Is it greener to renovate or rebuild?

Ideas for Green Remodeling

Take a little extra care to find out whether any new appliances you purchase for your remodeled house are truly green.
Take a little extra care to find out whether any new appliances you purchase for your remodeled house are truly green.
Joe Raedle/­Getty Images

­When it comes to green building, renovating beats rebuilding. However, exactly what's done with the remodeled or rebuilt house makes an enormous difference as well. There isn't much point to having a green demolition crew demolish a home -- or even consider the question posed in this article -- if the final product's going to be an ecological nightmare.

As eco-consciousness continues to rise in popularity with consumers, the building industry has birthed a slew of sustainable vendors -- and some that just aren't. Let the buyer beware: The green living magazine New Life Journal suggests that home renovators do some investigating before jumping at a green price tag. A lot of products marketed as green due to their energy efficiency ratings may use less electricity than some of their counterparts on the market, but may also be constructed out of wholly unsustainable materials or made in environmentally harmful ways. What may appear green might not be green at all. This is a marketing ploy known as greenwashing [source: Cramer].

Other companies have gone in the opposite direction. Traditionally toxic products that feature prominently in home remodeling projects, like paints and varnishes, are now appearing on the market in vastly less toxic forms. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), additives and ingredients that can prove carcinogenic in humans, are beginning to disappear from some housing materials. For example, bamboo flooring is becoming a popular choice among green remodelers because the plant grows quickly, decreasing the environmental impact of its harvest.

Contractors also are taking an increasingly Earth-friendly approach to home remodeling. They're gravitating toward environmentally conscious standards, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, in the building industry. As the concept of green building hits its marketing stride, it makes good business sense.

Of course, there's also Craigslist and Old materials no longer wanted in one house can be salvaged to remodel another one. And what's greener than reusing old materials?

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  • Chait, Jennifer. "35 ideas for building a greener house." RiverWired. May 14, 2008. Accessed March 9, 2009.
  • Cramer, Maggie. "From nasty nest to green possibilities." New Life Journal. April 1, 2008.
  • Cramer, Maggie. "Is it really 'green' or just greenwashing?" New Life Journal. April 2008.
  • Grant, Alyson. "Think green when renovating at home." CanWest News Service. September 27, 2007.
  • Soens, Robert and Guokas, Jody. "Renovate or rebuild: an eco-conscious homeowners conundrum: green builders Robert Soens and Jody Guokas take a look at both sides of the puzzling problem." New Life Journal. April 2008.
  • Stiffler, Lisa. "If house has to go, at least it can go 'green' -- piece by piece." Seattle Post-Intelligencer. August 19, 2007. Accessed March 9, 2009.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "What's in a building? Composition and analysis of C&D debris." Accessed March 9, 2009.