It doesn’t take a fashionista to know that green is in right now in the home remodeling scene. Sustainability is everything these days, and eco-friendly modern homeowners expect their homes to not only provide a warm, welcoming retreat from the world, but to help save the planet, as well.
But there’s more to eco-friendly remodeling than slapping on a coat of VOC-free paint and calling it a day. Today’s updates work to conserve energy, of course, but there’s more. They also educate homeowners about their electricity use, protect fragile resources, improve indoor air quality, and reduce carbon emissions—and many feature high-tech products and features that stand at the cutting edge of home improvement. Let’s take a look at the year’s hottest eco-friendly improvements.
Daylight harvesting is really just a fancy name for designed spaces that allow more sunlight indoors, in place of artificial lighting. Daylight harvesting systems may include automated devices that dim overhead lights when they sense that there’s a lot of sun inside a room. Or it can just mean adding additional light sources via skylights, large replacement windows, or a solar tube—a small, recessed-light shaped insulated skylight that acts like an overhead light.
If you decide to incorporate this technique in your home, you’ll get the most out of your daylight if you spring for windows on the south or west side of your home, since these spots tend to be exposed to the most daylight hours. There’s a caveat to that, though. More sunlight can also mean more solar heat, which will raise cooling costs. For these spots, you’ll definitely need to go with an energy-efficient Low-E window that can keep your home comfortable as well as well-lit. But the good news is that these windows are extra green, which saves homeowners 12 to 33 percent annually on their cooling costs.
Smart thermostats are energy efficiency at its simplest. The success of products like the Nest, the Ecobee, and the Honeywell Lyric have made their “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to green a fast way to see a return on your energy conservation investments.
Energy experts have known for years that programmable thermostats reduced heating and cooling consumption in the home—the Department of Energy estimates that installing one could shave as much as 10 percent off annual HVAC expenses. However, actually programming those thermostats was another story: research indicates that the vast majority of homeowners don’t properly configure conventional programmable thermostats, negating the potential energy savings. That’s why these smart thermostats—which automatically adjust settings for you—are so powerful. And at around $250 a pop, they’re a simple switch that quickly pays for itself.
Urged by studies that suggest that poor indoor air quality may be far worse for us than outdoor pollution, at least partially due to chemical off gassing from building materials and finishes, many homeowners have opted for healthier alternatives inside the home. Flooring makes a natural choice for updates like these, since many flooring materials contain phthalates, formaldehydes, and other dangerous chemicals. Additionally, wood flooring harvesting often devastates forests as well, making it an environmental double whammy. That’s boosted the popularity of several sustainable products: responsibly-sourced hardwood, non-toxic bamboo, and eco-friendly cork tiles, a material that can be harvested without destroying the source. And they just happen to meld perfectly with this year’s preference for home decor with an “all-natural” vibe. When green meets high style, the result is a win-win!
Solar + Storage
Anything Tesla makes is bound to be popular, and that’s just what has happened ever since the company introduced its lithium-ion home battery, dubbed the Powerwall. It’s based on an idea that solar advocates and developers alike have tossed around for a long time: what if you could store the energy you generated from your home solar panels for later use?
While battery technology still leaves a lot to be desired, since the date of Tesla’s release, these kinds of “solar + storage” packages have been popping up among solar providers’ offerings. That makes it one eco-friendly trend that’s harder and harder to resist.
Unless you’re an active environmentalist, you probably have a hard time telling a truly eco-friendly product from a fraud. Part of that issue springs from disagreements about what “green” means. Is it something that saves energy, offsets carbon emissions, helps local ecosystems, or conserves natural resources?
Can you believe an unverified “environmentally friendly” label? The best way to know for sure is to ask an expert—and often, that’s exactly the purpose that green rating systems serve. Programs like LEED and ENERGY STAR allow homeowners to tap professional green raters’ know-how to make homes as energy-efficient as possible. These kinds of certifications evaluate homes along multiple measurements and give you an official accreditation. Usually the process starts with an inspection of your existing home, including the construction, materials, and systems like the HVAC and plumbing. From there, a home energy expert can recommend green retrofits that will both improve your home’s consumption and qualify you for the program certificate.
Certified Green Certifications like these are often a high selling point with home buyers, so you can expect their demand to grow as the eco-friendly home becomes even more popular. This is one trend that isn’t likely to go out of style anye soon.