How to Achieve Minimal Ecological Footprint Using Traditional Materials on Home Renovations

Environmental responsibility has become a huge market over the last decade or so. Businesses, homes, products and practices are all being affected by the desire to produce environmentally friendly policy, which is ultimately a good thing for everyone. Not only are we creating better practices to show consumers, competition, and collaborators that we care for the environment, but we are also doing a good deed for our planet. The end goal is a way to shift our actions towards sustainable, or less wasteful lifestyle in every area of life. This is surprisingly evident in how we use materials in home renovations.

Not many of us consider how a home renovation can be impact on an ecological level. Why would we? It does not seem to be as impactful as massive solar farms, windmills, or electric cars. Well, the fact is that the small impact we make in our everyday life adds up. Sometimes we do not consider how those little things we can do add up. Throwing out a recyclable piece of waste, leaving lights on, leaving the tap running, having our car running. We can’t possibly stop every little indiscretion from happening, it’s just part of life. However, some of the things we do in our actions can be managed. This brings me back to my point about home renovations.

When we commit to a home renovation, there is a great deal of waste, products, residue, and other material that we kick up or use. The building materials we use are also impactful in ecological footprint terms (footprint being how much of an impact on the environment an action is). Asbestos, dust, various liquids, runoff, chemicals are all examples of materials or byproducts that can get reabsorbed into the environment and cause problems for water tables, wildlife, plants or any number of natural neighbors we may have.

Before committing to a lengthy or extensive renovation, we should consider issues of cost to our environment and how much we are affecting it, not just how it will affect our budget. Like I said, while some things we can’t control in our daily lives, others we can. Such is the case for home renovations.

With that being said, here are ways to achieve a minimal ecological footprint when using traditional materials for your home renovation:

Designing Your Home

From the beginning, the design of your home is the framework for all the things you do in terms of the renovation. How much material you need, home size, and types of material you will be using (this point I will get to later on in the article). All of these considerations for your home renovation are also considerations you must make when considering your ecological footprint and how you will be trying to achieve a minimal one.

  • First, your home design will play a huge role in achieving a minimal, or reduced, ecological footprint. Consider how natural light can help you reduce the use of traditional lighting. Light bulbs and other sources of light that run on electricity will waste a lot of light in your home and is generally not that great for environmental impact. One traditional material that people do not consider when trying to create a well lit home is their glass windows.
  • Glass windows can create a vast amount of natural light that will illuminate your home without relying on electrical power. This technique reduces your energy consumption, saving you money, and creating a home that feels alive and welcome. An overabundance of lightbulbs, like fluorescent or incandescent, can often feel like our home is flush with artificial lighting. Combining glass windows with polished concrete floors can also create more light as the light bounces off of the glossy finish and creates a natural glow in the room. The specialists over at Carrcrete have come up with a good method for achieving this technique. You can even pick certain levels on how glossy the end results will be. Using windows to allow more light in is a great way to introduce natural light, reducing energy consumption for our ecological footprints, and can even help heat our homes with the amount of sun gets in which reduces our reliance on home heating and energy.
  • Consider how much material you will need beforehand so that you do not end up buying or making too much and having to throw it out afterwards. The amount of excess or wasteful material that goes into a renovation is staggering. Cutting a piece of plywood that is inches long out of a 4 x 4 foot piece seems redundant. Try to reduce this waste by selecting what you need in smaller portions and get it when you need it, rather than too much at a time.

Reusable or Recyclable Materials

Traditional materials do not always have to be wasteful. When you are committing to a home reno, materials like glass, siding, brick, concrete, etc. can all be found in reusable or recyclable forms. Material can be reused to make new ones for your needs when doing a home renovation while lowering your ecological footprint. Reclaimed flooring is a big way to reduce impact.

Flooring makes up a massive chunk of the space in our homes, during a renovation you may be looking at a new wood or concrete floor for an interesting new look and that is smart for these reasons:

  • Reclaimed wood is widely available and can minimize your ecological footprint. Wood flooring is one of the most common desires for those who want to renovate or buy a new home. It is beautiful and it is a solid option. Even if you choose to renovate again you can recycle or reuse wood flooring for something else later on. You can even consider making it into wall siding, cabinets, countertops or any number of options. Wood is also easily recyclable if you do not use it for a new project or reno. Other friends, family or home owners may want to acquire it from you and you would be keeping more materials out of landfills. Recycled or reused wood also has less of a chance of being covered in volatile organic compounds (VOC) which can run off into the water or soil.
  • Concrete is surprisingly very recyclable or reusable, being crafted from a composite material of metals and other material that was reused for environmental reasons. One of the benefits of concrete is that, like I mentioned earlier about the polished floors and light, that the process to that technique is environmentally friendly because it emits no VOC’s, new raw materials are not produced as its water-based, and of course, they reduce lighting needs in the home.
  • Other examples of reusable materials to achieve a minimal ecological footprint are bamboo, cork, sheep’s wool, and recycled wood are all excellent options for other areas of your renovation.

