Different shades of green
Remodelers and homeowners alike are excited about integrating green building materials into a living space, but they may hit roadblocks when it’s time to move forward with implementing green ideas in a remodel. Understanding the different shades of “green” can help builders and remodelers find unique ways to approach the design process more sustainably, whether green materials are part of the plan or not.
While green materials are still relatively new to the market, the reason many remodels aren’t integrating them is ages old: money. At the end of the day, most homeowners are excited about using green materials if it saves them money, or at least if it isn’t costing them significantly more than the alternative. But many homeowners who want to use green materials simply can’t afford to. For some, realizing the overall cost of a green project may lead them to execute a part or piece of the project in which they find the most valuable shade of green.
Which products, processes, and approaches are working for both remodelers and homeowners and why?
A wide range of factors work together to determine a product’s overall level of green. Was the product manufactured sustainably? Which renewable or non-renewable resources were used during manufacturing? What raw materials went into the product, how were they harvested, and how far did they travel before manufacturing? How far did the finished product travel to the distributor’s warehouse and from there to the consumer?
And once a green material is installed in a living space, does it continue to add sustainability to the home? The greenness of a bamboo floor or countertop may end at the point of installation. In fact, if the surface needs refinishing or regular sealing and maintenance, it’s level of green goes down.
Some products that are marketed as “green” don’t seem as eco-friendly upon closer inspection. At the same time, materials that aren’t overtly green at first glance may actually offer some unique green incentives of their own.
Here’s a closer look at how approaching traditional materials in a new way can make remodeling projects greener, and at no extra cost to the homeowner.
Quartz countertops. Bamboo, recycled content materials, and even concrete are all marketed as sustainable countertop choices. But engineered quartz, while not often referred to as green, offers some eco-friendly advantages as well. Quartz is not harvested from the earth like its natural stone cousins. As a by-product of natural stone slabs and tiles, it uses the waste pieces to create a similar product. Many argue that it’s a superior product, and its durability and maintenance-free qualities eliminate future applications of toxic sealers, maintaining air quality and a chemical-free home. Many homeowners love the price, look, and ease of using quartz countertops, and they can feel good about the product because it keeps scrap materials from a related industry out of the landfill.
Custom cabinetry. Choosing a local cabinet maker means that clients get custom designs to fit their spaces. If the wood is harvested locally and milled onsite, the cabinets haven’t used any extra fossil fuels in transportation. Low-VOC finishes help keep the product green and don’t release toxins into the home after installation. While custom cabinetry tends to come with high-end pricing, a cabinet maker may offer more competitive pricing as an incentive for a higher volume of orders.
Lighting. Lighting is one way that homeowners can now affordably reduce their energy consumption and use the improvements to save money, and the upgrade to high-efficacy lighting is already much more affordable than it was five years ago. LED fixtures still have a higher cost than the alternative fluorescent fixtures, but with these products using 6 watts of energy (instead of an incandescent lamp of 75 or more), the homeowner enjoys immediate savings on the electric bill, and these LED fixtures offer a longer life. Homeowners also enjoy better quality lighting that’s softer, dimmable, and healthier because it mimics natural sunlight.
Building and remodeling processes. Your company can reduce its carbon footprint and save money as well by modifying some of its business practices. Our carpenters work four ten-hour days in order to minimize the time that our vehicles are on the road. We offer recommendations of low-VOC products to our clients and help them understand why they’re better for their home and the environment. Even extra dust protection helps minimize air quality impacts inside the home during demolition and construction, especially when it comes to issues such as removing lead paint.
Part of our job is to help educate green-minded clients about the products they’re dealing with, especially when it comes to hidden environmental costs. Clients may not consider that linoleum flooring contains elements of natural materials or that bamboo products shipped from another continent solve one green dilemma while creating another.
Suggestions for locating materials. Sourcing as many materials locally as possible is a sustainable way to start making homes greener. Local materials may cost a bit more, but many of them can be custom-designed or modified according to the space and come with perks such as follow-up services. The product continues to be sustainable after installation when damages can be fixed instead of replacing parts. Homeowners dedicated to going green through remodeling should consider sourcing used and reclaimed materials from local architectural salvage yards as well, which can be made into unique features such as sideboards that are then ‘built-in’ to the home, vintage decorative lighting, decorative columns, and other aesthetic elements.
Popular green materials. Green materials that also happen to be trendy offer a distinct advantage: competition is bringing prices down. Our clients regularly choose products likerecycled glass tiles, quartz countertops, and bamboo and lyptus cabinets at the same level of cost as lesser-sustainable alternatives.
Modifications such as skylights and sun tunnels can be considered green too when they allow Mother Nature to light and heat homes. Climate control and HVAC modifications are green upgrades that pay for themselves, so many homeowners are moving forward with these changes. Sustainable manufacturing, minimal shipping, installation processes, and use and application in the home all work together to determine a material’s overall shade of green.
Ramona Tan is a project manager for Case Design/Remodeling San Jose, a home remodeling company, where she provides intelligent design solutions for home owners in Santa Clara County. She can be contacted at www.casesanjose.com | Twitter @CaseDesignRemo | Facebook