What Are Green Building Standards?

If you want to build a healthier, more sustainable home (or renovate your existing one!), one way you’re sure to get there is by focusing on a particular green building standard — and, trust us, there are plenty out there for you to choose from.

But what exactly do each of these green building standards entail, how do they compare to each other, and which one is best for your home? Let’s take a look!

A green building standard is a certification system that lists specific requirements for improving the performance and reducing the environmental impact of a building. In most cases, a standard and its requirements are established by a government agency or nonprofit organization.

Most green building standards are intended to accomplish a few or all of the following within a home:

  • Reduce or eliminate consumption of non-renewable energy sources
  • Reduce harmful emissions
  • Reduce ongoing maintenance requirements
  • Tighten the building envelope
  • Increase the use of sustainable materials
  • Improve indoor air quality
  • Improve overall health and comfort levels

From there, it’s plain to see that the overarching goal of most green building standards is similar: to build a healthier home for you and your environment. However, all green building standards differ in one way or another — and those differences shine a light on which standard can provide the healthiest, highest-performing home.

There are many green building standards you could choose to follow. Below, we’ve listed just five of the most common with brief descriptions.

  • Passive House homes are designed to work with their surrounding environment, reducing the need for additional energy. Passive House homes take the most comprehensive approach to building health, longevity, and efficiency. We’ll elaborate on why they’re so great in the next section.
  • Net-Zero homes are designed to generate as much energy as they use with renewable energy sources and advanced construction techniques.
  • LEED homes focus on various green building aspects — from energy efficiency to sustainable site location, indoor air quality, and more.
  • ENERGY STAR homes prioritize energy efficiency, especially through the use of energy-efficient fixtures and appliances.
  • Living Building homes take a regenerative approach, connecting occupants with nature and promoting self-sufficiency by remaining within their locations’ resource limitations.

If you want a healthy, high-performing home, Passive House is the way to build. While other green building standards have well-intended goals for energy efficiency and performance, they are fundamentally flawed in their approaches.

Passive House relies on a few main building science principles to create some of the healthiest, highest-performing, most comfortable homes out there. Those principles include:

  • Airtight construction
  • Thermal comfort and intentional insulation
  • High-performing windows and doors
  • Low heating and cooling demands

When you bring all these principles together, you can achieve a highly efficient home that also provides great indoor air quality and comfort. You’re not sacrificing some critical aspects to accommodate others. Instead, you have a space that prioritizes all the important parts of a healthy home — for both you and your environment.

That’s why Tectonic is a Certified Passive House Builder!

No! For some homeowners, meeting all the requirements for Passive House or a different green building standard just isn’t feasible — and that’s okay. There’s no “correct” or “perfect” way to build or renovate sustainably. What matters most is that you do the best you can with the tools and techniques available to you, and that you reduce your impact as much as possible.

Perhaps this means you choose to reduce your construction waste by deconstructing instead of demolishing it. Perhaps this means you’ll prioritize a more timeless design, so your home won’t require resource-heavy updates for several years. Or maybe you’ll just decide to follow a few Passive House principles. Any way you slice it, you’re being more intentional about your footprint, and you’re building a healthier, higher-performing, more rewarding home.

Interested in configuring your home to meet Passive House or other green building standard requirements? Choose Tectonic Design Build. We’re experts in healthy home builds and remodels, and our thoughtful design-build process can help us achieve the new aesthetic, functionality, and efficiency you’re looking for. Get started today by contacting us online.

11 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas

Looking to build a healthier home for you, your family, and your environment? You don’t need to start from scratch. Instead, there are plenty of ways you can make small updates to start reaping the benefits of eco-friendly home design. Here’s a list of 11 eco-friendly home improvement ideas to consider for your next renovation project. 

11 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas

Before we get started, it’s good to know that not all of the ideas listed below are feasible for every home or project. Solar panels might not be in your budget or your home’s layout might not be right for more high-performance windows. Regardless, these are ideas to get you thinking.

Also — we’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again! — it’s not possible for any renovation project to be entirely eco-friendly. There are negatives to all types of remodeling; it’s just the nature of building. The goal is to minimize them as much as possible and set your home up to leave a smaller footprint for years to come. 

So, without further ado, here are 11 eco-friendly home improvement ideas to get you started creating a healthier, more comfortable home! 

1. Complete an Energy Audit

Before starting any renovations, it can be useful to figure out what parts of your home are working well and which ones aren’t working well in terms of energy efficiency. Conducting an energy audit can help you understand the full picture of your home’s energy use, as well as its comfort and safety levels. Then you can focus on which eco-friendly home improvements will be most rewarding, and move them to the top of your to-do list. 

Getting help from a professional is the way to go. It will result in accurate, actionable results. A good remodeling contractor will have the trade partners to complete the job for you.

2. Install Energy-Efficient Windows — and More of Them!

High-performance windows make all the difference when it comes to insulating your home from the outside and allowing the maximum passive heat through the winter. If you’re looking to replace the windows you currently have, consider purchasing windows with the lowest U-factor you can find. Additionally, stay away from single-hung or double-hung windows. Instead, use casement windows, as these have a much better seal than sliding units.

