We just recently moved into our new condo and had a few things to repair and renovate to make it ours. I was daunted at the work ahead of us, but also the fact that I wanted to ensure we didn’t generate so much waste in the process. Home renovations can be one of the most wasteful processes out there. Sometimes, we don’t see it because we only see the final end result. This was also our first major project as we’ve been renters all of this time. The reality though is that it’s nearly impossible to do a home renovation without generating waste, but there are steps that you can do to reduce waste and harm to the environment.
As with anything, while we all strive to reduce our waste as much as possible and "zero waste" is a term that subscribes to everything being used, zero waste is also a spectrum in which we try to reduce our waste was much as we can given our time, resources and abilities.
Below are some of the items we did ahead of time to prep for this process and some of the lessons learned along the way. Of course, given enough time, resources and skills, it's possible to source your home needs locally or secondhand. For us, we tried our best and this was the result. The good news is that next time, we will know where to go or how to go about solving a problem for a more eco-friendly home.
I also want to add a quick comment because I think this is the only post where it will make sense. I loved HGTV growing up. We constantly watched it and I think because of that a part of me, as I am sure, many of you feel like they can be interior designers too. HGTV is beautiful for the inspiration it provides, but it also makes us compare our homes to each other's very easily and we end up finding that it's too outdated, too small, too this and that, when it is probably fine to begin with. So a word of caution too as you delve into home renovations to make it your own. If there's nothing wrong with it, be careful to spend the money, time and resources to update it to someone else's trendy aesthetic.
We opted to paint our entire kitchen, dining room and living room. This sounds like a lot, but we have a space of around 700 square feet so in the grand scheme of things, this was a small space. This was also the easiest thing to do that did not require a lot of new equipment, a lot of money and a lot of skill. Seriously, painting is such an underrated home improvement to-do A little bit goes a long way to changing the entire look of a room.
We first tried to see if there were any paints available that people returned. I’m not sure if you know this, but paint returns are pretty common especially if there were mixed incorrectly and do not match the previous paint color. There’s a section in the paint section of paint returns that you can browse. Doing so will allow you to save some money and use up a paint that might eventually go to waste. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a color that we liked so we opted to get new ones mixed.
Use calculators to determine how much paint you really need to reduce excess. Paint actually has a very long lifespan, but sometime it gets forgotten under the sink or the garage for years. By reducing excess paint, you reduce waste. It’s always a good rule of thumb that if you are painting over a dark wall with a light paint, a second coat might be necessary, but a light wall with new dark paint usually can be painted over with one coat. There are so many calculators out there, so find one that works for you, we used Valspar Paint Calculator.
Opt for water based paints with low VOC. While they still contain toxic substances, it’s greatly reduced. Water based stains use water instead of petroleum-derived solvents. As the paint dries, the solvents evaporate into volatile organic compounds. Studies have shown that low or free VOC paint are less likely to worsen an asthmatic’s symptoms. So keep this in mind if you have kids or you yourself experience these symptoms.
Paint can make its way to the water systems when washing brushes, hands and other paint equipment so being diligent about which paint to use can reduce harm to the environment. Washing brushes properly also allows it to be used another time, reducing waste and giving brushes more life. In most cases, using a water based paint means just removing the excess paint, washing in warm, soapy water and letting the brush dry completely. Find more tips here on how to clean paint brushes.
Instead of purchasing new or plastic drop cloths, consider using an old sheet that you are no longer using. These can be used multiple times thus negating the need to purchase one each time you paint. They are also easier to clean up. Consider cutting up old shirts to use as wipes for the eventual paint splash instead of using paper towels. During our painting process, I actually used Skoy Cloths and was able to use 1 sheet for the entire process. They are easy to clean and could easily wipe water based paint. Another reason why I like that product.
We didn’t need to purchase a lot of furniture, mostly because we wanted to keep our new place minimal and because we also were able to get a lot of items from my parents house. (They are moving and had many things to discard). So instead of buying new, we opted to get a lot of secondhand items. The only two things we purchased were a new mattress and a new bed frame. The new mattress (full review on this later) was necessary for us as we’d had our old one for over 10 years and after searching a few weeks for a second hand bed frame, could not find one that fit our new mattress. We opted to purchase a natural memory foam which is pretty heavy plus two adults, we needed something durable. All of the other furniture was bought on eBay, found or built by us.
Appliances already came with the condo, but in our initial research, we stopped by Habit for Humanity Restore across NJ and found lots of appliances to reuse. Furniture can also be purchased second hand from family/friends, on Craigslist, Facebook, NextDoor, etc. There are so many options to save money on furniture and keep a few things from going to the landfill.
I didn't know that there were a few Habitat for Humanity Restores in NJ. I was surprised at how much inventory they had as well. From furniture, to tile, to vanities, the list was endless. This is a great resource especially if you are looking to renovate a small space. Not only will you be able to get new pieces at a significant discount, but again it's a few less things in the landfill. I followed a few Restores on Facebook to see the kind of inventory they had and would recommend doing the same thing since the inventory updates fairly often so you'll never know what you can find. So not only can you find items at the ReStores, you can also donate there too! Check nearby Restores by you and of course check out other places that may sell construction materials.
So we did a complete bathroom renovation to fix it up which incurred a lot of materials that we purchased and many that did not get used. The good news is that Home Depot, our original source of such materials readily accepts unused materials. If you have the receipt and the tags, you can return items for a refund or a store credit. Good news to this too is that most tile is sold per piece so if you purchase a whole box, but only use half, you can return the rest. I think this is a great option so that you don't end up storing things you are never going to use and regain back some of the money.
For materials that have been used and are still in great condition, donate them. Post them on the usual channels, someone out there is looking for something. Let it go and allow it to find a new home.
Don't forget that you can also borrow materials and equipment should you need to. Home Depot and Lowe's allow you to borrow tools and trucks. Why get something that you'll only use for this one project when you can just borrow for a few hours or days? It'll be one less thing you have to worry about once you're done with it. Also, ask friends if they have ladders, vacuums, etc. that you can use.
Construction materials are generally not allowed in regular home waste bins. They require special permission or a permit to be thrown out, so check your town or your contractor to make sure they are following through on rules. Unfortunately, construction is definitely not a zero waste effort. Of course, we can strive to reduce as much waste as possible. If you have control over the disposal, bundle your items together: wood, metals, plastics, paints, etc. This will make it easier for disposal.
- Metals, plastics, paints can normally be dropped off at your local town recycling center. Note too that a few people may pick up metals for free to sell so another option.
- We had a a bunch of Styrofoam from a new bathroom vanity and our bed frame and thankfully someone from our Zero Waste NJ Facebook Group mentioned a drop off place close to my husband's work where they accept and recycle it so we were able to get those dropped off. In case you are in NJ, it is Foam Pack Industries in Springfield , NJ and they have a bin outside that tells you what is accepted.
- We reused the cardboard moving boxes to line our walls and floors during the renovation to reduce scratches and damage, then recycled those after it was used.
- Large plastic bags were dropped off at various locations: Home Depot, Lowe.s, the local library.
- Excess construction materials can be given to contractors to be used for the next job. Some will appreciate this and if you have absolutely no need and cannot return this, might as well give them new homes instead of languishing in the garage or basement.
So yes, there's many ways to reduce, reuse and recycle what you have to reduce the waste generated from a home renovation. Hopefully, we won't have to renovate as often because damn it's time consuming, but now we know were to go and how to find things secondhand.
Are you renovating? How have you discarded items?