Have Your Say: How can we do home renovations with a green and socially conscious twist?

Home construction

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

Is it just us, or does anyone else associate summer with house paint and drywall dust?

Some kids go to camp on school breaks. We joke about our parents being thrifty teachers who enlisted us in home renos, long before fixing up old houses to resell them became a trend. We were a do-it-yourself family who learned carpentry and plumbing on the fly. Our friend, the local hardware store clerk, was our coach.

Canadians have doubled their spending on home renos since the 1990s, to nearly $64-billion a year. Construction, renovation and demolition waste represents about one-third of the 20 million tonnes of solid waste sent to landfill in Canada each year, according to Public Works.

The upside is both demand and supply are growing for environmentally and socially conscious building options. A 2013 survey by Scotiabank found that close to half of Canadians considering renos are even willing to pay more for green alternatives, and new technology (like WiFi thermostats you can control from anywhere with your mobile device) is making those choices easier.

Meanwhile, social enterprises like EMBERS Green Renovations in Vancouver, and Inner City Renovations in Winnipeg, are making homes beautiful while also employing marginalized people so they can gain job skills and needed income. A friend of ours hired a local general contractor who was looking for a fresh start after mental health challenges had left him unemployed.

From lumber to insulation, renewing your home can help restore the planet, and let you showcase your sense of style and conscience at the same time.

This week’s question: What is your best tip for an eco- or socially conscious home reno?

THE EXPERTS:

Mike Holmes, contractor and host, Holmes Makes it Right on HGTV Canada

“First, make sure your home is properly insulated and sealed so you use less energy. Choose materials that are durable and recyclable, like a metal roof, and if you’re replacing your roof check if your local recycling depot will take your old asphalt shingles.

Mark Hutchinson, director, Canada Green Building Council, Ottawa

“Look for products that release fewer or zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Paint labels list VOC content. Furniture, cabinets and countertops will carry environmental labels, such as GREENGUARD certification. Also. ask sales clerks about toxic flame retardants in carpets and furniture, and cabinetry that is formaldehyde-free.”

Richard Briginshaw, coordinator of the green architecture program, Algonquin College, Ottawa

“Don’t demolish – deconstruct. Carefully remove materials (such as old doors) so they can be reused. If you can’t use them yourself, find local outlets that sell salvaged materials, like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. If it can’t be reused, visit your local recycling station to see what materials they accept. Aim for zero waste!”