9 Home Renovation Projects That Are Actually Green

Try these upgrades for a more sustainable home

Beautiful home exterior surrounded by trees.

Mindy Gayer Design Co.

When it comes to home renovations, there are a ton of things to consider. Aside from the aesthetics, you also need to figure out a budget, timeline, and the team of people who will actually do the work. But these days, there’s something else that should take priority as you plan your reno. When making home upgrades, you might want to make your home a greener, more sustainable space.

Often, environmentally friendly projects aren’t just good for the earth—they can also be good for your wallet. But how do you know which projects will actually make your home greener? We turned to the experts to find out. 

Meet the Expert

What Does a ‘Green Home’ Mean?

Before you start planning, Dierdre Gaddy, the director of interior design for Terra Firma Vegas, says it's important to have a basic understanding of what a ‘green home’ might look like.

"‘Green’ homes choose sustainable and eco-friendly options, minimizing the impact on the environment,” Gaddy says. “For residences, that equates to energy usage and building materials."

Gaddy explains that the most energy-efficient homes take advantage of natural resources, such as wind and solar. Focusing on items like power usage, insulation, and what type of finishes you’re installing all contribute to a green home.

Opt to Renovate Instead of Build New

If you have the option, Sam Lund of Simply Sam says that it’s always better to renovate instead of starting from zero.

“A big reason why our company focuses on remodeling in the first place is that we believe that making something old feel new again is a lot greener than throwing up a bunch of new homes,” Lund explains. Unfortunately, older homes are notoriously inefficient, so it’s likely you may have a lot of things to upgrade, change, or fix.

“We typically use a larger remodel to make things more efficient,” Lund says. “The best thing would be updating everything in an old house all at once, but that's typically not attainable for the average family."

Instead, prioritize the projects that will have the biggest impact on greening up your home.

House floor-plan on computer in middle of room being renovated

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Install Smart Home Systems

Handy tech gadgets that help you manage your home from afar aren’t just sanity-saving—they can be planet-saving, too.

“I suggest upgrades to your smart home systems such as thermostats and lighting control,” Gaddy says. “These gadgets will help you monitor and analyze usage. It also gives you the ability to control things remotely so that in times of travel or leaving the house in a rush, you can simply control it from your devices.”

Upgrade Your Insulation

Whether you’re living in an older home or building a new place from scratch, there’s one thing that’s key for making sure your energy is being used efficiently: insulation.

“That same thermostat that you just upgraded is monitoring how much you’re using, but if it’s all escaping through gaps in the windows and doors, then what’s the point?” Gaddy asks. “Ensure that all major openings are properly insulated by doing an inspection like HERS (a Home Energy Rating System test).”

Designer and builder Luke Caldwell agrees, stating that upgrading your home’s insulation can also help reduce heating and cooling costs, as well as make your home more comfortable. “Adding insulation to your walls, attic, and floors can help keep your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer," Caldwell says.

Install Energy-Efficient Windows

Along with insulation, loose, dated, or weak windows can also cause a major energy loss for your home. Gaddy tells us that windows are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to energy loss in homes, and Caldwell agrees.

“Replacing old windows with energy-efficient ones can help reduce heating and cooling costs by keeping your home more insulated,” he says. “This can also help reduce your carbon footprint by decreasing the amount of energy needed to keep your home comfortable.”

Along with the windows themselves, Gaddy says it’s important to pay attention to the insulation framing your windows, too. Consider upgrading to spray foam insulation, in lieu of your typical Batt, which could provide better coverage, especially in extreme weather conditions.

While upgrading your windows is eco-friendly, it’s important to note that adding more windows is not. “Although this practice’s results are beautiful, it also creates a bigger issue by adding to your house’s solar heat gain,” Gaddy says. “That means more heating and cooling are needed to regulate the temperature.”

Double Hung Sash Window
Double Hung Sash Window Getty / BrettCharlton

Opt for Low-Flow Fixtures (Showers, Toilets, and Faucets)

One of the best ways to control your home's water usage is with more energy-efficient fixtures. According to Gaddy, you can control the pull-on energy and water supply by simply choosing low-flow fixtures.

"It may take a little getting used to, but it significantly helps in the conservation of water per household, especially as it pertains to hot water distribution," she says.

Caldwell says low-flow is a great option for replacing or adding a toilet, too. “These toilets have two flush options, one for liquid waste and one for solid waste, which allows for water conservation without compromising on performance,” he says.

Fun Fact

Typically, standard toilets use 3.5 to 7 gallons of water per flush, while low-flow toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush, making this a much more efficient option.

Add Solar Panels

Installing solar panels is one of those major renovations that is totally worth it in the long run—but it requires a larger spend now, which isn’t always feasible. Still, Gaddy says it’s worth considering, especially depending on where you live.

“Solar panels will convert sunlight into energy to run your home,” Gaddy says. “It’s a great way to generate your own renewable energy. In a state like Nevada where I am located, intense heat and sunlight are prevalent, so it only makes sense to harvest it and make it work for you.”

Installing solar panels on roof of home.

Stocksy / Raymond Forbes LLC

Upgrade to a VRF System to Control Temperatures by Room

Much like solar panels, replacing your HVAC system with a VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) System is a worthwhile endeavor, but Gaddy admits it’s also a big project. 

 “A VRF system is a huge undertaking, but the conversion from a traditional HVAC system allows for temperature control of your rooms independently,” Gaddy explains. “Instead of heating and cooling your whole house, you can simply just do the rooms that are actually in use!”

Use Materials With Low Environmental Impact

Regardless of what kind of renovation you’re doing, Gaddy says it’s important to use materials that have a smaller environmental impact. Lean towards recycled and bio-based materials like concrete, quartz, agates, natural stones, and wood.

“These materials have a smaller footprint on the environment, and when installed appropriately in their respective environments, they can even elevate the price per square foot of your home," Gaddy says.

Caldwell takes the same approach in his projects. “I like to use the old ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ method when looking for green materials. Those three words are in order of effectiveness—reducing the number of new materials is the best way to not consume more resources,” he explains.

Caldwell encourages us to reuse materials from remodeling as much as possible and bring in materials from local used building material suppliers. When disposing of waste, recycle as much as you can, and when shopping for new materials, look for ones that have a high recycled content.

Reducing the number of new materials is the best way to not consume more resources.

Rely On the Experts

Regardless of which projects you decide to tackle, Lund gave us one major piece of advice: use the experts. 

“DIYing can be something that looks like it's sustainable because you’re doing it yourself and you're maybe using materials you have saved over time,” Lund says. "Hiring the right help with a Licensed GC and Interior Designer to guide you along the way actually can make things more eco-friendly and less wasteful long-term.”