Additions & Remodels

Green remodeling, or green renovating, is improving a building to make it more functional and sustainable. A green addition is when another component is added to a building to give it more space, but it is built with its environmental impact in mind.
Photo credit: Deborah Austin

Both green remodeling or additions, like green building, will take into account many facets of sustainability, such as responsible material use, water efficiency, energy efficiency, site selection, renewable energy generation, indoor air quality, etc.

Another way to look at it is that green remodeling essentially uses the same 3 R’s of the environment: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

Reduce the amount of energy and water use by using efficient design and materials. Reduce the amount of harmful substances, like products with VOCs, to boost indoor air quality.

Reuse “waste” that can be still be used for its original purpose, and prevent it from going to a landfill (and the cost of the brand new item from going to your wallet).

Recycle waste into new, useful objects. Again, reduce landfill waste, the use of virgin materials, and the energy (and sometimes water) it takes to create a product from those materials.

Considerations for a Green Remodel or Addition

• Space & Site

Extra space means extra energy, water, land use, and materials use. While improving an existing structure certainly has a lower impact than new construction, it is important to consider how much space you actually need versus how much you want.

Also, pay attention to where the extra square footage is going. It is better to replace hardscape than natural, grassy or landscaped areas because it reduces heat island effect, promoting biodiversity, and protect habitats. Building on wetlands, prime farmland or other protected areas is discouraged for the same reasons.

• Energy

Energy includes both efficiency and on-site generation.

Energy efficiency is crucial for increasing ROI on a green remodel or addition, because saving energy will save money. Energy efficiency improvements include better insulation, more efficient and long lasting lighting fixtures, weatherproofed windows and doors, and other strategies.

While it is not feasible for all projects to have on-site generation of renewable energy, such as solar or wind, buildings can partake in green energy programs.

• Water

Water is another important component of the remodel or addition's ROI, because saving water can also cut utility bills. Water efficient appliances and reusing graywater or rainwater are both examples of strategies that you can incorporate into your remodeled space.

• Indoor Environmental Quality

Indoor environmental quality includes both air quality and occupant comfort.

Air quality can be preserved by choosing materials that do not offgas VOCs or other toxic compounds. The building should be flushed with air prior to occupation, if possible.

Occupant comfort, which improves health and productivity, can be maintained through natural light, controllability of heat and lighting, and views to the outdoors.

• Materials

As previously mentioned, reducing the amount of materials used also reduces environmental impact (and future landfill waste). With the material you must use, consider its impact on the environment. Sustainable materials typically have low embodied energy and/or are responsibly harvested. Some eco-friendly qualities in building materials may include: recycled, salvaged, rapidly renewable, locally sourced (regional) biodegradable, and others.


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