by Janelle Sorensen, Content Director at Elemental Green and Chief Strategist at gro gud
So, you’re about to do some home remodeling, but you’re on the fence about making the upgrades eco-friendly. Today, I’m here to help you off the fence and send you on the path to sustainability with absolute confidence in your choice. How? With a little myth-busting because people make a lot of erroneous assumptions about what it takes and what it means to have an eco-home. And you’ll probably be surprised once you see how completely wrong they are. Without further adieu, here are the top 10 myths about green home remodeling.
Myth #1: Green home remodeling is more expensive.
While it’s true that some green products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts, when you consider the project as a whole, there are often opportunities to actually cut costs. Remember the three “R’s” at the heart of green living – reduce, reuse, recycle. In an effort to reduce construction and demolition waste, building salvage supply stores are popping up all over the country. You can find amazing deals if you’re open to reusing and you never know what kinds of treasures you might come across. For example, it’s not so uncommon for a new home-owner to remodel a perfectly beautiful kitchen simply because her design aesthetic is different than the previous owner’s. If they’re salvaged, the custom cabinets the previous owner paid $15,000 for five years ago could be yours for a fraction of the cost. No salvage store in your area? Here’s a Plan B: check sites like Craigslist or Salvo Web.
If the reuse route isn’t one you’d like to travel down, here are two more ways your green house renovation can save you some green:
- Green homes are often referred to as “high-performing” homes because they are designed to be efficient – both in regards to energy and water. That means lower utility bills and significant savings over time. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, “the typical household spends about $2,150 a year on residential energy bills. LEED-certified homes can save 30-60 percent on those bills.” That’s a savings of up to $12,900 over ten years!
- Local, state, and federal agencies want you to go green. In fact, there are tons of grants and tax incentives to help you make the leap. For example, the Energy Investment Tax Credit, also called the Solar Investment Tax Credit, provides a 30% federal tax credit for residential solar systems. Tax credits apply in varying amounts to everything from windows, doors, and insulation to roofing and HVAC (including water heaters). Check with your local utilities, too, because many offer rebates for green upgrades. Start your search using DSIRE (the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency), a comprehensive source of information on federal, state, local, and utility incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Myth #2: You need to replace everything in order for it to be green.
This myth couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, the fewer things you replace, the more eco-friendly you’re being. You’re saving natural resources and reducing the emissions from manufacturing energy needs and transportation fuel needs – among other things. So, if your floors could be revived with refinishing instead of replacement, choose refinishing. Perhaps the only exceptions to this rule are anything tied to energy or water use. Consider this fact from the WaterSense program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
By replacing old, inefficient toilets with WaterSense labeled models, the average family can reduce water used for toilets by 20 to 60 percent—that’s nearly 13,000 gallons of water savings for your home every year! They could also save more than $110 per year in water costs, and $2,200 over the lifetime of the toilets.
Nationally, if all old, inefficient toilets in the United States were replaced with WaterSense labeled models, we could save 520 billion gallons of water per year, or the amount of water that flows over Niagara Falls in about 12 days.
Whether or not you should replace appliances in order to reduce energy use is a bit more tricky. “Generally speaking, caulking and weatherstripping a home pays back faster than new appliances,” says David Arkush, director of the climate program at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.
Myth #3: There aren’t many options for eco-friendly building materials.
This may have been the case 10-15 years ago, but today, business is booming. Every single type of material you could need has a green alternative, like recycled denim insulation, bark siding, cork flooring, recycled metal roofing, and so much more. Peruse our website and you’ll likely find sustainable solutions you never knew existed.
Myth #4: Eco-friendly materials are weird looking/ugly.
A pure, natural, hippie aesthetic is definitely not for everyone, but these days there are options for every taste and style. From luxe to modern to rustic and everything in between – you will not be disappointed.
Myth #5: All you need to do is look for products that say “green,” “natural,” or “eco-friendly.”
Sadly, it’s not that easy. These three terms are almost entirely unregulated and have no standard definition. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends that companies qualify claims like this to specify what exactly makes their products greener or more eco-friendly, but not everyone does. Check out the websites of companies you’re considering buying from to see if they spell out why their products are preferable and if you can’t find the information, email or call them. (Though, we’re inclined to assume if they’re not shouting it from the rooftops, they’re probably not as great as they’d like you to believe.) You can also use Consumer Report’s Eco-Label Guide that allows users to search for information by label, product category, or certifying organization or program. Each label receives a “report card” and an extensive evaluation, as well as a determination of how meaningful the label really is.
Myth #6: Green home remodeling is all about choosing the right products.
This myth is very similar to #2 – it’s not all about buying stuff. In addition to reusing, refinishing, and repurposing where you can, your remodeling plans should include design features that make the space more efficient. Shorter plumbing runs make hot water delivery more efficient. Skylights can help reduce energy use. Even the location of your appliances matter. For example, a significant amount of energy can be saved by placing the refrigerator out of direct sunlight and away from heat-generating appliances, as well as by ensuring ample air space around it to vent off ambient heat.
Myth #7: Green home remodeling materials aren’t as durable or effective as conventional.
Oh so wrong. Two of the key pillars of sustainable product development are durability and effectiveness. Beyond design, oftentimes natural materials are inherently more durable than their man-made counterparts. For example, a wool rug can last over 50 years if properly cared for while a synthetic one has a life of only 3-5 years. Natural linoleum has a lifespan of 20-40 years while vinyl flooring only lasts 10-20 years. A granite countertop could hold up for generations! The list goes on, but you get the point.
Myth #8: My contractor won’t know what I’m talking about.
This is kind of a half myth since clearly some contractors will know all about green building and others won’t have a clue. If your contractor is unfamiliar with green building and remodeling, clearly he won’t know what you’re talking about. And – word to the wise – if you hire a contractor who doesn’t know the landscape, you’ll likely end up paying more as you yank that person up the learning curve. Worse, you’ll probably end up compromising your desires when your contractor’s ignorance on the subject prevents him from finding the sustainable solutions you’re hoping for. Avoid this pitfall by finding professionals who speak the language.
Myth #9: Green home building and remodeling is just a fad.
Not so much. Green is growing and growing and growing. According to the National Association of Home Builders’ report, Green and Healthier Homes: Engaging Consumers of All Ages in Sustainable Living:
- Nearly one third of home builders (31%) report that they are currently doing more than 60% of their projects green, and over half (51%) expect to be doing that level of green work by 2020.
- The growth of those doing this significant level of green work among remodelers is very steep, with the percentage who expect to be that highly involved in green by 2020 being two and a half times greater than the percentage currently doing green at that level.
Myth #10: Going green will make it harder to sell your house.
While the green realty sector is still in its infancy, the consumer demand is not. The U.S. Green Building Council claims that “more than half of consumers rank green and energy-efficiency as top requirements for their next homes.” They also state that, “green homes sell at higher prices and faster than comparable, conventional homes. In 2011, the Earth Advantage Study found that, on average, green-certified, new homes sold for 8 percent more than non-certified green homes. Additionally, resale prices of existing green homes were about 30 percent more than conventional homes.”