Enhancing Home Efficiency Through Green Renovations

Cozy Cat Wrapped With Blanket

There has been a push in recent years to make our homes more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. With everyone pitching in to reduce their energy and carbon footprints, scientists suggest that damaging CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases can also be reduced through green renovations to reverse damaging effects on the environment.

What is home efficiency?

Home efficiency
is the reduction of energy consumption through the use of efficient appliances, fixtures, and products. When combined with conservation and a concerted effort to adjust energy-use habits, homeowners can effectively decrease demands for nonrenewable resources, save money, and attain healthier, more comfortable living conditions.

Benefits of an efficient home

Any time you can save, improve or reduce energy use in your home, you can consider it beneficial to your quality of life. When you consider that a good portion of your life is spent indoors—up to 80 or 90 percent—you’ll want to make it as comfortable and efficient as possible.

Natural Resources Canada has identified the six key benefits of having an efficient home as:

  1. Increase home value—potential buyers will be attracted to a home that demonstrates a conscious effort to make it more energy efficient. It will command a higher price than non-efficient, neighbouring houses.
  2. Reduce energy costs—just as energy usage varies with the season, reducing costs will vary with each home. This will require an investment of time and money, but it is usually offset within a few years with significant utility cost savings.
  3. Improve resident comfort—you’ll notice better air quality and consistent moderate temperatures (without drafts.) Moisture issues will also be reduced to prevent mold growth and condensation problems.
  4. Improve operating performance—when your home’s building systems (HVAC, plumbing, electrical) are well maintained, they’ll require fewer repairs, be more reliable and last longer.
  5. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions—every little bit helps in minimizing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
  6. Strengthen image as an environmentally conscious citizen—your green approach to energy efficiency may encourage others to follow your lead.

What is green home renovation?

A green renovation is a modification of an existing room or structure that uses sustainably sourced materials, post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content, or resource-efficient products to reduce energy usage, maintenance and replacement needs, and overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Now is the time

With the movement toward green construction and renovation taking hold, more eco-friendly building materials, and contractors familiar with energy and resource efficiency, it’s the perfect time to incorporate green building practices into your home improvement project. The initial investment may exceed traditional renovation expenditures, but lower utility, maintenance and replacement costs will offset additional spending upfront.

Green Home Renovations With a Proven Efficiency Record

Green home renovations

Before you begin any type of reno project, schedule an energy efficiency audit of your home. A professional inspector will visit your home to review all exterior walls, garage and basement floors, ceilings and roofs, windows and doors, vents and ductwork, HVAC systems and thermostat, water heating system, attics, foundations, and crawlspaces. If during the winter months you see ice on windows or around their frames it might be a sign that you have air leaks.

An analysis will then determine where efficiency can be improved. An industry-standard HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score will be assigned as a baseline before improvements are made and again after green renovations are complete. A low HERS rating will provide more value upon resale as it’s an indicator of higher efficiency than homes with a higher score.

Typical resale homes score 130, while energy-efficient, new construction ranks at 100. The goal after renovation work has been completed should be to reduce the HERS Index Score to 70 or below. This will indicate a 30-percent more energy-efficient home than a standard new home.

How can you tell if a product is green?

Determining if a product or service is green can be complicated as it must pass established standards throughout its entire life cycle.

According to the REGREEN Residential Remodeling Program, in partnership with the ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) and USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council), a product or service can be considered green if it:

  • Is energy- or water-efficient.
  • Is made from renewable or recycled sources.
  • It uses non-toxic, healthy materials.
  • It is recyclable or biodegradable.
  • It makes your current products more efficient or durable.

In other words, you may consider an orange you purchase at a local grocery store green; it’s a natural product that is grown, not manufactured. However, you must account for every stage required including planting, irrigation, pesticides, harvesting, packing, transportation, storage and display. The only way that orange could truly be considered green would be if it was growing on a tree in your yard and you went outside to pick it.

Obviously, you won’t need any oranges for your green reno project, but you can see how difficult it might be to know if a product or service really is as energy-efficient and eco-friendly as you think it is.

