Remodel Safely: 10 Tips for Greening the Process

We spend a lot of time talking about the benefits of green products and materials, but making way for the new can sometimes be the most important part of the process. While it can be tempting to just pick up a sledge hammer and go to town, older homes may contain hazardous materials that can become a real health concern during demolition. For a remodel that's safer and smarter, check out these ten tips (all based on personal experience)!

Even if you've finally mastered a greener lifestyle, a renovation project can quickly turn those practices upside down. Keep a clean work site (and conscience!) with these ten tips:

1. Study up: Learn what kinda of unhealthy substances might be in your home and then perform a thorough walk-through to identify problem areas. To start, check out this post about highly toxic old household products.

2. Stock up on safety gear: Proper safety gear is always a good investment and if you have it on hand, you're more likely to use it. Understand the difference between the various masks, gloves and eye protection and use the gear best suited for your job.

3. Before you demo, look for opportunities for reuse: Many building products (like flooring, cabinets, trim, doors, etc.) can be donated or sold to local salvage companies. Better yet, often times they will come out to your house and do the work for you!

4. When in doubt, get it tested: Some toxins (like lead and asbestos) are difficult if not impossible to detect just by looking. If you're at all unsure, gather small samples and send them to a testing lab. It's a small fee, but worth the peace of mind.

5. Be smart about removing hazardous material: First, consider what will be involved. Old duct work can sometimes have asbestos duct tape, but if this means you'll be crawling all over your home and in confined spaces, it might be a job better suited to the pros (who will employ additional safety measures like depressurization). If the job is less involved (like removing a small piece of flooring), take every precaution and find out how to properly dispose of hazardous materials.

6. Sometimes encapsulation is better than removal: Toxins like lead and asbestos are more hazardous during demolition when small pieces become airborne and find their way into our lungs. If paint or asbestos removal isn't necessary, encapsulate it instead.

7. Avoid unnecessary chemicals: There is a plethora of products on the market that make it easier to remove paints, wallpaper, flooring, etc. but they might be doing more harm than good. Find out if there is a safer product or procedure.

8. Be smart about waste: During a remodel, it's tempting to just rent a big dumpster and not think about where it's going. In many cities, there are companies or organizations that will recycle certain used building materials. Alternatively, Craigslist and Freecycle are also great resources for salvaged materials.

9. Keep tabs on energy and water use: If you're exposing part of your home to the elements, take the time to properly seal openings at the end of the day and adjust your thermostat accordingly. If possible, plan projects for certain times of year that will be less of a strain on energy bills. Renovation projects can also require a lot of rinsing - if you're in the middle of a painting project, try wrapping the brush in plastic and putting it in the freezer or fridge instead and save water.

10. Don't slack on your green living habits: A renovation can be an overwhelming and stressful experience and it's easy to fall back into old bad habits. Before starting a project, make a plan on how you can continue to reduce household waste, avoid toxic cleaning products, and conserve energy - and stick to it!

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(Image: Chris Hill/Shutterstock )