Replacing Older Materials With Smarter Options

While there are areas of your renovation that are not so easily replaceable with reusable materials or recycled materials, you can still make small contributions to your existing materials. Even traditional materials found in every home can be at least managed so that they are using less resources and leaving less of an ecological footprint as their more wasteful counterparts.

Here are some ways you can reduce your footprint with existing traditional materials in your home:

  • Microcement is a good replacement for traditional cement as it is very adaptable for your needs. This product can be used for flooring, walls, older concrete, metal, plastic, and many more. The advantages in using microcement for your home renovation is that it saves cost and waste because it can be applied over existing surfaces quickly and easily, giving new life to surfaces in the home.
  • Change out your light bulbs for more cost effective, and energy saving ones. Examples of lightbulbs that are better options for cost and energy are LED or fluorescent. I know earlier that I said lightbulbs create unnatural light which isn’t ideal, but I also did preface this subsection by stating that some materials in your home can only be managed, and not fully replaced. Incandescent light bulbs use more energy compared to fluorescent and LED, these can easily be replaced for a quick fix. LED lights have a slight edge over incandescent not only for the cost and energy benefits, but also for the fact that they can be placed in tight spots and afford more flexibility to light those tricky spots of a house during your reno.
  • If you are fully committed to a reno and can make it happen, try reposition windows to allow for a better flow of air throughout your home so that you can reduce the need for air conditioning in the house during the summer months. If your reno is not that extensive, there are other solutions to do so. Vinyl stripping windows or using wood frames with double glazed glass will prevent heat loss as well as any loss in A/C if you choose to stick with a traditional A/C unit. Sealing windows is a big reason for a spike in energy use which is bad for minimizing our ecological footprint. This also applies to insulation (wool’s sheep is a good reusable material). You may also consider installing a whole-house fan.

Deconstruct, Not Destroy

While renovating, you should always try to opt for deconstructing any of your own materials that you are going to be getting rid of in or on your home. Demolishing parts of your house will create waste that is unusable for others. By deconstructing the houses parts you can recycle those parts for others use.

If you want to minimize your ecological footprint and reuse traditional materials in your house, you do not have to keep adding more to your house. Using recycled or reused materials for your own renovation project will allow you to take apart your house and give those pieces to someone capable of refurbishing them for others use. This creates a positive feedback loop of responsible waste management.

Even dust particles, asbestos, mold, and mildew can be dispersed into the air when you demolish parts of a house, or the whole thing. This is a health hazard for the environment and other people. Taking apart the house piece by piece saves these health concerns. Run off chemicals are also easier to detect when you dismantle parts of the house during renovation and can be disposed of or contained much easier than if you had just smashed the place to bits. Keep this option in mind when starting, or finishing your renovation.

We are always trying to find ways to go green, or at least we like to tell ourselves that we do. The fact of the matter is that sometimes it can be hard to stick to our goals of committing to a better lifestyle, better activities and more conscious effort to develop green habits. Focusing on how we can improve our ecological footprint should be a consideration that we have in mind when involving ourselves in as many aspects of our lives as we can. One such way is in home renovation.

Before you started reading this article I am sure you asked yourself how home renovations can be such a big impact on your ecological footprint. It seems odd, or at least like a question you would not ask yourself day to day. Now after you have read this you should be a master of knowing the ways to minimize your ecological footprint with traditional materials in a home renovation.

Consider how your lighting increases energy consumption in the home and implement design strategies like large glass windows to reduce the need for lightbulbs. Use polished concrete floors to reflect light through the house. Adopt reusable and recyclable material building strategies so you do not waste products like wood, concrete, vinyl and other building materials.

If you cannot replace materials entirely with recycled material, you have options too. Consider changing out incandescent light bulbs with LED or fluorescent ones to cut down on energy consumption, as well as utilizing air flow techniques like sealing windows properly to reduce the loss of cold air, loss of hot air, and running up the energy bill. Remember to deconstruct your home renovation materials so they can be reused for someone else so they do not get stuck with an abundance of waste either.

That’s about it. Hopefully this list of techniques will help your ecological footprint decrease to a level that you feel comfortable with, and your home renovation project is a success with the added bonus of being an environmentally sustainable achievement.

About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA, and an international consultant, advisor, ecopreneur and journalist with expertise in waste management, waste-to-energy, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainable development. His geographical areas of focus include Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biomass energy, biogas, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. He has participated in numerous conferences and workshops as chairman, session chair, keynote speaker and panelist. Salman is the Editor-in-Chief of EcoMENA, and is a professional environmental writer with more than 300 popular articles to his credit. He is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability in different parts of the world. Salman Zafar can be reached at salman@ecomena.org or salman@bioenergyconsult.com
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