By Fiona Wagner
While we're still years away from backyard wind turbines and integrated solar panel rooftops, the majority of Canadians are getting serious about greening their homes. And that's good news for the building industry. In fact, according to the recently released TD Canada Trust Green Home Poll, 72% of Canadians would pay more for an earth-friendly house or condo. Their reasons? To lower their energy bills, reap the health benefits of non-toxic living spaces or reduce their environmental impact.
"There's definitely been more of a demand [for green renovation] because it's more in the public eye. There's more social awareness and people are genuinely trying to make better decisions," says James Buduhan, owner of Winnipeg-based Urban Zen Developments Ltd.
That said, 29% of those polled would like to undertake a green home renovation but don't know where to start.
"Clients often say, 'I want to make the right decision but where do I go?'" says Buduhan. "There's such a matrix of information out there. Almost everything is [labeled] green now so people don't know where to begin."
That's where a building professional who's knowledgeable in the latest green technologies and trends can help their customers achieve their environmental goals and get the most out of their investment.
For example, a client may want to better insulate their home, but they don't know where to start or what product to use, be it fiberglass insulation, soy-based spray foam or natural cotton batting made with recycled denim. Eco-savvy builders can help their clients evaluate the green and ungreen aspects of each product and figure out which one best suits their needs and budget.
The good news is that there are green renovation projects suited for almost any budget. Some simple projects include using low- or no-VOC paints or even truly green wall finishes such as natural earthen clay plaster; upgrading light fixtures with LEDs or CFLs; installing dual flush toilets or an on-demand tankless hot water heater; and air sealing a home.
Medium-sized renovation projects might include upgrading windows and doors; installing bamboo or other sustainable flooring; insulating the basement or refinishing the concrete slab to resemble polished marble; changing to a high efficiency furnace and/or cooling system; and refacing kitchen cabinets instead of replacing them.
Of course if you're doing a full renovation or an addition, that's when you can get really green. "It's great to buy low-flush toilets and bamboo flooring but that's not what's really greening your renovation," says David Males, president of Northern Edge Construction Services Ltd. in Toronto. "It's about your building envelope and how you're heating and cooling the space." Pricey projects include installing a geothermal unit, in-floor heating, or solar panels. Or the project may simply entail "building it right," says Christopher Phillips, owner of Toronto-based Greening Homes Ltd., by removing all the old elements of a home—such as lead-paint encrusted baseboards, old carpets, poor insulation, leaky windows and knob and tube wiring—and replacing it with low-VOC finishes, eco-drywall and insulation, LED spotlights, new windows and ecologically-refinished hardwood floors. "You end up with a similar looking space but with energy-efficient lighting, better insulation and non-toxic products," says Phillips.
While green renovations are better for the planet, they're also good for your client's pocketbook. While the upfront costs can be higher, the operating costs of the client's building become lower. What's more, green renovations have the potential to add real dollars to a home or building when it comes time to re-sell.
It's also good for business. While the green renovation marketplace is still growing, building professionals can make a name for themselves providing services for clients with chemical sensitivities or young children, for example, or those who simply want to do right by the planet.