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How green is your reno? Add to ...

More and more homeowners want their renovation to be as green as it can be, and I think that's a great thing. But it's important you understand there are different shades of green.

Different products use the "green" as part of their marketing strategy, and in truth it's a lot of crap. A lot of that stuff isn't green at all. When we use green products in our building, we want to make that we understand what is really green - and a big part of that means you have to do your research.

Green building is about systems and integration.

You need to think cradle-to-cradle. If a building material you'd like to use isn't biological - meaning that it completely biodegrades and decomposes without affecting the natural environment - then it should be a non-toxic and non-harmful synthetic that lasts a long time and has no negative effects on the environment.

That's a lot to ask for a product, and a lot to expect a homeowner to learn. How much is the average person supposed to understand? Isn't it tough enough managing your renovation, finding a good contractor and keeping your project on track?

Who's going to pay for it?

Many "green" home-construction features have a higher upfront cost than standard products. But how many new-home buyers are willing to pay extra? Especially if they don't really understand what green means and what they are paying for.

Going green usually costs more upfront in a renovation, but you save money over the long run. And, if you are staying in your home, that money will be returned to you.

I've never been a fan of flipping houses for profit. I think you should invest in your house and make it your home. People who are in it for a quick buck or for profit won't be the ones to invest in green technology that will take years to pay back - and that's a shame.

What makes it green?

Saying something is "natural" doesn't necessarily make it good. Asbestos is natural. So is mould. It's a good idea to look for third-party certifications (EcoLogo and Green Seal are great) so you know the product has been tested and passed.

There are lots of reasons a product can be called "green," including:

It's made of recycled or salvaged material.

It uses environmentally safe and healthy materials.

It lasts a very long time and won't need to be replaced soon.

It's made with a rapidly renewable resource that can be harvested frequently (such as straw bales, bamboo).

It results in low or no emission of toxic chemicals into the air.

No toxins result from its manufacture.

It saves energy and water, is energy-efficient, or uses renewable energy

But there are other questions to ask yourself:

How is the material harvested, processed, shipped and transported?

Some products are "green" but are they green across their entire lifecycle? For example, a wood that claims to be green for flooring may involve improper forestry and transportation.

Has it been around a while? Some products are new on the market and haven't been fully tested in the field. And few green products have been around for, say, 20 years, so we can't really say from experience how well they last.

How green can you go?

There are shades of green. Some people are committed to being energy-efficient and resource-efficient and build with locally available, sustainably harvested renewable resources that are non-toxic.

Other homeowners may build with conventional materials but finish off with natural-fibre carpets, energy-efficient appliances and low-VOC paints.

Some products are recycled and recyclable, which is a great selling feature, but maybe it's not such a great product in the end - maybe it won't last long. Maybe it's only partly recycled. Check it out. Does the product use pre- or post-consumer materials in its manufacture? It's "greener" if the recycled material is post-consumer waste, instead of postindustrial waste. Consumer waste is more likely to end up in a landfill.

Green Design

Green design includes many things, such as:

Greater energy efficiency (programmable thermostats, increased insulation, a better constructed building envelope, high efficiency windows and doors).

Improved indoor air quality (hardwood/tile over carpet, no/low VOC materials, high-efficiency ventilation).

Water conservation (recycling rainwater for landscape irrigation/car washing to conserve water and reduce load on sewer system; low-flow showers and toilets).

The first step to increase energy efficiency is to add insulation, caulking and weather stripping wherever possible; install double-glazed/low-E windows; and upgrade to high-efficiency appliances. The money you spend on better insulation and windows will start saving you money right away.

You'd think a house made of 100-per-cent wood, such as a log cabin, would be very "green" because it's all-organic.

But wood is not a great insulator and it will lose a lot of heat in winter. It's not energy-efficient, so how green is it?

Other energy upgrades and choices include installing solar water preheaters, photovoltaic solar panels, or having your "green power" generated from renewable sources such as the sun, wind and biomass.

Mike Holmes is the host

of Holmes on Homes on HGTV.

For more information, go to http://www.holmesonhomes.com

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