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How to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly

With Earth Day upon us, there’s no better time to look at eco-friendly ways to upgrade your home.

Greening your abode is not only a great way to save on energy costs, it also ensures your home is a healthier place for your family, not to mention the Earth.

The scope of your green reno project will depend on how much money you have to spend.

You can hire a contractor and do a full-blown gut and retrofit of your home, or opt for smaller DIY projects that will help reduce the carbon footprint of your home.

We spoke with several green renovation specialists to gather insights and advice on eco-friendly ways to upgrade your home.

Start with a Plan

Before undertaking any project, devise a plan of attack.

Bring in an independent certified evaluator to conduct an energy assessment of your home. This audit will show you how your home uses energy and pinpoint areas where it’s being wasted.

The assessment will help you to determine your renovation priorities and how you should best spend your money on green upgrades.

If you’re hiring a contractor, do your homework and check references.

Ensure Adequate Insulation

The first area of focus will likely be the building envelope.

There should be adequate insulation against all outer walls to prevent air leakage. “Insulating your exterior walls is the most important thing you can do,” says Paul Caverly, principal of MyHaven GreenVision Homes.

Most contractors recommend using spray foam insulation, though this can be expensive and requires the removal of walls or exterior cladding in order to do a proper job.

spray foam insulation

Other options include conventional fiberglass insulation or rocksil slabs, which are manufactured from non-combustible rock fibre.

It’s also essential to insulate your home’s attic. “The attic is the place where most of the air leakages happen, and it’s the most accessible place to improve the thermal efficiency of your home,” says John Godden, owner of Clearsphere, a Toronto-based environmental and energy efficient building consultancy.

Basement spaces must also be insulated.

Also assess the state of your home’s windows; older ones could be a source of energy loss; you may want to replace them or at the very least ensure they’re properly sealed to prevent leakages.

Modify the Mechanical

If energy efficiency is the goal, you’ll want to consider replacing your home’s outdated and inefficient mechanical systems, particularly your heating system. The upfront cost of doing so isn’t cheap, but it will pay off over time. “When you buy a new furnace you’re going to save a huge amount of energy,” says Godden.

You could install a heat recovery ventilation system, which takes hot air from inside the home and uses it to warm incoming outside air, saving on heating costs.

HRVs are particularly useful in situations where older homes, which were originally built to breathe, have been made air-tight; an HRV ensures the constant exchange of fresh air.

Don’t Waste Water

Upgrading your home’s water systems is also key to achieving energy efficiency.

Replace your older hot water tank with a newer model, or ditch the tank altogether and replace it with a tankless system. “It’s fantastically energy efficient,” says Kenzie Campbell, owner of Royal Home Improvements and chair of the BILD Renovators Council.

“This way you’re not losing energy while you’re storing your hot water all day long; you only heat it when you need it.”

Greywater recovery systems can also help save on energy by re-using bath/shower drainwater to flush toilets. “The amount of water (used for showers and baths in a house) is enormous,” says Campbell. “It’s in the hundreds if not thousands of gallons.”

Go Local

One of the best ways to be eco-friendly is to ensure that you use local products where possible versus imported materials. “The less distance you ship it the better,” says Caverly.

Mind Your Materials

If you’re replacing the floors in your home, check to see that the wood used is Forest Stewardship Council approved, indicating that it was harvested in a sustainable manner.

Use drywall that is made from recycled content and concrete that doesn’t use Portland cement, which is a significant source of greenhouse gas, according to Chris Phillips of Greening Homes.

DIY Green Upgrades

You don’t have to spend a fortune to green your home. Indeed, there are a number of cost-effective upgrades you can do yourself.

Replace older lights with new compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), halogen or LED (light emitting diode) lamps.

Use paints, finishes and adhesives that have minimal amounts of volatile organic compounds — or VOCs — which can be toxic. VOCs are found in plywood, particle board, insulation, paints, carpets and cleaning products.

eco-friendly home

Upgrade to dual-flush toilets and other fixtures, such as water-conserving shower-heads.

Install timer switches for your lighting and electronics, and a programmable thermostat to ensure you’re not heating or cooling your home when you’re not there.

“What an enormous difference you can make by not heating your unoccupied home between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., when only the dog cares,” Campbell says.

By: Ryan Starr

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