How to Find an Eco-Friendly Contractor
Dreaming of transforming that fixer-upper into a sustainable, energy-saving wonderland? Can’t wait to see the finished Italiante on This Old House? If you have home renovations on the brain, finding a suitable contractor to fulfill these dreams can be a daunting task! And, there's a whole added layer involved when you're trying to find someone who shares your passion for protecting the planet. If you have the will and resources to invest more upfront in your home, you'll want to consider environmentally friendly renovations. Eco-friendly construction is based upon using materials and processes that capitalize on resource efficiency and sustainable practices that benefit the life cycle of your home, the home's inhabitants, and the environment.
This conversation has come up at so many staff meetings that we finally decided to put pen to paper and give you a step-by-step guide on how to find an environmentally friendly contractor. Hopefully, it will save you some of the flops and pains we've all experienced during home renovations!
1. Do Your Homework.
For starters, what's a ‘green building’? According to the EPA, green building is “increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use and harvest energy, water, and materials; and protecting and restoring human health and the environment, throughout the building life-cycle: sitting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction.”
Choosing a green design is better for your health, the environment, and potentially your wallet in the long run. Your friends or family can be amazing resources if they've gone through a renovation process already. Some recommended books on eco-friendly building to check out:
- Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction (Builder's Guide) by David Johnston
- Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods by Clarke Snell
- The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture by Alanna Stang
What type of renovation are you looking for? The first step to finding the right eco-friendly contractor is to outline the project scope. Is it a full renovation? Are you building from the ground up? Or, are you just looking to upgrade a few fixtures for energy savings? Write it down. Write it ALL down.
Then, after you have your dream ideas together, prioritize them. Do you care more about cost savings in the short term or the long term? Are ECOS Paints a must (we think so!), but sustainable insulation is not as important? Answering these questions now, will make your life much easier when your budget is almost maxed and you have to make some tough decisions (it happens!).3. Research Contractors in Your Area.
Put together a starter list of contractors in your area that seem qualified and advertise some green building education. The Energy Star website offers a list of builders by location, which can help get you started. Be sure to double check that everyone on your list is licensed! To find out, search ”[State Abbreviation] Contractors License Lookup.”
Once you've started a list, it’s time to make some phone calls and ask them to explain their green certifications. There is no government regulatory agency that license contractors specifically as "green," but there are a few quality certifications that an eco-friendly contractor could possess:
- National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) - ICC 700 National Green Building Standard
- National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) - Green Certified Professional (GCP)
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - LEED Professional Credentials
- Green Advantage (GA) - Green Advantage Certified Practitioner (GACP)
- Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) - Certified Green Contractor
Practica Consulting an Austin, TX-based green building consultant has a good list of interview questions to help get you started.4. Create Budgets & Contracts.
This step ties in back to our first step. Once you've narrowed down your contractor list to a solid two or three, request quotes and budgets. Then pull out that fabulous priority list you created and compare. How does each contractor measure up? What’s your gut feeling? Once you've picked a winner, sit down and confirm what products will be used for the project. If you choose ECOS Paints and non-toxic finishes*, order your free color samples right away to allow time for choosing your finishes and shipping time. Also, it goes without saying, make sure you both sign a contract agreeing to the work that is to be completed. Also make sure there is a clause for ‘what happens when the unexpected happens,’ because the unexpected frequently happens in home renovation!*Conforms to ASTMD-4236, specifically concerning oral toxicity, skin irritation and respiratory effects. 5. Get Started!
You will be ‘living’ with your contractor for the duration of the project and once it’s complete, so don’t skimp on this process. And, above all, remember patience. Transforming your home can be an amazingly fulfilling experience filled with learning curves and good, and sometimes not so good, surprises. Stay focused on what you want and remember it will be over soon enough.