Some Thoughts On Renovation

Green Living Tips: Some Thoughts on Renovation
By Jen Fontaine

Many people are planning to get to long-deferred projects in their home once the excitement of the New Year has passed. It’s worth thinking a little now about plans, since a bit of early research can lead to satisfying, creative results in 2018.

So this week’s “Green” ideas are just a few random thoughts that you might find interesting, drawn mostly from the sources listed below. Look for more focused tips on individual projects in later entries.

One good idea: think about using existing space before building new additions.  An attic might be converted to create new bedrooms; or rooms can double up, serving two purposes (many of us know this, as we have ‘offices’ that turn into guest rooms when needed).

Consider salvaging stuff instead of discarding it.  Maybe that light fixture that’s no longer looking right in the dining room could be used in a downstairs family room?  This one resonates with me because of my own experience in Holland years ago.  The exterior walls of our home there had to be entirely rebuilt to enhance their strength.  But there was nothing wrong with the bricks, so we re-used them in the ‘new’ walls: I can’t imagine a wall using new bricks coming anywhere close to the amazing look we got from these old ones.

Or just donate the old materials: to a friend who is handy with refurbishing old cabinets, or to Habitat for Humanity, or any local business that can breathe new life into old things (antique shops, salvage yards and more).  These can find new homes for your unwanted items, as well as giving you a place to browse for ‘new’ pre-owned items of your own.

Floors and other structural features can be made especially eco-friendly, as well as attractive, by using reclaimed wood (oh, on that floor: remember to avoid adhesives that contain toxic substances). 

Kitchen cabinets can be upgraded and given a ‘new’ look by refacing them, replacing the doors and drawers, but leaving the basic cabinet structures in place. “Passive solar design” is an interesting concept:  it involves using concrete floors and thick interior walls that soak up heat during the day and release it at night. 

It seems that MIT students have done some work on roof color:  black roofs absorb heat, light-colored ones reflect it.  So the solution:  tiles that change color depending on the outdoor temperature (this according to, listed below).

For another innovative idea from the same site, consider a substance called “terrazzo,” made of recycled glass cast into a concrete slab; the illustration on the site looks beautiful.  A choice like this can make for great conversations as well as a sustainable, durable and attractive counter top (if also expensive!).

This list barely scratches the surface of ideas, practices, and products we can all think about.  We’ve not even mentioned HGTV’s list of options for materials: composite decking (made from wood waste and recycled plastic), paper-based countertops, bamboo plywood, rubber mulch, eco-friendly synthetic grass, natural linoleum, soy concrete stain, recycled plastic carpet, and more, all of which can be found on their website (

One last idea that should appeal to everyone: one site suggested making your home comfortable and inviting—to encourage all who live there or visit to feel at ease, and to be more likely to have the energy to think about environmental practices!

If your project is big enough to require professional help and you’re not sure where to turn, some sources offer directories of builders that follow environmentally sound practices. These include the U.S. Green Building Council, and websites like and  Meanwhile, do approach any new architect or contractor with research in hand.

Finally, there are a whole range of degrees (shades?) of green. Budget can be a factor, as well as aesthetics and other issues, like any environmental cost of transporting ‘green’ products. 

A few sites to explore:

If you have a specific question or plan that you’d like highlighted, some experience or idea of your own to share… or for any comments about sustainable living, please send your thoughts to

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