Five Tenets of Zero-Waste Remodeling and Construction

Green building is simpler and more budget-friendly than you might think. Homeowners and builders are innovating more efficient and creative ways to waste less and reuse more, making zero-waste remodeling and construction within reach of almost anyone. Here are five ways you can design and build with greener hands.

1. Repurpose Instead of Flattening

If you think it’s more environmentally conscious to build entirely with new, green materials instead of working with an existing structure, think again. When you compare the impact of gutting and renovating versus knocking down a home and rebuilding from scratch, it’s actually greener to renovate. Although it takes longer to renovate a structure by reducing it to its load-bearing walls and then remodeling, you’ll create a lot less waste than you would by rebuilding. This practice is ubiquitous across Europe, where beautiful architecture is repurposed again and again, each time taking on a new story while maintaining the soul of the original structure.

2. Get to Zero Waste (or Close)

Let’s be honest: Zero waste requires planning. We can’t all be perfect, but we can do a lot better than we’re doing now with just a few minimal adjustments. From the beginning phase of your project, keep an eye on every aspect of construction, including measurements, materials and any possible changes along the way; failing to accurately plan out what you need for your remodel can create unnecessary waste. Be clear with any contractors and subcontractors early on regarding your goals, and select knowledgeable professionals with experience in reducing waste and conserving materials.

3. Repurpose, Recycle, Reuse, Repeat

Construction waste accounts for 136 million tons — almost 40 percent — of all refuse in U.S. landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency reports. Innovating ways to recycle and repurpose can help change this pattern. Concrete, brick, wood, steel and aluminum are recyclable and can be reused in the redesign. If you can’t reincorporate materials back into the remodel, post them as a free giveaway on Freecycle or Craigslist, or search for a local recycling center that will take your old doors, windows, mirrors, fixtures and appliances. After the project, don’t discard that leftover paint, varnish or stain, either. Take them to your nearest household hazardous waste drop-off site; there should be one available nearby.

4. Minimalism for Maximum Efficiency

Minimalism is catching on — not just as a design aesthetic, but also as a way of living. When remodeling or redesigning your home, ask yourself how you’re going to use something in a space before deciding on what kinds of products and materials you’ll buy. For example, you could buy a home with a smaller square footage to use every space and save on your utility costs, or you can choose a home without a formal dining room if that doesn’t fit with your everyday lifestyle. When decorating a room, consider if each piece serves a purpose, how it was produced and how it may be repurposed in the future and, ultimately, if it gives you joy.

Come up with your own creative ideas for decor. Hanging framed wall art can be difficult and costly to package when you move. As an alternative, Bea Johnson, author of “Zero-Waste Home,” covered her walls with murals, which can easily be painted over. Cull your home to include the most basic things you’ll actually need and enjoy. If every item in your home gives you joy and makes the world a better place, you’re doing pretty good.

5. Design for the Long Haul

Designing and building with long-lasting materials is a responsible and cost-effective idea that doesn’t get a lot of attention. This means selecting quality materials for their durability and ease of maintenance over those that are trendy and likely to be switched out when they’re no longer popular. Using a classic, natural flooring material such as wood or stone is more sustainable than selecting the trendy flooring product of the moment; a traditional wood floor will look great and last for years to come.

Reducing or eliminating waste for your remodel is entirely possible, as long as you plan carefully. Research the most resourceful ways to remodel so the end result is a highly efficient, low-impact home that’s personalized just for you.

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