How to green your home with sustainable renovations

How to green your home with sustainable renovations

By Duncan McPherson on 03/16/2006

Thousands of people remodel their homes every year. Green renovations are more energy efficient, conserve resources and are healthier for occupants. These renovations make homes more affordable to maintain and operate.

Below are simple things you can do to renovate green.

Landscape and yard

  • Minimize the amount of lawn area. This reduces the amount of mowing, fertilizing and watering required. Replace grass with native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, and mulch heavily with leaves or wood chips.
  • Start a compost pile. Compost food scraps, lawn clippings, leaves and wood ashes to reduce the amount of waste for the landfill and create free soil amendments. See for more information.
  • Use only organic fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides. This keeps harsh chemicals from creeks and streams and protects wildlife and aquatic habitat.
  • Plant vegetation that improves natural habitats for birds and insects, using, for example, berry and butterfly bushes and fruit trees.
  • Install a bat house. This can greatly reduce the number of mosquitoes in your yard and increases the diversity of wildlife in your neighborhood. As with humans, bats can be particular with their homes, so do some research on how to install one. Go to
  • Plant bushes and trees to provide shade in the summer. Planting deciduous trees on the west side of your house can reduce summer-afternoon heat through windows.

The envelope

  • Get a comprehensive energy audit of your house. Blower door tests, duct blaster tests and thermographic cameras help identify where to focus your efforts and money.
  • Install weather-stripping at doors and windows to reduce drafts.
  • Seal all large cracks or holes in the exterior of the house with an expanding foam. This reduces drafts and increases the overall efficiency of your building envelope, or exterior shell.
  • Replace old windows with high-efficiency low-e (low emissivity) windows. Go
  • Add or replace insulation especially in attics and basements.
  • For more information go to

Equipment and appliances

  • Install a programmable thermostat, which can pay for itself in a year.
  • Replace incandescent bulbs with high-quality, compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Seal and insulate your duct work especially if it’s in a crawl space or attic that isn’t air-conditioned.
  • Replace or clean furnace filters monthly.
  • Replace an inefficient washing machine to save water and energy. Front-loading machines use less water and energy and require less energy for drying than standard top-loading machines.
  • Replace an old hot-water heater with a high-efficiency or tankless heater.
  • Replace your furnace, air conditioning, heat pump and boiler with high-efficiency equipment. Look for a SEER rating (an efficiency rating) of 13 or higher, an HSPF (an efficiency measurement) of 7.5 or higher or efficiency ratings of 90 percent.
  • Purchase Green Power renewable energy through your electric company. Go to
  • Buy Energy Star appliances and electronics to reduce your electricity consumption.
  • For more information, go to


  • Use rain barrels to collect rainwater from your roof.
  • Repair leaking or dripping faucets.
  • Replace old toilets with efficient toilets. Dual-flush toilets are available from several manufacturers.
  • Use low-flow aerators at your faucets and showerheads, and save thousands of gallons a year.
  • Replace an old dishwasher with a new high-efficiency model.
  • Prioritize your outdoor watering during droughts — trees and shrubs first, then flowers and last, your lawn.
  • For more information, go to


  • Bath exhaust fans should vent to the outside, not into an attic, basement, or crawl space. This reduces humidity and risk of mold growth.
  • Remove mold in your basement or elsewhere with a diluted solution of bleach.
  • Use only latex-based, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and finishes.  Most major brands offer low-VOC products.
  • Seal the crawl space or partial basement. Cover and seal any exposed dirt or walls below grade with thick plastic to reduce the amount of humidity and risk of mold growth.
  • Test for radon.
  • Test for lead paint.
  • Set up a recycling area in your house.
  • Dispose of hazardous waste appropriately. Contact your local sanitation department for information.

[Duncan McPherson is a LEED-accredited professional with Samsel Architects in Asheville. He is a founding member of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council and may be reached]