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. 

Eight Elements of a Healthy Home

What makes a healthy home?

Health and wellness are a top concern for all of us these days. And with the amount of time that we spend indoors, it should be no surprise that our houses have a significant impact on our health and well-being. We all want the place we retreat to at the end of each day to be a place of rest and healing, both physically and mentally. So how do we do that? What makes a healthy home?

These eight key elements are important guidelines in designing a healthy home, whether it’s a new build or renovation. They each play an essential role in making a home that supports wellness, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Each of these elements is an extensive topic on its own, so this will be a broad overview of what they entail.

A guest post from our friend Jen Nickel at INVISION Design Solutions in Ontario, CA.

1. Air Quality

Air quality is fundamental in creating a healthy home. In a typical modern home, indoor air quality can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air quality.

With little air movement and home construction becoming more air-tight and efficient, the air in our homes quickly becomes stale and contaminated by a number of indoor sources. These sources can include Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other toxins, like formaldehyde, off-gassing from furniture and finish materials, naturally occurring radon leaching through the foundation, mold spores induced caused by hidden leaks or other pollutants produced through our cooking and cleaning products. Without proper ventilation or filtration, we’re constantly breathing in these compounded toxins, which can lead to or aggravate a number of health concerns, including asthma, long-term respiratory illnesses, and even cancer.

Good air quality is vital for a truly healthy home.

There are two primary methods for creating healthy indoor air – eliminating toxic sources and proper ventilation.

Eliminating toxic sources means choosing building materials and finishes that are natural and non-toxic, and minimizing the toxins we bring into our homes with things like furnishings and household cleaners.

Just as important is incorporating a proper ventilation system that exchanges the stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air.

2. Water Quality

Water quality is another vital factor for healthy bodies and healthy homes.

We need clean, healthy water for both drinking and bathing. Whether your home runs on municipal water or well water, the water flowing from your taps can be contaminated with chemicals, heavy metals, and bacteria, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems, reproductive issues, and neurological disorders.

The way to address your home’s water quality is with a water-filtration system. There’s a wide range of systems available from individual filters installed right at the faucet to whole-home filtration systems.

It’s important to have your water tested to know what contaminants you’re dealing with, and then determine what type of filtration system will work best for you.

3. Light

Human beings have an internal clock that runs on a 24-hour cycle, which is referred to as your circadian rhythm. This internal clock affects physical, mental, and behavioral changes in your body and needs to be in alignment with natural light from the sun for our body to function at its highest capacity.

With modern conveniences, like electric light available at any time of the day or night, our bodies are more susceptible to becoming out of sync with our circadian rhythm. This creates disruptions in sleep patterns, hormone production, and digestive functions, and in the long-term, can lead to sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease, and other serious health concerns. Have you ever experienced jet-lag? That’s a perfect example of your circadian rhythm being out of whack.  The artificial lighting in your home can have a similar impact on our body’s circadian rhythm.

There has been a lot of research and advancements in this area and many innovative products available in the lighting industry. Since our bodies cannot discern between natural light or artificial light, we can use the quality, color, and brightness of the light fixtures in our home to work with our circadian rhythm, and not against it.

4. Comfort

Comfort in our home is not a luxury, but a necessity when designing a healthy home.

A comfortable environment takes into consideration temperature, humidity, acoustics, and smell. Controlling these conditions lead to a comfortable and healthy home environment, as well as protect the health of the building itself. For example, when humidity levels are too low, hardwood floors can shrink and crack, or when they are too high, mold growth can develop. When temperatures plummet, water lines can freeze, and when they’re too high, it can lead to poor sleep.

Poor acoustics and strong smells impact mental health and our ability to focus. It’s important to consider all of these elements in the design phase when making decisions on the construction methods, materials, and the layout of your home.

5. Nourishment

We all know that eating healthy is a key element to living a healthy lifestyle, but what does this have to do with the design of our home? The places that you store food, prepare meals and eat together all impact your eating habits and your relationship with food.

Consuming a healthy whole-foods diet starts with having space and systems to store fresh foods and an environment that is conducive to preparing and cooking healthy meals. A wellness-focused kitchen incorporates features like indoor gardens or an urban cultivator, compost and recycling systems, effective storage solutions, non-toxic materials, and plenty of light.

It needs to be an inviting space that encourages social gatherings and allows room for families to work together to prepare meals. Designing a wellness kitchen in your home is an integral part of creating and encouraging healthy eating habits.

6. Promoting Movement

The other key to living a healthy lifestyle is exercise. Unfortunately, a vast majority of us have inactive jobs and inactive modes of transportation. Sitting still for long periods, or worse, the majority of our day can be detrimental to our health. It’s important to include exercise and more regular simple movements in our daily lives.

When designing a home gym or fitness space, it’s important it isn’t hidden in some far, dark corner of the basement that you’d rather avoid. Place it where it will be seen regularly, and make it a space you enjoy going to with plenty of natural light.

Additionally, other design strategies can be used to encourage more movement during your daily routine, like using a standing desk in your home office or intentionally placing the laundry room in a spot that requires more walking.

7. Mind

Many of us lead busy stressful lives, which impacts both our physical and mental health. Stress is one of the most prevalent ailments in modern life, and when it becomes chronic, it can lead to many health concerns, such as cardiovascular diseases and digestive disorders and mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. At the end of the day, our home needs a place that we can retreat to, a place where we can feel calm and at peace. One way to create a calming environment is through the integration of nature in building design, an approach called biophilic design. Humans have an instinctual connection to nature. Being immersed in the natural environment has been proven to improve human health, physically, mentally and emotionally. We can create this effect in our home, by integrate elements of nature into the design of our space. This can be done literally, with things like plants, natural light, water features, and using natural materials. Or it can be done by emulating the characteristics of nature, like using colours and patterns found in nature.

8. Safety and Accessibility

Lastly, a healthy home needs to be a safe home and be accessible to everyone. This means designing our spaces to minimize the risks of accidents and to be safely used by people of all ages from children to the elderly. Even if you do not have children or elderly people living in your home, chances are that you may have some visit. Also, more and more, people are choosing to age in place and remain in their homes as long as possible with support. Universal design or inclusive design is an approach that prioritizes designing spaces that can be used by everyone. There are many design strategies and features to consider that will improve both the safety and accessibility of your home for everyone, like zero threshold showers and grab bars in bathrooms, wider doorways with lever handles and proper lighting at stairways.

At INVISION Design Solutions, we look at our projects through the lens of each of these elements to create spaces that support health and wellness.  Not every project will include all of these elements, and not every element will be maximized on each project.  But every step in the right direction contributes to a healthier and more sustainable home.  Even small steps make a difference.  When planning your next new build or renovation project, consider how you can consider each of these elements in your design to create a healthy space for you and your family.  

A guest post from our friend Jen Nickel at INVISION Design Solutions in Ontario, CA.