5 Tips for a Zero Waste Home Renovation (That Could Save You Money)


Without saying anything I’m sure you can come to the conclusion on your own that renovations can and typically are incredibly wasteful. But they definitely don’t have to be!

My husband and I live in an 1888 Victorian. We love our home and all of the charming character it holds. When we start a new renovation project it’s to make the house function for us while preserving original details to keep the charm and warmth of the house. While restoring can be just as wasteful as typical renovations it does help us limit our waste in some ways because we put a focus on repairing some older elements before buying new. But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to construction waste.

It’s important to understand that the term “zero-waste” is a spectrum of how wasteful or sustainable a product is. To be literal about the term “zero-waste” would be to say that a product has absolutely no carbon footprint, meaning it hasn’t emitted GHG emissions at some point during its life cycle, which is nearly impossible. So don’t get too hung up on that term. Focus more on how big or little of an environmental impact you’re having if you undertake renovations.

Here are 6 ways to reduce your waste for your next home reno:

1. Timing and Planning

Before starting your renovation spend time planning it out. What can be saved? What tools/products/furnishings will you need? What’s your budget? All these details will help you get organized and give you time to source materials you need from sustainable options. Otherwise, in the thick of it you’ll realize you need something and more likely that not it’ll be the easiest thing to run to the nearest hardware store and buy without the consideration of wast

We are currently renovating our attic. We know it’s going to be a lengthy renovation which isn’t a bad thing! In fact, it means that as we near the finish line next year, it’ll be right around garage sale season. Planning it out this way means that we can start looking for items to furnish our attic with and we won’t need to store them for long (if at all) before we’re ready for them. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Meet Sally-Ann

Second hand shopping can be a great way to reduce waste and there are many ways to do it! By shopping second hand you are saving the resources that would otherwise go into producing and manufacturing something new. Shopping second-hand doesn’t just mean garage sales. Although, springtime is when people start purging and clearing out their basements and you might just find that perfect gem!

There are many ways to thrift and it’s not always used items:

Light Fixture from Habitat for Humanity Restore

Light Fixture from Habitat for Humanity Restore

  • Habitat for Humanity Restore - There are locations all over the world! It’s a homebuilding and supply store that sells (and accepts) new or gently used home furnishings that would otherwise end up in a landfill. The store raises funds that go towards Habitat for Humanity homebuilding projects. It’s both a socially and environmentally responsible business. We recently purchased this light fixture that we will use in the attic. Originally $199. Paid $75, the box had never even been opened and it’s in perfect working condition.

  • Open Box & Refurbishing Stores - There are a lot of these and they all go by different names. This is a great way to get appliances, gadgets, TV’s, etc… because they haven’t been used. Either the box has been opened and returned or there was a defect that rendered it imperfect. Sometimes the defect is as small as a pin sized scratch on the back side of a blender but since it’s not in “perfect” condition it’s sold for a fraction of the price.

  • Salvaged Materials - Why buy new if you can salvage beautiful rustic wood for flooring, staircases, bookcases, shelving, tables, and anything really! That’s exactly what we’re doing with this huge pile of wood we hand picked and salvaged from our friend’s farm. They are restoration pros and have a natural knack for finding beautiful pieces. This is just a small chunk of the wood they’ve salvaged from barns, yard sales, and probably many other places. The price point between this salvaged wood and buying new wood that slightly mimics this look at a far less quality is comparable in cost. Except this stunning rustic wood means no extra trees were cut down, no resources spent on milling and long-haul transportation, incredibly durable and high quality, pure wood (no laminate), and character we could once only dream of! But… This is where planning and time come into play again. We will have to plane each piece of wood and find the right pattern as each piece is unique. I can’t wait until the finish result!


3. Repair

Before you begin with the demo phase of your reno go through your space and decide what can be salvaged and repaired. This could be anything from trim to lighting figures. This is also a good way to even make a few bucks on your reno. If you see something worth saving but you don’t necessarily think it will fit into the newly renovated design sell it online. The saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” may be cliche, but it’s cliche for a reason!

Some components we’ve saved and reincorporated are the original trim, door and window frames, outdoor window shutters, heating vents, railings and spindles, among others. Full disclosure: Scraping and repainting the shutters piece by piece was hands down my least favourite reno project so far! Even more so than scraping and repainting our entire house to salvage the natural wood siding! While we’ve reused these items for their intended purpose don’t be afraid to get creative and reinvent their purpose. For example: using trim to make picture frames for a gallery wall, old windows into wall or garden art. Check out the Family Handyman’s blog for 80 old items fantastically fit for repurposing.

4. Energy-Efficient Upgrades

Think beyond the renovation. How will you continue to reduce your waste afterwards? A great way to do this is to ensure your home is as efficient as possible. Take the opportunity to upgrade your insulation and windows to the most energy-efficient option. This is one area that may cost a bit more upfront but will undoubtedly pay for itself overtime, several times over!

5. Splash Some Paint

Painting is one of the easiest, fastest, and most satisfying way to upgrade a room in a pinch. There are a couple ways you can cut back on waste in this area. Firstly, calculate how much paint you need. Simply type in “paint calculator” on the internet and a whole bunch of options will pop up. This will help you determine exactly how much you need so that you don’t overbuy (or underbuy).

If you have an exact colour in mind that you want there are several brands that have come our with eco-friendly, toxic-free paints that are free of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) or contain very minimal amounts. In order of price per gallon here are a few that I’ve found:

  • Behr - Premium Plus

  • Claire Paint

  • BioShield

  • Benjamin Moore - Natura

If you’re not set on a specific colour and you’re open to seeing what’s out there then check out the ‘miss-tints'. Most paint stores including Benjamin Moore and Home Hardware will sell their miss-tints at a discounted rate. These are paints that have been returned because they either weren’t mixed to the exact colour the customer wanted or the customer simply didn’t like it once they tried it at home. Sometimes these miss-tints are displayed in the store with colour samples on the wooden mixing sticks, other times they’re not displayed and you have to ask what they have available. I did a little investigating and found out that Home Hardware offers their miss-tints anywhere from $2.99 - $20.00 depending on size and brand of paint.

6. Drop Cloths and Sheeting

Depending on your renovation it can get very dusty and messy so you’ll probably want to seal it off from the rest of your home. Plastic sheeting is typically used in this instance. One way to use this without buying new is to ask friends/family or contractors you know if they have any used sheeting that they’re planning on throwing out anyway. Alternatively, old sheets make great barriers and drop cloths. If you don’t have any old sheets of your own, consider borrowing drop sheets from someone you know or buy old sheets from a thrift store. The good thing about both the plastic sheeting and drop sheets is that they’re quite durable. We have been using the same piece of plastic sheeting and drop sheets for 7 years with every renovation we do.

I wish you the best of luck on your next low-waste renovation!