3. Ensure Walls Are Insulated Properly

Insulation is one of the most important factors contributing to your home’s overall energy efficiency and comfort. If your home isn’t currently insulated well or properly, you’re likely using more energy and spending more money than you need to in order to keep your family comfortable. 

Some good, eco-friendly insulation materials include wool, aerogel, and polystyrene (check out our previous blog on ICFs if you haven’t already!). Place these materials inside your walls, attic, and ceilings. 

4. Seal Air Leaks in the Building Envelope 

With modern building science, we now know that we want our homes to be as air-tight as possible. Imagine a bedroom window open in the middle of winter — no matter how high the heat is turned up, the room won’t feel warm. Now imagine the surface area of that open window as 1,000 tiny holes in your home that you can’t close. Having an airtight building envelope allows you to better control indoor air quality and energy efficiency. 

If your home has air leaks, you can seal them up by using materials like caulk, expanding foams, EcoSeal, even construction tape. Some of these products are a bit more effective and eco-friendly than others, but they’re all capable of boosting your home’s energy efficiency quite a bit. 

However, the best way to ensure an air-tight building envelope is to start with one. If you’re looking to build new, you’ll reap a ton of energy-efficiency benefits by thinking about your building envelope from the get-go. At Tectonic, we’re experts in passive home design, and we’d be happy to build you a new home that’s as air-tight, comfortable, and efficient as possible. 

5. Consider Deconstruction Instead of Demolition 

Demolition involves tearing down an entire structure, as well as everything within it. On the other hand, deconstruction involves taking a structure apart piece by piece, with the goal of preserving and reusing the items within it. 

Bottom line? Demolition, no matter the scope of your project, can lead to a lot of waste. If you have items that can be kept, refurbished, or donated, don’t destroy them! Perhaps you’ll be able to find another use for them and minimize the load you take to the landfill. Or, even if the items just aren’t your style anymore, you can always donate them to somebody who may want or need them. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?

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.

6. Use Low-VOC or VOC-Free Paints

Paint can completely change the aesthetic of a room. However, many types of paint can also introduce a variety of chemicals, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), into your home. VOCs can contribute to poor air quality and cause a range of adverse health effects for you and your family. 

Fortunately, there are low-VOC or VOC-free paint options available. Although these paints may come at a higher price than others, they’re sure to pay off in good health — for your home, and for you. 

7. Prioritize Sustainable Materials

The most obvious way to renovate in a more eco-friendly way is to prioritize sustainable materials. If you want to invest in new home solutions, rather than refurbished or upcycled ones, find ones that are expected to have a longer lifespan and that will reduce your energy and/or resource consumption during it.

Need a few ideas to start your search? Here are some: 

  • Recycled or responsibly sourced woods and glasses
  • Recycled or responsibly sourced wood, cork, bamboo, or wool carpet flooring
  • Rubber shingle or slate/clay tile roofing
  • Geothermal heating and cooling systems
  • Energy-efficient or ENERGY STAR® appliances

8. Implement Regenerative Landscaping

Eco-friendly home improvement projects don’t always need to happen inside your home — there are also plenty of ways you can contribute to a healthier home and environment outside, too!

One of the most rewarding eco-friendly home improvement ideas is to implement regenerative landscaping. Think of things like native plants, rain gardens, and alternative lawns. Various methods of regenerative landscaping can help you reduce water usage, eliminate chemical usage, control erosion, and improve surrounding soil conditions — all while adding a unique charm to your home’s curb appeal!

9. Go Solar

When you hear “eco-friendly home improvement ideas,” it’s likely that solar panels are one of the first things that come to your mind. In some ways, that’s good. Solar panels are great contributors to renewable energy, and they’ll start reducing your utility bills within just days of installing them. They’ve been very rewarding additions for many of our clients at Tectonic, including our Grape Street House project. 

However, it’s important to know that solar panels aren’t the right eco-friendly home improvement solution for everyone. They have a pretty high upfront cost, and some homes just aren’t built for them. There are many more feasible eco-friendly renovation solutions if these don’t work for you. 

10. Buy Reclaimed

Somebody else’s trash may be your treasure! If you’re looking for new (or, at least, new-to-you) furniture, finishes, or decorations, make a visit to your local resale shop and see if there’s anything that catches your eye. Even items that are a bit outdated or dysfunctional can be upcycled and transformed into something beautiful. It’s a great opportunity to minimize buying new, and it’s an even better opportunity to flex your creative muscles!

11. Plan for More Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Projects

Want to implement many, or all, of the eco-friendly home improvement ideas we listed? Great! Feeling overwhelmed at how you’ll manage to accomplish them all? We get it. 

The good news is that you don’t need to implement all of these ideas, and you don’t need to implement them all at once! Some of the best eco-friendly home renovation projects happen in stages — making them a bit easier to digest, both for you and your budget. 

