One of the basic tenets of sustainable design is reduce, reuse, recycle. However, we often see residential projects—both new construction and renovations—that ignore this basic principle. The U.S Green Building Council estimates nearly 30 percent of the waste generated in the United States is from the construction industry with half of the nearly 325 millions tons of waste coming directly from residential construction.
These figures are staggering and, sadly, are only one side of the puzzle. We haven’t even quantified the emissions or energy needed to power these homes after they are built nor have we looked at Life Cycle Analysis of products we place within the home. However, we must not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed. How can we get back to the basics, on every project, and reduce, reuse, recycle?
On residential design projects, how can we reduce the amount of waste generated on the job site? While we won’t advocate forgoing a major renovation in order to be more green, we do advocate smart redesign that makes the most of existing conditions. This may mean keeping much of an original floor plan minus some strategic walls to open the space or it may mean removing the majority of the walls to allow more natural light into space. Design is always site-specific.
With reuse, we really think of repurposing. We also think of the additional 3 R’s of green interior design—repair, reconstruct, and recreate. Don’t remove an entire floor if there are patches that are damaged—try and repair. Don’t demo a bathroom for a few cracked tiles—design a solution. Sometimes people are too quick to think demo, demo, demo and forget to look at what elements actually work within the space or what elements could work within the space.
Interior furnishings, decor, and built-ins are another instance in which to consider reuse.
Lacquering old wooden furniture is one of the easiest and savviest ways to give new life to an outdated item. For built-ins, spray-coating existing cabinets is often an easy way to reuse an expensive, labor-intensive item in the home. Lastly, rearrange. Mix things up. Consider unique pairings—how would your dining area look with new chairs? Perhaps a set of vintage chairs is all you need to add character and dimension. There are so many great local sources for high quality second-hand furniture—both collectable and non-collectable—in Nashville and the surrounding areas, that it is worth exploring! You never know what you might find or what you might be inspired to create.
Have you ever noticed the huge dumpsters parked outside residential construction projects and asked yourself, where is the recycling dumpster? So much of the waste generated on job sites is recyclable. Items such as kitchen cabinets or existing windows are materials that can be donated or even sold to retailers specializing in repurposing. Don’t forget that Habitat will come and remove existing cabinets for you at no charge!
And finally, when adding new products to your home, look for items with recycled content and products that are recyclable. Carpet is a product that has traditionally been manufactured with nylon and polyester that is not recyclable. However, there are many great carpets on the market today that is made of recycled content and, at the end of their life, are recyclable. Try to eliminate and reduce the amount of raw material being extracted from the earth by using materials manufactured out of recycled content.
—By Kate Gray Fudim
Editor’s Note: Kate Gray Fudim is an interior designer with Beth Haley Design. Kate has a master’s degree in Interior Architecture and Design with an emphasis on sustainable design. Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, focuses on remodeling and revitalizing established homes, as well as creating stimulating, functional, sustainable spaces in new homes.. E-mail your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit