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How to confirm what eco-friendly home improvements are worthwhile

solar panel installation

Eco-friendly home improvements can be costly and make your home more energy-efficient. Not only will these renovations lower your utility costs, but they will also make your home more comfortable by keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. 

That said, not all sustainable home renovations are equally worthwhile. Some are surefire ways to improve your home, while others may be more cost and effort than they’re worth. Fortunately, we’ve designed several questions you can ask when considering a green home renovation. The answers to these questions will help you determine whether the project will be a surefire hit or a complete dud.

Do these eco-friendly home improvements have a track record?

worth the cost

The world of green home renovations is continually evolving, with new technologies leaping to the forefront annually. Some green improvements have been used by professionals for decades, while others are new and untested.

For example, insulation is a green home renovation with a long track record and an attractive return on investment. But not all insulation is created equal. Blown-in or fibreglass insulation has been a common technique for decades. However, spray foam insulation is still relatively new, and some techniques (like spraying the insulation directly on an attic roof deck) can be contentious. Some experts say this method causes water leaks and mould. Ensure the green renovation you’re considering has a solid track record and isn’t a flash in the pan.

Will this sustainable home renovation provide a reasonable return on investment?

Most green home renovations help you reduce the energy or water your home consumes, which is good for the environment and good for your wallet. Through lowered utility costs, most green home renovations will essentially pay for themselves over some time. For example, if your green home renovation will cost $1,000, but will save you 30% of your $1,000 utility bill, your green home renovation will “pay for itself” in 3.33 years.

Some green home renovations, like insulation or heat pumps, offer huge savings and quickly pay for themselves. Others, like smart thermostats, offer relatively low savings and will take longer to recoup your investment.

Does this green renovation require specialized knowledge to install or maintain?

how to caulk

Some eco-friendly home improvements are quick and easy upgrades that any contractor or tradesperson can perform. Servicing these upgrades is easy since there are a wide variety of knowledgeable individuals available to perform this work. Other types of green home renovations, such as solar panels, may require specialized knowledge or training. There may only be a few sustainable home builders in your area that will perform this work, and finding service people to maintain the installation could prove difficult. Ensure there are enough tradespeople in your local area that it’s feasible to service your green home renovation if required.

Will this green renovation add to the resale value of my home?

Green home renovations often add value to your home but may not be able to compete with big-ticket items like bathroom or kitchen renovations. That said, some would-be home buyers would love to see a “sustainable home for sale” sign on your front lawn. You’ll gauge this value by determining whether the average home buyer will appreciate the green home renovation. For example, air sealing your home by upgrading the windows and doors will improve your home’s energy efficiency and modernize your home to make it more aesthetically pleasing to homebuyers. Adding a little-known and little-used green home feature, like a living plant wall, may not add significant resale value or reduce your home’s selling price.

Is this eco-friendly home product’s performance verifiable?

Finally, you want to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck by sticking with reputable, third-party certified manufacturers. When it comes to eco-friendly home products, there are many small companies out there offering services or building products that they claim will help reduce your carbon footprint. But not all of these companies will be reputable, and some may be downright exaggerating their product’s benefits.

To play it safe, look for ENERGY STAR certified products. ENERGY STAR is a government-supported efficiency organization that provides credible and unbiased information to businesses and consumers. Products that bear the ENERGY STAR mark have provided the organization with third-party certified performance data that meets their minimum standards for efficiency. ENERGY STAR certifies a wide variety of green products, including refrigerators, heat pumps, light bulbs, even televisions.

Choosing which green home renovations to tackle requires a significant amount of research on cost, benefits, availability, and longevity. Many homeowners find the idea daunting, and knowing where to start can be a challenge. Still, if you start by answering the questions above, you’ll quickly determine whether the home renovations you’re considering are the right choice or an expensive headache for years to come.

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Jordann Brown

Jordann Brown is a marketing and communications professional living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. As the owner of an 83-year-old cottage, and with a passion for renewable energy, Jordann spends much of her time working on home renovations. Founder of the popular personal finance blog, My Alternate Life, Jordann has been featured in many notable publications including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, CTV News and CBC.