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Green homes are becoming more and more popular by the day. The lower prices and better availability of sustainable and energy efficient products means there are few reasons not to make your home greener. If you’re planning on taking on any home improvement projects in the future, you might already be considering more environmentally friendly options. But, if you own an older home, especially one pre-1950s, it may be very difficult and costly to add green updates. Here are some tips to help that process go smoother:
Weed Out Major Issues
The first thing you want to do is weed out any major problems that can put a damper on your planned improvements. Checking these things will not only allow you to move forward in making your home greener, it will also ensure that any professionals you hire won’t have to halt work to take care of any of these mandatory (and costly) issues.
- Sound foundation: cracked foundations are more common than you’d think, and they can cause a whole host of problems. Some signs of a cracked foundation include: crooked doors, cracked or bowed walls, sagging or uneven floors, and moisture or bugs in the basement. If you notice any of these issues, ensure that your foundation is sound before starting any home improvement projects.
- Sound plumbing: whether or not updating the plumbing is part of your green renovation project, you’ll want to check every aspect of your system before beginning any renovations. Often times, plumbing issues quickly snowball into much more costly and damaging problems. If a professional runs into plumbing issues, even if their project is unrelated, they might halt work until the issue is resolved. Follow this plumbing checklist before taking on your green renovation to avoid hassles up the road.
- Sound roof: the last thing you’ll want to do is ensure that your roof is free of leaks and damage. Roofs are expensive to replace and might be a priority if it’s looking like yours won’t last longer than a few years. It may seem easy to avoid, but when your roof starts leaking and damaging other areas of your home, you’ll be glad you did.
Set A Plan And A Budget
Now that you’ve ensured your home is ready for major improvements, it’s time to set up a plan. Start by figuring out your budget, and don’t forget to be creative in the process. Your state may offer green home incentives, and you may be eligible for tax breaks or special rate green home loans, so do some research to find out if you can add an extra cushion to your existing budget.
Next step is to figure out what your budget can get you. If you don’t have enough to realistically cover all of the things you want or need, it may be time to prioritize. A kitchen with brand new energy star appliances and gorgeous recycled glass countertops may be your dream, but if your home’s electrical system hasn’t been updated since the first half of the 20th century, that will probably be a priority.
Once you’ve prioritized based on your budget, here comes the fun part: planning. It’s time to do some research, some shopping around, and start shaping an idea of what your home will be once you’re done. The following are things to consider when upgrading and “greening” an older home.
Classic houses are often completely electric, and have outdated wiring or baseboard heaters and window AC units. If re-vamping the entire electrical system or switching to natural gas is part of your plan, this is an area where you definitely want to hire a professional.
Another thing to consider is adding an HVAC system for heating and cooling. HVAC systems are extremely energy efficient, and are one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck (and be friendly to the environment.)
If you’re purchasing new appliances, make sure to look out for Energy Star Ratings. The Energy Star program is a third party rating system run by the EPA that lets you know how efficient and conservative appliances are. Brands are very competitive nowadays, so there’s no one recommended manufacturer of green appliances. Spend some time weighing the best energy efficient options against what your home and family’s needs are, and you’re sure to make a great decision.
You’ll want to do the same when replacing windows. Older homes are often riddled with leaks and suffer from poor heating and cooling efficiency because of outdated windows. Ratings can be a little confusing, but this guide to Energy Star ratings for windows will help you find the best options for you home.
Solar panels are more affordable than ever, and are not too difficult to install yourself. Over time, a simple solar kit can save you thousands and even make it so the power company has to pay you every month. The last thing to consider is installing energy efficient lighting, which is easy and cheap. LED and CFL bulbs cost more initially, but they last longer than traditional bulbs and can save you hundreds in a single year.
When selecting materials for your home renovation, try to go with recycled or sustainably harvested products. This is tough for older homes because adding anything too modern can detract from their classic look, but there are still some great options that will allow you to keep your home’s antique feel.
Among cork and recycled metal or rubber, one of the most sustainable flooring options is bamboo. Bamboo is stronger than oak flooring, but looks as beautiful as traditional hardwoods. Bamboo flooring can allow you to keep the classic look of wood in your home while still being green and easy to take care of.
When it comes to countertops, recycled glass and plastic are options that help keep thousands of bottles from clogging up our landfills every year. Both are easy to maintain, and recycled glass can be formatted to look like natural stone, helping your traditional home keep its classy feel.
For the exterior, Insulated vinyl and fiber cement are environmentally friendly options, but they might not look right on your vintage home. You might be better off going with brick or stucco, which both rank high on the green spectrum. If you’re hopeful to keep the wood look, consider reclaimed barn or bark siding.
Older homes don’t tend to be the best at preserving water, but this can be an easy upgrade to make. Your renovation is likely to include kitchen, bathroom, or plumbing updates, and there are several ways to make your plumbing greener. Consider installing low-flow toilets and faucets, and insulated pipes can make a huge difference if you don’t live in an area that experiences mild temperatures most of the year. A new water heater is a great upgrade to a retro home, and one with an on-demand circulation pump is an excellent way to conserve water and energy at the same time.
Many classic homes have large yards, so it might be a good idea to upgrade your landscaping. Grass looks great, but it uses a lot of water, so cutting down on its surface area can conserve thousands of gallons of water a year. Adding a vegetable garden will still use water, but it will provide you with food, and help the environment as well. Expanding a deck or patio is also a great way to lessen the area you need to water.
You can completely replace grass with rocks, recycled or reclaimed wood chips, or a low-maintenance ground cover like moss, clover, or morning glory. There are a lot of ways to have a beautiful yard without expanses of green grass.
Retrofitting an older home to be greener is a challenging task, but these tips can help you make the most of your money and stick to the important factors. If a huge renovation isn’t in your budget, there are also several inexpensive ways to make any home instantly greener. Happy greening!