Design for Life: Love the Home You're In

Unhappy with you're home? Consider an eco-remodel instead of buying new.

| September/October 2004

  • Don’t wait until you can build that dream home to live green—eco-remodeling the home you’re in now can be a more sustainable (and affordable) choice.
  • Don’t wait until you can build that dream home to live green—eco-remodeling the home you’re in now can be a more sustainable (and affordable) choice.

A friend recently told me about the house she hopes to build some day. Her expression was blissful as she described a place in the country, built of straw and earth, kissed by solar panels on the roof, surrounded by organic gardens fed by collected rainwater. Then she sighed, looked wistful, and said, “… if I can ever save up the money and figure out how to make a living in the country.” Meanwhile, she’s living in a house that’s crying out for her attention.

What’s wrong with this picture? We need to understand that ecological remodeling isn’t the poor cousin of brand-new eco-homes. It isn’t just something you do to appease yourself while waiting to build your dream house. Ecological remodeling can be every bit as good as building a new eco-home—and in some ways better. I’ve loved my share of earth and straw homes, and I understand the appeal of creating one from scratch. Unfortunately, we rarely factor in the destruction and consumption that accompany new building, no matter how green. And we often don’t realize how luscious and environmentally responsible our current homes can become.

Why should you eco-remodel?

Think of it this way: If you don’t improve the home you’re in, who will? Without some loving eco-attention, it will either sit there consuming resources or it will be torn down—a highly resource-consuming activity even if you recycle every piece. Consider the following reasons for staying where you are and uplifting your home:

• You’re recycling a whole building—in place. A lot of energy and materials have already been invested in your house; capitalize on that. You can use fewer resources to make your home more eco-friendly than you probably would if you started from scratch somewhere else.

• You aren’t destroying more open land. That bucolic image of the eco-homestead in the country comes with a not-so-lovely price tag: topsoil torn up and compacted; drainage patterns disturbed; plant and animal communities uprooted; vast material and energy resources consumed in construction; new roads, wells, and septic systems—and, all too often, greenhouse gases produced by driving to town for work and shopping.

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