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You might have heard the words “sustainable home improvements” but not understood exactly what it means. I don’t blame you, because “sustainable” is slowly losing its meaning to consumers; another “greenwashing” term that seems to have more relevancy as a marketing term than a technical definition.
When people think of a sustainable home, one of two images comes to mind: an off-grid mud hut, or a 2 million dollar Passive House. Although I love both of those options, there is a lot of in-between that doesn’t get a lot of air time. Creating a sustainable home is a journey, not a destination. Millions of homeowners are undertaking small, impactful changes to gradually make their home one that they can believe in.
I consider a sustainable home one that benefits your health, your wealth, and the planet. This broad definition covers everything from home comfort to energy efficiency, water conservation, and even resilient landscaping.
So how do you get started? I would suggest first asking yourself: what do you believe in? Is it a healthy home for your family? Also, is it a small-footprint home that lives lightly on the land? Is it a home that is super-efficient and airtight so you have next-to-no power bills? In this article, I’ll run through four “values” and give you some beginner-level and advanced home improvements you can make to satisfy these values.
Take a look at our guide on Everything You Need to Know About a Home Energy Audit
Indoor Air Quality and Health
A lot of people don’t know that their indoor air could be much more polluted than the air outside. When you consider how much time we spend in our homes, that’s pretty scary. Allergens and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) make us wheezy, tired and even cause cancer. VOCs are found in carpets, furniture, paint, and even bedding. That “new paint smell” gives people headaches. Here are some things you can do to address this problem.
- Buy an air quality monitor.
- Buy an air purifier for high-traffic rooms.
- Open windows periodically.
- Buy some air purifying plants like palms and spider plants.
- If you’re planning to buy new home products (anything from paint to furniture to textiles), check for labels such as Declare and OEKO-TEX.
- Install a whole-house ventilation system such as an HRV or ERV.
- Replace all carpeting with low or no-VOC flooring.
Read more: Ways to Find Great Deals for Your Home Improvement Projects
They say that water will be the new oil. Water scarcity is already the cause of mass migrations and wars. With droughts becoming more common in highly populated areas, we need to seriously adjust how we use water. If you’re like me and live in Canada, it’s easy to forget that water is a scarce resource in many parts of the world. Follow some of these tips to reduce your water usage, and even reduce your dependency on municipal water systems.
- Install a faucet aerator to save up to 50% of water usage from each tap.
- Install low-flow toilets, showers, and faucets. Watersense labeled products use at least 20% less water than normal products.
- Install a rainwater collection system for your garden, landscape, and even toilets.
- Install a compost toilet that uses no water at all!
Making energy efficiency upgrades for your home lowers your monthly bills, adds value to your property, and decreases your carbon footprint. Some homes are SO efficient that they have no power bills at all, and actually generate power to sell back to the grid. Many folks think the first step is to buy solar panels, but honestly, that should be the final step in your journey. First, start by making your home more air-tight to reduce how much heating and cooling you need.
- Air seal drafty areas in your house with caulking: windows, doors, and wall seams are a great place to start.
- Buy appliances with the EnergyStar label.
- Add an additional layer of insulation to your attic, basement, or external walls.
- Replace your windows with triple or quad-paned windows that retain heat. Bonus: they dampen sound!
- Take advantage of passive solar heating (one of my favorite rabbit holes). The sun can be a free source of heat with strategically placed windows, awnings, and trees.
- Install a heat pump: a very efficient heating source that is easier to install than many options in its class (I’m looking at you, geothermal).
No, you’re not a bad environmentalist if you like to be comfortable. Often comfort and efficiency go hand-in-hand since an airtight home is both cozy and lighter on the planet. Try some of these projects to improve your home’s comfort without dramatically increasing your carbon footprint.
- Install a smart thermostat that learns your patterns and keeps your home at a comfortable temperature when you need it most.
- Try smart lighting that adjusts brightness and color to affect your mood and energy level.
- Install an on-demand hot water heater to avoid running cold water down the drain while it warms up.
- Consider radiant heated floors: a surprisingly efficient and affordable luxury.
If you’ve read this far, I’m going to assume you’ve caught the bug. There is so much to learn in the space of sustainable home improvement, and luckily there is an abundance of information online and communities for you to join. It’s your freedom and responsibility to educate yourself on what goes into your home. The choices you make affect your wealth, your health, and the future of the planet. Is your home one that you can believe in?