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Going “Green” in Home Renovations

An adult and younger person both wearing light colored shirt and blue jeans are kneeling down in front of a home renovation plan

Tips for pursuing an environmentally safe and sustainable home renovation project

Home renovations, whether doing them yourself or hiring a contractor, can be intimidating. To help make the process easier while supporting energy-efficient and environmentally safe choices, King County GreenTools Program in the Solid Waste Division (SWD) offers a variety of resources to help homeowners and contractors build “green.” Green building can save you money, protect your health, and preserve natural resources.  

“A great place to start when beginning a home renovation project is to review the King County Green Building Handbook,” says Kathleen Petrie, program manager with SWD. “The handbook offers strategies and solutions for increasing energy efficiency, water conservation, healthy indoor air quality, ways to use sustainable materials, and best practices for handling construction and demolition materials in a renovation project.” 

Here are a few additional tips and resources to consider for a renovation project. 

Do your research 

A great resource to check out is the Eco-cool remodel tool. This tool takes you on a tour through a virtual house to find ways to green your home renovation project. 

Then, check your supply list to find out how you can purchase environmentally safe and sustainable products. Whether working with a contractor or sourcing the supplies yourself, ask for an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) from the companies you use. An EPD is an independently verified and registered document that provides transparent, credible, and comparable information about the product's environmental impact throughout its lifecycle. While an EPD doesn’t imply the product is environmentally superior to others, it provides detailed information to help you decide if you want to use the product in your home. 

Protect yourself and your home 

Always wear protective gear when working on a renovation project. This includes safety glasses, gloves, and masks. Also consider wearing long sleeve shirts and pants to protect your skin. Be sure that the space you are working in is well-ventilated, particularly if you are using paint or other smelly products. 

Cover any furniture or items in a room that you don’t want damaged. If possible, place sheeting over entryways to protect the rest of the house from dust and other particles. 

Also, if your home was built in the 1970s or earlier, contact a professional to test for (and possibly remove) any lead-based paint or asbestos that may be present in the home. 

Read the labels 

It’s important to read the labels of the materials you purchase. Avoid products with the words DANGER or POISON on the label, as they are the most harmful for you and your family. 

The best products to purchase are ones that have an ecolabel.  Ecolabels are visual cues that a product, service or company has an environmental certification. King County adopts all of the ecolabels recommended by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as other third party certifiers that assure us they are buying sustainably. Ecolabel examples include Safer Choices, Energy Star, EnviroStars, and Cradle to Cradle. You can also view other Ecolabels recommended by King County. 

And when it comes to buying environmentally safe and non-toxic materials, you will find they are easier to get and more cost effective than they used to be. In particular, look for and purchase sealers and paints labeled “Low VOC” or “No VOC.” VOC stands for volatile organic compounds and can be harmful to people and the environment. 

Reuse Materials 

A final tip for a renovation project is to reuse materials when you can. Use wood left over from other projects, and check used building material “reuse” stores, salvage yards, Buy Nothing or other neighborhood groups, and thrift stores for supplies to re-use in your renovation. 

If you end up with leftover materials from your renovation project that are still in good condition, offer them to family and friends, or consider donating them. For any hazardous materials that you remove, check the Haz Waste Program’s hazardous products list to see if they are accepted at a local disposal location. 

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