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Green Remodeling or No Remodeling: Which is more Eco-Friendly?

A friend of mine recently asked a green question.  She moved into an unfinished home and was very excited about using green materials.  We started to talk about insulation.  There is already exposed fiberglass insulation in her new home.  She wants to replace it with recycled denim insulation, which is what I have in part of my home.  As we talked about the pros and cons of green insulation, she then asked if it was truly greener to replace what one already has?

Reduce, reuse, recycle has been the mantra of living a greener life. Replace is not one of the three Rs.  Sometimes it makes sense to replace old energy inefficient appliances, but sometimes it does not. If it isn’t broke, don’t replace it can be a more eco-friendly considering the energy and materials used to produce a new item.  In fact, part of Green Remodel’s “Common features of greenbuilt projects” is

  • Reuse an existing structure rather than build a new one.
  • Deconstruct rather than demolish, if all or part of an existing structure must be replaced.
  • Reuse materials from the old structure where possible.
  • Consider using salvaged materials from other sources.

Consider the car…A Prius or  one of the upcoming EVs certainly is a more eco-friendly drive, but how much energy and materials is used in their production?  In some cradle to grave analysis, the Prius wins; however, is your old car in the grave?  Does the same hold true for green building materials and appliances?

The issue of toxic exposure is one reason a green remodel is a great idea, and it may be the most important.  Our homes are toxic places.  From mercury and formaldehyde in drywall to PVC in carpet backing, there are many toxins in our homes that are a concern for human health.

To green remodel or not to green remodel is a personal question.  Replacing existing toxic building materials may make sense from a health perspective, but it is not necessarily better for the planet if they are still in good condition.  Filling up landfills with toxic building materials and appliances present another problem altogether, but if you must remodel, then chose eco-friendly materials.

Photo:  Bonded Logic

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4 comments
  1. Buildingwell

    This piece brings up an excellent point. Sometimes greening just to do it doesn’t actually make sense. Before starting a green rehab or renovation project, you should really evaluate your current home/building. You can do this by benchmarking how well it performs against buildings of similar size. You should also consider doing an energy audit. These efforts will help to tell you “if it’s broke.” Work from that point. Here’s more info about where to start: http://www.buildingwell.org/Where+Do+I+Start+-+Is+My+Building+An+Energy+Hog

    1. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

      All good points. Another thing: the “sexiest” option isn’t always the best. Just talked a family member into installing LED lighting on a couple of billboards he owns before even looking into solar (which was his first inclination for cutting electric costs)… the LEDs themselves will save him a ton on electricity.

  2. RECYCLED & HEALTHY: 5 sustainable flooring options for your next remodel - Green Home Gnome

    […] When remodelling a home, you want a floor that is durable, livable and will light a room with its beauty. Luckily, there’s more than one option that will fit the bill. Flooring made from materials that otherwise would gone to waste are a great sustainable choice. And using clean, renewable resources results in better air quality because volatile organic compounds (VOC) can pollute the air inside your home. Here are five options to consider for your next remodel: […]

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