How Do You Renovate Sustainably?

The United States’ renovation trend has recently exposed our tendency to just swap everything in our homes out every few years, raising some serious concerns regarding sustainability and environmental impact. And that cause for concern is completely valid, as renovation projects can get pretty messy and wasteful, fast. 

But are there any ways to renovate more sustainably? Let’s take a look! 

Negative Environmental and Health Impacts of Traditional Renovations

While home renovations generally involve fewer negative impacts than new construction projects, they are far from having none. In fact, traditional renovation methods often cause a number of negative impacts related to the health of both humans and the environment, including:

  • Large amounts of demolition and construction waste – According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the demolition and construction waste in renovations accounts for around 22% of all the waste generated in our country. 
  • Wasted or excess resources – During many renovations, homeowners dispose of materials that are still in good condition and/or order too many new ones to replace them. This leads to more resources going to the landfill unnecessarily.
  • Off-gassing toxins – Renovations can expose you and others to any toxic substances or particles within your home, including lead, asbestos, mold, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, and more.

Are There Ways to Renovate More Sustainably?

If you were surprised by any of the information listed above, you may be wondering if there are ways you can renovate your home more sustainably — and the answer is yes! There are plenty of renovation methods that are more sustainable than traditional approaches. 

Before we get into them, we’ll remind you of what “sustainable” means in the context of remodeling and construction. In simple terms, sustainable building is a construction method intended to maintain or improve the quality of human life, as well as harmonize with local climates and environments for years to come. It’s generally focused on creating longevity and minimizing impact in the long term. 

However, it’s important to remember that while there are ways to renovate more sustainably and leave a smaller footprint, there isn’t a renovation method that won’t affect the environment at all. All types of building and remodeling will have some consequences — the goal is just to reduce them as much as possible. 

6 Ideas for a More Sustainable Renovation

And now to what you’ve been waiting for: how to renovate more sustainably. Below are our five best tips and tricks to a healthier, more conscious remodel. 

1. Deconstruct vs. Demolish

The difference between deconstruction and demolition is critical is sustainable renovations. 

  • Deconstruction involves taking a structure apart piece by piece, with the goal of preserving and reusing the items within it.
  • Demolition involves tearing down an entire structure, as well as everything held within it.

So, before you start to renovate your home, take some time to consider which items can be kept, refurbished, or donated — then avoid destroying them or throwing them out! Of course, there will always be materials like old insulation or drywall that are garbage, but by thoughtfully deconstructing and sorting through, you can reduce the amount you contribute to the landfill. 

At Tectonic Design + Build, we’ve partnered with Resource Central, a local nonprofit in Boulder, CO, to help our team and clients with deconstruction. They provide tool rentals, deconstruction assessments, and free pickup services to help with the process — and they have a salvage yard where you can donate unwanted items! In 2020 alone, Resource Central diverted 3,300,000 pounds of waste from landfills through their material reuse program. 

2. Be Conscious of Sustainable Design

The best way to create a sustainable renovation? Make it your last one! And that starts with design. While we’ll talk about investing in high-quality materials with longevity below, your remodel’s design can also impact the sustainability of your finished product. 

If you’ve ever walked into a home built in the 70s and felt like you were stepping into a time capsule, this is a great example of what you might want to avoid when it comes to designing a sustainable renovation. 

There are ways to design and build a renovation that prioritizes classic, timeless style for your big items — like kitchen counters, cabinets, flooring, and floorplan while leaving plenty of space for trendy accents in your decor. A renovation that prioritizes timeless design ensures you won’t have to rip out shag carpeting or pistachio green countertops anytime soon. That in itself goes a long way to reducing waste and creating a more sustainable renovation. 

3. Sort Recyclables

There are many materials that can be recycled on renovation job sites, and it’s important to take advantage of that! Below is a list of commonly recyclable materials: 

  • Metal
  • Cardboard
  • Lumber (clean, non-painted)
  • Hard plastics
  • Glass
  • Ceramics
  • Electronics

If your usual recycling service doesn’t accept materials like glass, ceramics, or electronics, there is likely a local resource that has a full-service recycling center you can use. We often steer our Boulder, CO clients to Resource Central, as this is another awesome service the nonprofit offers. 

4. Upcycle Materials

Upcycling is a great way to take outdated, unused, or broken materials and transform them into something that beautifully reflects the vision you have for your renovated home. Whether this means simply refacing your cabinets or something a little more extravagant, there are many opportunities to reuse your existing materials and furnishings. 

Need some inspiration? Here are a few brilliant upcycling ideas:

  • Transforming an outdated bookcase into a decorative hutch
  • Turning an old window into a handy message board
  • Using a few shabby wood pallets to create a unique patio table
  • Arranging unwanted bathroom tiles to form a mosaic sculpture in your landscaping

5. Donate Unwanted Products and Furnishings

If you find any gently-used products or furnishings during your renovation that you don’t have a use for anymore, donate them! Whether you give them away to someone you know, put them up for grabs on Facebook Marketplace, or drop them off at a local nonprofit, somebody is sure to pick them up and make good use of them. As they say, one person’s trash is truly another’s treasure. 

6. Adopt Resource-Efficient Shopping Habits

At the end of the day, not all materials can be upcycled or refurbished — leaving you with some things to put on your shopping list. But while replacing your existing materials and furnishings isn’t a very sustainable practice, there are some resource-efficient shopping habits you can adopt to help reduce impact as much as possible. 

If buying new, try to purchase materials, furnishings, fixtures, and appliances that are durable and resource-efficient. The longer they last, the less frequently you’ll have to send them to the landfill and replace them. And the less energy they use, the better (that’s a big component of passive home building, as well!). Here’s a checklist of items to make sure are on your list:

  • Energy-efficient appliances
  • Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems
  • Reclaimed materials
  • Water-efficient fixtures
  • High-efficiency windows and doors

Renovate More Sustainably with Tectonic Design + Build

Interested in a more sustainable home remodel? Our team at Tectonic Design + Build can help! High-performance building is at the core of everything we do, and we strive to deliver remodels that are healthy for both you and the environment. If you’re ready to renovate, get in touch with us today!