by Betsy Escandon, author of Eco-novice: Going Green Gradually

About a year ago, my husband and I purchased a home that needed some remodeling. I’m no green building expert. I’m just an eco-novice who needed to make some renovations to a home. But I’ll share with you what I learned during my crash course in eco-remodeling. If I could give you one piece of advice, should you need to make renovations, it would be to hire a green contractor. Make sure you get a good one of course and still ask a whole lot of questions, but by doing this one thing you will probably save yourself countless hours of research and a lot of anguish and even the regret that comes with 20-20 hindsight.

I, however, couldn’t afford a contractor, much less a green contractor for most of our renovations. The next best thing to using a green contractor, I believe, is to find a green building supply store, and then pick the employees’ brains (and buy lots of materials from them too). Late in the game I found an incredibly helpful person at a green building supply store near me when I was shopping for paint. How I wish I had met her sooner (and had purchased more things from her)! During our renovations process, I also found information by searching the web and checking out books about green building from the library.

So here’s my Green Remodel Advice

  1. Hire a green contractor.
  2. If you can’t do that, find a green buildings supply store near you. Ask them all your green building questions and buy lots of materials from them.
  3. Check out books about green building from the library and search the web to help you make decisions and choose materials.

I also developed some Green Remodel Rules for myself, that went something like this:

  1. Keep anything functional unless it’s toxic.
  2. Use quality materials that are built to last.
  3. Use the greenest materials you can afford.
  4. Invest in energy efficiency, which will most likely pay for itself soon enough.
  5. Do as much renovating as possible before you move into your home to limit your family’s exposure to toxic substances.

Also keep in mind that everything will cost twice as much and take twice as long as you think, as anyone who has remodeled can tell you. This isn’t because people give you incorrect or deceptive quotes. It’s because when it comes to remodeling, one thing always leads to another. Performing renovation A reveals that B and C also need to be done, and so on. It’s good to keep this in mind going in so that you aren’t living in a constant state of shock.

In the end, we replaced vinyl flooring with ceramic tile (low VOC grout and adhesive), and prefinished solid wood flooring (USA wood). And the other main upgrade was for energy efficiency — eco-friendly insulation in the walls and attic. We also replaced ducts, bought an Energy Star tankless water heater and energy star heat unit. Additionally, we used Yolo paints when we needed to repaint. We didn’t replace anything functional, which is why the pink counter and tile still live on!

what I learned after my crash course in eco-remodeling -- elemental green