Sustainable Home Updating and Remodeling

Sustainable building is a now a commonly used term.  But what does it mean and how does the average homeowner with a limited budget really make sustainability a priority?

Sustainable building is building that is environmentally responsible and resource efficient.  While popularly associated with new home and commercial building designations, such as LEED certifications, these simple concepts can be incorporated into the smallest home updates when you understand the components that make a building material more and less environmentally responsible and recourse efficient.

A research report by the Rhodium Group showed that 40% of all energy consumed in the United States is utilized to operate our buildings.  That equates to $432 billion being spent to power homes, stores and offices or the same amount spent on health insurance!  Making our homes more energy efficient is an important place to start, but it takes tremendous energy to make certain building products, so simply replacing components on our home to ‘waste’ less energy isn’t the most affordable to the homeowner or most environmentally responsible.

Factors that should be considered when selecting a material for your next home update, whether it be a new wall to wall carpet or replacement window, are the following:

  • They promote good indoor air quality (typically through reduced emissions of VOCs and/or formaldehyde)
  • They are durable, and have low maintenance requirements
  • They incorporate recycled content (post-consumer and/or post-industrial)
  • They do not contain CFCs, HCFCs or other ozone depleting substances
  • They do not contain highly toxic compounds, and their production does not result in highly toxic by-products
  • They are obtained from local resources and manufacturers
  • For wood or bio-based products, they employ “Sustainable Harvesting” practices
  • They can be easily reused (either whole or through disassembly)
  • They have been salvaged from existing or demolished buildings for reuse
  • They are made using natural and/or renewable resources
  • They have low “embodied energy” (the energy required to produce and transport materials)
  • They can be readily recycled (preferably in a closed-loop recycling system)
  • They are biodegradable


Since this can be a lot to research it is helpful to utilize some third party organizations which certify various products used in home construction.  See below for a table of certifications, their type and the area of focus for certification.

Government certification relying on manufacturer-provided data or third-party testing
U.S. EPA and U.S. DOE
Energy consuming products
Government label based on third-party testing
Showerheads, toilets, faucets, urinals, and valves
Third-party certification
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
Forests and forestry products
Third-party certification
SCS Global Services
Wide range of products ( i.e. carpets, textiles, wood products, insulation, and more)
Third-party ISO Type 1 certification
Green Seal
Wide range of sectors (paints, adhesives, lamps, electric chillers, windows, window films, occupancy sensors)
Third-party certification, Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Product Standard is managed and updated by the Institute’s Certification Standards Board
Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute C2CPII
Building materials, interior design products, textiles and fabrics, paper and packaging, and personal and homecare products
Third party certification
UL Environment
Indoor air quality, children and schools focus
Third-party ISO Type 1 environmental labeling and declaration requirements (ISO 14024)
Tiles and tile installations


This can serve as a good primer for those relatively unfamiliar with sustainable remodeling practices and a decent resource for those knowledgeable and actively preparing to make home updates.  Next I’ll take a look at various building materials themselves and we’ll investigate what their made from, what it ‘costs’ to make that and what it costs to put them to work in your home.




Posted on July 25, 2019 at 2:37 am
Sean Coster | Category: Home Improvements, Home Maintenance, Home Remodel, Sean Coster, Sustainable building

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