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Sustainable home improvement ideas every homeowner can implement

sustainable home improvements

Whether you live in a century home or a brand new one, home improvements will likely play a role in your future. Trying to decide where best to invest your time, money and effort can be overwhelming. So, we’ve put together some practical, sustainable home improvement ideas that you can implement yourself or with the help of a contractor.

Canadian homeowners realize that reducing their carbon footprint can help not only the planet but also their budgets and comfort levels. Most of these green renovation and eco-friendly projects result in benefits that buyers desire, which makes the resale value of your property increase, in a win-win situation.

Before you pull out that sledgehammer, though, consider starting small and then moving to more significant projects. There’s no need to remodel your entire house at once; we suggest you tackle these projects in phases based on your availability and budget.

What are small sustainable home improvements you can make?

change light bulbs

1. Replace light bulbs

If you’ve got an older home, chances are incandescent bulbs are lurking in some of its fixtures. It might not be as easy as you’d expect to replace them with the same type of bulb when they burn out. On January 1, 2014, the Canadian government banned 75-watt and 100-watt incandescent bulbs, with the same fate befalling 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs on January 1, 2015.

It’s all for the best, though — replacing your old energy guzzlers with ENERGY STAR-certified LED versions can yield $100 in energy savings over the lifespan of each bulb. Even more impressively, these lightbulbs last 15 times longer than incandescent and use 70% to 90% less energy.

2. Get a programmable thermostat

The “set and go” functionality of today’s user-friendly smart thermostats makes it easier than ever to set and maintain a consistently comfortable temperature in your home during off-peak hours. Although their up-front cost is typically low, these little devices can help to reduce your hydro bill by 10% or more.

3. Repaint using eco-friendly and sustainable home improvement products

The paint used in many older homes negatively impacts air quality and is toxic to the environment. In particular, lead paint is hazardous for children and animals that may ingest chipped pieces. Even non-lead-based paint products can contain dangerous chemical additives.

Older paint products may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that continue to vaporize and emit gasses into the air years after the paint has dried. In addition to minor health problems like headaches and respiratory irritations, VOCs can link to significant health problems such as cancer, kidney damage, liver damage and more. Applying a fresh coat of eco-friendly paint that’s known to have little or no VOCs can reduce toxins, both in the air of your home and in the environment at large.

4. Fix air leaks

Older homes also tend to have older, drafty windows and doors that can severely impact energy efficiency. Fortunately, you can minimize this effect by applying a fresh layer of caulking and weather stripping around the outside. In a short time, and for little more than $100, this is one of the most affordable yet effective ways to lower utility bills and make your home more comfortable.

What are the medium sustainable home improvements you can make?

drilling renovations

Ready to step up your sustainable home improvement efforts? You might need a little help from a contractor to complete these more complex projects. Still, by reducing both energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, your return on investment can be significant.

5. Add a ceiling fan (or two)

Ceiling fans are not just for decoration. They also control energy costs by circulating warm air throughout your home in the winter months and cold air in the summer. Choose an ENERGY STAR-certified fan to be sure of getting the most energy-efficient model, and install one with cool LCD lights to save even more.

6. Consider extra insulation

Even if you’ve never before owned a home, you probably know that the higher the R-value of insulation in your attic and walls, the more efficient it will be. If your home is more than ten years old, it’s probably time to add more insulation. The most common types are fibreglass, cellulose and foam available as loose-fill, batts, foam board, rolls or spray board. You can purchase the insulation and rent the equipment from a big box store to do it yourself, or hire a reliable contractor to handle it for you.

7. Buy energy-efficient appliances

Significant advances are happening in appliances like refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, washers and dryers. Choose ENERGY STAR-certified models for the most considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, electricity and water use. With an app or smart home device, today’s high-tech models can do everything from reminding you to change the fridge filter to sending cooking instructions directly to your oven. Not to mention, they look cool, too.

More substantial sustainable home improvements

significant sustainable home improvements

8. Update windows and doors

Have you got air leaks, or does ice form on your windows? Are your windows and doors becoming more challenging to open or close? If so, it might be smart to replace them, or at least some of them. New energy-efficient styles include double and triple-pane windows with Low-E coatings and Argon or Krypton gas fills. All of these styles will help to stop air and water leaks, keep out harmful UV rays from sunlight and reduce energy bills.

Today’s exterior steel doors are also more secure and insulated than yesterday’s versions, as are newer patio doors. Expect an impressive ROI on window upgrades when you sell your home, and be sure to check your eligibility for government rebates too.

9. Replace your old water heater

By keeping a steady supply of hot water ready at all times, regardless of whether it’s needed, old-style water heaters waste a lot of energy. Newer and more energy-efficient options — including heat pumps, tankless on-demand and solar water heaters are more sustainable options that will save a lot on your water and hydro bills. Rebates may also be available for additional savings on water heaters and installation costs.

10. Upgrade HVAC systems

When planning a green renovation, you can’t beat replacing your old furnace or boiler with a new ENERGY STAR-rated model. High-tech, geothermal heat pumps are another option to save energy. These innovative systems take advantage of consistent below-ground temperatures to heat or cool your home. Don’t forget about replacing that old air conditioning unit too. Doing so can reduce energy use between 20% to 50%.

11. Invest in solar panels for your electricity needs

For the ultimate green renovation, consider installing an active solar array on your roof. The initial investment can seem daunting but is offset by the future potential to generate your own electricity and sell excess power back to the utility company. Connect all your systems and go completely off the grid for the maximum sustainable home improvement. Here again, solar incentive programs may be available through local municipalities to offset the initial investment.

Whether you do a little or a lot, there are plenty of sustainable home improvement projects you can implement to help the planet and stretch your budget. More and more homeowners strive to be environmentally responsible. With more “green” solutions available to them every day, there’s a real chance that such efforts can make the earth a better place to live for years to come.

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Serge Bojinski

Serge is the editor of Renohood.com, as well as a blogger and home improvement enthusiast. He lives by the motto: "eat clean, train dirty."