By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor of TheGreenGazette –

We have an old house, on an old street. Our quiet cul de sac was constructed in 1972 and our house completed in 1975. By our neighbours’ standards, we are spring chickens, having resided here only since 2009, and our half-acre lots backing onto the forest are vast, wild spaces compared with the new developments surrounding our street.

Copyright: Sean Prior

When we purchased our old house, we had high hopes of renovating, turning our stuccoed, south-west style rancher into some kind of trendy, rustic-themed sprawl of a home our friends would admire and through which our hearts would feel a deep sense of accomplishment.

And then we had kids and jobs and bills and kids and schedules and a dog and camping and sports and kids and travelling and kids. And we had to reconsider our expectations.

Kate Wagner, viral blogger and architecture student, asks people in our shoes – home owners with dated homes and big ideas – to consider the most radical of all renovation ideas: there is nothing wrong with your house. In her article, “Are Home Renovations Necessary,” she asks home owners to look at their structural, practical, and functional needs and ignore the pressure we place on ourselves to renovate for social reasons, thanks in part to home renovation TV shows that encourage New! Fresh! Modern! Do it now! projects that only meet aesthetic whims.

“While older media, like early issues of House Beautiful, discusses the process as mastering the careful art of interior design, newer media is more neurotic and self-loathing, describing houses in need of renovation with words like ‘dated,’ ‘immature,’ or ‘wrong’,” says Wagner. “Whether presented as a self-improvement project (update your house lest you be judged for owning a dated one) or a form of self-care (renovate because it will make you feel better), the home remodel is presented as both remedy and requirement.”

Renovating for Green reasons falls into great moral and economic categories because it encompasses the functional components of home improvement, with positive aesthetic consequences and without unnecessary flourish. Most medium threshold financial investments into environmentally friendly upgrades have a three- to five-year payback period, increase the resale value of the home, and look streamlined and fresh. If you’re going to renovate, set your budget and plans by a Green compass, and try the following simple upgrades to get started:

Replace fixtures with low-flow: A simply, but cost-effective renovation, switching to low-flow fixtures can save you a quarter on your water bill, and a low-flow toilet uses half the water of a standard unit. Low-flow items cost 10-25 per cent more up front, a cost that is usually paid back through water savings within three years.

Invest in a new furnace or tankless water heater: If your furnace is more than 15 years old, there is no question a new, Energy Star model will save you money. Depending on how much you want to invest, savings can amount to 25-45 per cent each year. Rather than storing water and keeping it hot and ready for use, tankless water heaters do the job on demand, saving water use and electricity.

New windows: Energy Star windows can save you $125-465 each year on energy costs over single pane windows.

Choose low or no VOC paint: Paint is an excellent and cost-efficient way to refresh a room. Chose low- or no-VOC varieties for better air quality.

Draft-proof the home: People who like to make small, meaningful steps to an ultimate goal with a big pay-off will love this one. Weather stripping on doors, draft insulators on exterior wall switches and plugs, caulking on baseboards—these seemingly minor steps can save you 10-28 per cent each year on your heating bill.

Choose local materials: The closer to home you buy the materials, the less fossil fuel usage to get it to your building site, and the more likely your purchase will support your local economy. Check around for repurposing businesses to get your hands on used materials, as well.

Repurpose materials: Most building materials can be recycled for a price and at the right location. Do your research in advance to find out where to take drywall, insulation, flooring, and other building materials. For new materials, check out this list of durable, Earth-friendly materials that last:

Get a home energy audit: For a $150 investment, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) will come to your house and evaluate your home’s energy consumption rating based on its draftiness, insulation levels, roofing assembly, basement configuration, windows, and a number of other factors. It will leave you with a list of recommendations and a good sense of where to begin. NRCanEnerGuide Audits:

We actually had a home energy audit back in 2009, and wouldn’t you know it: our 42-year-old, dated home, with window upgrades and some attic insulation in the 90s, scored near-perfect for insulation value, air penetration, and the home’s structural heating efficiency. Whoever built this house did so with efficiency and the environment in mind, and though it may not be the architectural wonder it was in the 70s, it has stood the test of time and the busy-ness of our family life.

Further reading:

Green Renovation Pyramid lists cost-efficient home renos that maximize your dollar and environmental impact:

BC Real Estate Association lists incentive, rebate, and funding programs for BC residents looking to Green up their homes and properties:

CaGBC’s Report on Canada’s Green Building Trends highlights the business and environmental case for green buildings:


Green up the old, out with the new

The built environment represents an essential component of every community’s economic infrastructure, but here’s the thing: new developments with no eye on the environmental implications: disrupt water ways, pollute water sheds, destroy critical animal and plant habitats and send an unfathomable amount of chemical waste into the air and into our waste management system.

Buildings represent 12 per cent of GHG emissions in Canada, but with the correct renovations and Green upgrades, this number could be dramatically reduced.

Consider, too, the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which sets 2030 as the year all new buildings, developments, and major renovations should be carbon neutral. Because of this and other initiatives, renovation will represent 60 per cent of the construction economy over the next decade.


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