In addition to the life cycle challenge, there are many companies that engage in “greenwashing.” This is when a product is advertised as green and yet has no significant health or environmental benefits. Don’t be fooled by companies that try to deceive you; do your research before starting on your green renovation.

To help you sort through what’s green and what’s not, consult the green product directories listed on the REGREEN checklist. There you’ll be able to find thousands of products and services that meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for certifying green buildings.

Whole House Systems Approach

Energy efficient windows

To achieve the maximum energy-efficiency benefits from a green renovation, you’ll need to do an extensive remodel and take a whole-house systems approach. This will involve almost every component in your home:

  • Appliances and electronics—Look for Energy Star® certified products. By choosing energy-efficient appliances and products and establishing a plan to reduce their use, you can save both money and energy. You can determine how much energy your current products use with this Appliance Energy Calculator, so you can decide which items need to be replaced.
  • Insulation and air sealing—Increase comfort while saving money. You’ll need to address air leaks, insulation R-values, moisture control and ventilation. Check here for tips on sealing air leaks and determining the proper amount of insulation.
  • Lighting—With new lighting standards taking full effect in 2016, Canadian homeowners have been forced to replace traditional incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient CFL and LED bulbs. These new products provide the same amount of light with less energy use to save you money.
  • Heating and cooling—New technologies have taken space heating and cooling to a new level of efficiency. In addition to high-efficiency furnaces, improvements in thermostats and control systems help to manage temperatures and energy use. Sealed and insulated ductwork can help to reduce heat and cooling loss, and heat pump systems move heat instead of generating it, so costs are reduced significantly.
  • Water heating—The gov website indicates that “water heating accounts for about 18 percent of your home’s energy use.” So, it makes sense to reduce hot water use and replace poor-performing faucets, toilets, and water heater with water-saving, energy-efficient equipment.
  • Windows, doors, skylights and solar tubes—With the many features available for windows, doors, skylights and solar tubes today, you can not only greatly improve the energy-efficiency and performance of these components but also bring more natural light to your family room or a reading space for kids. By utilizing the proper window selection and installation techniques, you can reduce heating, cooling and lighting costs. Check the efficiency of your current windows, doors, skylights and solar tubes with this Energy Performance Guide.
  • Renewable energy systems—Generating electricity through renewable energy sources such as solar electric, wind electric, microhydropower, and hybrid electric (solar and wind) can help you gain energy independence while helping the environment. To better understand your options, consult the Renewable Energy Guide from Energy.gov.

Smaller green renovation projects

The whole house approach to green renovation may not be feasible for your home or circumstances. You can still make small improvements that will have a positive effect on comfort, durability and your wallet.

  • Close up air leaks around windows and doors with weatherstripping, caulking and polyurethane plastic.
  • Stop ductwork from leaking by applying duct sealant on exposed ducts.
  • Increase insulation in your attic, basement and between walls. Hard-to-reach places can benefit from blown-in insulation.
  • Save approximately 10 percent on your heating and cooling bills by installing a programmable thermostat. They’re reasonably priced and easy to install so the ROI takes just a few months.
  • Replace old, leaky windows with energy-efficient double or triple pane windows. You can do them one at a time as needed to reduce reno costs. A lower-cost alternative is to add storm windows. This will help reduce heat/cooling loss without a major tear-out.
  • Replace hollow, metal doors with insulated steel. Your home will be more energy efficient, more secure and enjoy better curb appeal too.
  • Replace your HVAC equipment with a high-efficiency system. You’ll notice lower energy bills immediately and enjoy a comfortable environment.

A final word

Improving home efficiency through green renovations is more feasible than ever. Continued development in green technology is helping to bring costs down and encouraging homeowners to select eco-friendly options.

Look for Energy Star® labels on appliances to ensure you’re purchasing certified, energy-saving products. Don’t be fooled by companies that “greenwash” their products. Always research your options through reliable resources to obtain the most effective methods and products for your renovation work.

For large projects, seek the advice of a green home professional or hire a contractor that is experienced using sustainable materials and techniques. Regardless how big or small your project is, by making a conscious effort to reduce energy usage and incorporate green products, you’ll not only save some money, you’ll also be helping to save the planet.