I realize this post is only applicable to a certain audience: DIYers looking to renovate. That said, it is something my family worked really hard at and I thought it would be worth a share! Hopefully, if nothing else I can plant a seed for your own future projects and how you could do so more sustainably.
Home renovations come at a huge cost to both the renovator and the planet. Think about all the materials that get thrown away from flooring to appliances and furniture. These items aren’t just a few small bags of household waste. They take up an enormous amount of space in the landfill with next to nothing being biodegradable. This is just referring to demolition waste, which doesn’t include the waste created during renovation and repairing the home.
According to Recycling Council of Alberta Conference CRD Waste (referring to Construction, Renovation & Demolition) accounts for 16% or 4 million tonnes of the solid waste in Canada per year. They also report that while some of the waste is recycled, most is disposed of in landfills.(source)
Our house is fairly old, it was built in the early 70’s and when we moved in the basement wasn’t a usable space. The electrical was really unsafe and not up to code (special thanks to my red seal electrician sister-in-law for solving that disaster!). The bathroom was falling apart and didn’t have a working shower. The space was divided into tiny rooms, not all drywalled or with usable flooring.
If the project had landed on my shoulders I would have had to hire someone or leave it as is. But my husband and his parents are incredible at DIY projects and did it ALL themselves. They completely gutted the basement, re-did the electrical, some framing, and redesigned the space. There were also some small changes we made upstairs which I will share as well.
Because we did everything ourselves (Hah! No, they did it and I made suppers/bought beer), we were able to control the whole process. This was very important to me. It saved us THOUSANDS of dollars and it reduced a lot of waste! While I didn’t do much labour-wise, I did have a huge hand in the money and waste saving end of things.
Assess What Can be Kept
This is very important! When you watch home renovation shows they have a solid 10 minute chunk of the episode where everyone is sledge hammering and having a big ol’ destruction party. WHYYYYY?! This is crazy wasteful. Not everything needs to go, a lot can actually still be used within your space, and if not very little needs to be thrown away!
So we decided a lot of the current drywall, especially on the outer edges where walls were still in-tact could stay as is. We also kept all of the insulation after we rearranged the walls. The toilet in the bathroom worked just fine and could be kept. After all, a white porcelain toilet is just a white porcelain toilet. We also kept the taps and installed them on the new vanity, as well as the mirror. The laundry room flooring and closet could stay as it (its a laundry room- not a spa). Everything works great its just not beautiful. We did change out the shelving because it was incredibly impractical and moved it into the storage closet. My in-laws had a cabinet left over from an old renovation project still in the box that we installed instead. It completely transformed the space.
LIST LIST LIST
You would be amazed at what people need or are in search of. Prior to gutting everything, our basement walls were covered in cedar panelling. Some rooms were floor to ceiling panels on all four walls. We were going for a more timeless look so we carefully pulled off the paneling and I listed it on local buy/sell sites. We sold it in two batches and it was gone almost instantly. One buyer was making a sauna and I think the other was doing a DIY project. Since cedar wood is expensive we actually made quite a bit of money off of it which paid for the replacement drywall and then some.
There were old fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling in every room. We also listed those for a few dollars and a man bought them for his workshop. We had several doors from the divided up rooms and I must admit I wanted a more modern look so we also listed them (except the one to the laundry room closet because it didn’t really need to be changed). A woman took all but one for a project. The last door we set out on our lawn during our local “freecycle” event where people take unwanted items you leave out and it was picked up by a couple. Just by listing those 3 big items we saved about 5 truck loads from the landfill. In some cases we actually made a little money, and every truck load we avoided taking to the dump saved us waste fees as well.
Source Out Materials
This is where we saved the majority of our costs that weren’t labour related. It takes a little longer to check local buy/sell sites and community stores such as “Habitat for Humanity” than it does to walk into your nearest home improvement store and order everything new. However, the extra time and effort can save you a substantial amount of money and several large scale items from hitting the landfill. There are other people renovating who are also trying to get rid of items, buy too much of something, or decide they don’t like something in their space. It is extremely common for people to order too much of something or for homeowners to not want something the builder put in. Contractors often have leftover boxes of tiles, flooring, etc. listed on buy/sell sites that can’t be returned. If you take the time you will likely find exactly what you need.
I had time to source out drywall while they were demolishing and I was super pleased with what I found. People often buy a few too many sheets when doing a project because it’s safer to over estimate than run out of material. I found almost all the sheets we needed from a man who severely over estimated and couldn’t return them. I got them at half price too!
For our downstairs bathroom my sister-in-law gave us a brand new light fixture that was unwanted from a home she did electrical work in ($0). We also built shelving from left over building materials my in-laws had ($0).
Our bar area is almost entirely done with used materials. The bar sink I found on a buy/sell site from a couple who never got around to installing it in their house ($25 CAD). The bar counter top was made from an old piece of wood my in-laws had that they cut, then whitewashed and varnished ($0). The structure holding the bar was also old wood that we painted. The shelving is old pipe my husband found and spray painted black ($5 for spray paint), the wood he did buy then stained and cut to size.
The closet doors I also got at “Habitat for Humanity” ($15), we just added a coat of white paint and the shelves inside were made from recycled building material. The water cupboard my husband made from two cabinet doors that he linked together and we painted white, also found at “Habitat for Humanity” ($4).
I think the most cost effective and environmental find was the carpet. We were initially going to keep the bedroom carpets as they were but we had a flood and they became unusable. My husband found on the local buy/sell site rolls of carpet being given away for free with the underlay and tack strips. The family that owned it was installing hardwood and didn’t want to throw it out. All we had to do was pick it up, vacuum/shampoo it, cut it to size and lay it ($0). Most people say “oh wow, we love your brand new carpets” when they tour the basement. No one has any idea they are 10 years old and cost absolutely nothing.
For small changes to our upstairs area I found light fixtures at “Habitat for Humanity”. We were also able to get a used vanity top from friends for our bathroom which updated the look significantly.
I tried really hard to source out tile for the backsplash and vinyl flooring but I just couldn’t find enough for our space.
Furnish & Decorate With Second Hand or DIY
Don’t go out and buy everything new. Especially if you have the means to shop used. It will save you lot of money, and those large scale items find a new home instead of ending up in the landfill. We couldn’t afford to furnish our home with brand new pieces, nor did I want to. We have a toddler and a dog, so brand new couches quickly turn into well-used. And the thrifted clock on the wall looks just as cute as a new one. Here are a few pictures of the finished basement. In an upcoming post I will share all about the furniture we thrifted, made or upcycled.
Would you consider renovating with used materials? Do you have any eco reno hacks? Please share below!