here.

At Rethos, we know that the greenest building is the one that already exists. Spaces can be reimagined and renovated to become more functional and inviting. If you’re planning on tackling a home improvement project, remember to start planning early and take advantage of the resources available to facilitate your remodel and minimize your environmental footprint.


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