If you need someone to help with your planning, contact a design-build remodeling team. Planning rewarding, yet digestible renovation projects is their bread and butter, and they’ll help you navigate the process, so you can be excited about it instead of overwhelmed. 

Renovating your home to improve your life and minimize your impact on the world around you is a rewarding feeling. If you’re ready to make the most out of your next remodel, talk to our team at Tectonic Design + Build.


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! 

Green vs. Sustainable vs. Eco-Friendly: What’s the Difference When It Comes to Building?

Building green or sustainable homes is a concept that’s top-of-mind for many Boulder, CO residents. But if you’re planning to build, you’ve probably noticed that there are so many different types of “green” home options available to you — and if you’ve got caught up in the confusion, wondering what they really mean, you’re not alone. 

From green to sustainable to eco-friendly, what do these terms actually mean, and which is better for your home? Let’s take a look at each to get to the bottom of this “green” terminology. 

Green vs. Sustainable vs. Eco-Friendly Building: What’s the Difference?

While green, sustainable, and eco-friendly building may all seem like the same thing, there are some nuances between them. In most cases, “green” is a general term for environmentally responsible building, “sustainable” is a term that focuses on efficiently preserving resources for future generations, and “eco-friendly” is a term that relates to a product or practice that won’t harm the environment. 

All that said, there is one thing to keep in mind: while there are ways to build that have a smaller impact on the environment, it’s important to remember that all types of building still have some impact. From the location you choose to build in to the materials you use for construction, all aspects of the building process have consequences — any “green,” “sustainable,” and/or “eco-friendly” efforts are just working to minimize impact. 

What Is Green Building?

Green building is a construction method intended to reduce negative impacts on our environment through resource-efficient design, construction, and operation. It’s probably the broadest term in the bucket of environment-related terminology. Nothing specific actually defines “green,” making it a bit more of a sentiment than an action. 

What Is Sustainable Building?

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 different from green building in that it’s generally more focused on creating longevity and buildings that minimize impact in the long term. 

What Is Eco-Friendly Building?

Eco-friendly building is a construction method that intends to use materials and processes that are resource-efficient and environmentally responsible during and after all stages of the building process. It’s often used to refer to something that won’t directly harm the planet. In many cases, it’s a more focused approach than green building, although the two terms are very similar.

What About LEED-Certified, Net-Zero, and Passive-House Building?

We’re so glad you asked! These are all better representations of a builder’s ability to create healthy homes. Where green, sustainable, and eco-friendly are all terms that can get a little muddy, LEED-Certified, Net-Zero, and Passive homes must all meet specific requirements, which makes them a better measure of a home’s overall health, both for your family and for the surrounding environment. We’ll outline each of them below. 

LEED-Certified Building

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, and it’s now the most widely used “green” building rating system in the world. That said, LEED-certified homes are designed and constructed according to the guidelines established by that certification program. As an overview, requirements for LEED certification include things like improved energy efficiency, water efficiency, and indoor air quality, as well as reduced carbon dioxide emissions, wasted natural resources, and long-term environmental impacts. 

Net-Zero Building

A net-zero home is one that produces as much energy as it draws from the power grid. And no, this doesn’t mean opting to live a life among candlelight. Instead, it means building a house that consumes only as much energy as what can be produced through renewable resources onsite. To achieve this, a number of renewable energy sources, sustainable building materials, and resource-efficient technologies are installed. 

There’s a misconception out there that net-zero homes don’t draw any power from the grid. In reality, a net-zero home produces as much energy as it uses over the course of the year. Depending on your climate, this might mean that your net-zero home produces way more energy than you use in the summer, but uses that excess to balance a deficit in the winter.

Passive-House Building

Passive houses are thoughtfully designed and built to meet the standards established by the Passive House Institute of the United States (PHIUS). Passive-house building uses a set of design principles to attain a high level of energy efficiency, while still providing an ideally comfortable and quiet indoor living environment. In essence, many have stated that passive-house building is all about “optimizing your gains and losses based on climate.” 

Passive-house building is based on these five construction principles:

  1. Extremely airtight building envelope that prevents outside air from entering and inside air from escaping.
  2. Continuous insulation throughout the entire building envelope without thermal bridging.
  3. High-performance windows and doors to efficiently manage solar gain based on changing climates.
  4. Balanced heat and moisture recovery ventilation.
  5. Minimal space conditioning.

A Passive House certification is one of the most difficult building certifications to achieve, but if you’re interested in building a healthier, passive home in Boulder, CO, Tectonic Design + Build can help you complete the job! We’re proud to be passive-house certified, meaning we’re able to construct some of the healthiest homes possible for you, your family, and the environment.

When it comes to green building, sustainable building, and eco-friendly building, there are a lot of conversations happening in the industry. At Tectonic Design + Build, we’re excited to have a team of experts that deliver quality craftsmanship designed to minimize our overall impact on the world around us. Contact us to learn more about how we can help with your next project.