Regardless of how large or small your home improvement ideas happen to be, thinking long term is better than being on the cutting edge of style, which changes faster than you can blink. If you replace items in your home often because they no longer look trendy, you’re missing the eco-friendly point. There are many green home improvements you can make with environmentally sound materials.
Not every eco-friendly material will suit your needs, so it takes careful consideration to figure out what's best for you. It's more about what needs replacing now, what doesn't, and which are the best materials to use for those upgrades.
Just remember, your home doesn't need an ultra-modern design to incorporate green home improvements. Here are some home improvement ideas to get you started. They can help reduce your carbon footprint, and won’t go out of style in a year or two:
Green Home Improvements #1: Low or No VOC Paint
Painting a room is a basic project, and one that most people can take on without the help of a professional painter. They can also make a dramatic change to the look of a room. But if just the thought of painting gives you a headache, consider low or no VOC paint.
Traditional latex paint can off-gas for weeks. Off-gassing means chemicals in the paint are released as gases into the air while the paint cures. That new paint smell? What you’re smelling are chemicals that were once in the paint. The EPA says these gases are hazardous.
As their names imply, low VOC will off-gas less, and no VOC paint should not off-gas at all which means that people who have only painted during warm weather, can now paint year round. Most major brands of paint have low and no VOC choices. There are no real cons to eco-friendly paint, as durability and color options are comparable with traditional latex.
Green Home Improvements #2: Recycled and Reclaimed Materials
Recycling is one of the big three — Reduce / Reuse / Recycle. When it comes to home improvement ideas, recycled materials are everywhere. Reclaimed materials are a bit pricier, depending on what the items are and where you find them.
You can find carpeting with recycled nylon fibers from old soda bottles, and countertops fabricated from bits of broken glass. Brick veneer flooring is made by slicing old bricks from a demolition project lengthwise and trimming them for shape. They’re installed as you would tile.
Recycled materials such as these can cost a pretty penny.
Reclaimed items are a bit different, although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Reclaimed flooring, for example, might be wood planks or tile from a demo project and old barn wood is extremely popular. The materials are cleaned and prepped for reuse in your home.
Reclaimed cabinets from one kitchen can be stripped, refinished, and installed again somewhere else. Reclaimed materials can be very costly, such as a beautiful old wood floor, or downright cheap, such as a sink from a flea market or thrift store.
One caveat: Be sure the item is suitable for modern building codes. An old light fixture spotted at a flea market might require rewiring before it meets code.
Green Home Improvements #3: Bamboo and Cork Instead of Hardwood
Bamboo is used in many applications where wood used to be standard. Flooring, countertops, and cabinets are three major ones. The difference is that bamboo grows much faster than wood, so deforestation isn’t an issue.
Harvesting bamboo doesn’t leave the “forest” bare, as some grasses can grow as much as 30 feet in a single year. It’s thinner than a plank of wood, so bamboo is often used as a veneer over a wood composite backing for floors and other applications
Cork is another product that doesn’t lead to deforestation. Best used on floors and sometimes walls, this material is wood, but the tree doesn’t need to be cut down to harvest it. The cork you’re familiar with is actually the bark of the tree, which replenishes itself naturally after being trimmed off. Cork is safe for bathrooms, too.
Colors are limited, both with bamboo and cork. Bamboo is often found in a natural blonde color or a deep reddish brown. The dark tone is not a stain, but a reaction to heat processing. Cork can be stained with wood stains, but the color might be uneven.
The durability of bamboo and cork is less than with hardwood. You can’t refinish either of them, as the surface material is thin.
These are only a few of the many eco-friendly home improvement ideas out there. The key is looking at the big picture, and not just making a choice because an item is friendlier to the Earth.
Be smart about home improvement ideas that are really friendly. Replacing carpet with recycled carpet tiles still sends your old carpet to the landfill. And even the most ultra-efficient appliances might look dated soon, once the next trend after stainless steel emerges.
Being more Earth friendly benefits everyone.
What green home improvements are you considering?