Greening My House

About the author: Jeffrey Levy joined EPA in 1993 to help protect the ozone layer. He is now the National Web Content Manager.

image of houseA few months ago, my wife and I bought a house slightly bigger than our current home, but organized inside in pretty strange ways. Since we plan to spend the next 30-40 years there, we decided to renovate it. We want to do it in the greenest way possible. That means reduce, reuse, and recycle through the renovation.

“Reduce” starts with choosing where to live. Both our current house and the new one are about ½ mile from Metro, the DC-area subway; I walk and ride in. We also accepted smaller houses than what was available much further out.

The environment gains from these choices in a few ways: less fuel to commute and less energy used to heat and cool our house. But our quality of life is also better, because my short commute leaves me more time at home, and I’m relaxed on the train instead of driving in rush hour. Not everyone can choose where to live, but I think not enough people put living close to work on their “wants” list when house hunting.

Reducing also means:

  • choosing sustainable, low-emitting cabinets and flooring (THAT decision is a whole blog post by itself)
  • insulating well
  • replacing drafty windows with efficient ones, and
  • finding efficient plumbing (2-mode flushing toilets, anyone?)

It also meant asking the contractor to seal the basement so the heater isn’t running nonstop to keep the pipes from freezing.

“Reuse” comes in several forms. First, we’re keeping the existing appliances. I haven’t done the math, but it’s hard for me to believe that on a life cycle basis, even more efficient appliances are better than getting the full life out of existing ones. It just takes so many resources to create a new item. We also had the contractors keep trim work so they can reinstall it. Old kitchen cabinets will go in the basement. And what we’re not reusing ourselves, we’ll donate.

“Recycle” in this context includes scrap wood, metal, and bricks. We’ve been searching the web for help with that. It also includes recycling stuff we no longer want and won’t move with us (need an old computer power supply?).

Since it’s Radon Action Month, I should also mention we tested the house before we bought it, and it’s fine.

What are your favorite tips and tricks for renovating in a green way? Remember we don’t allow advertising in our comments, so please stick to generic product descriptions instead of specific companies.

UPDATE on Feb. 8. 2010: In a followup post, I discuss many of our decisions and invite you to share your favorite green features of your home.