Homeowners should confirm credentials before hiring a contractor who advertises eco-friendly building and remodeling
As an eco-conscious homeowner, you likely read the labels at the grocery store, use reusable bags and less plastic, minimize your home’s energy consumption, and make many other choices that contribute to lessening your environmental impact. And when it comes to making home renovation decisions, the need for information and transparency around green practices can feel doubly important.
This guide will help you know what to look for and how to find an eco-friendly contractor.
Define Your Project Scope
Before getting started, you first have to know what you want. Clearly outlining your home renovation goals and establishing eco-friendly options can help you better understand and communicate your desired outcomes for the project.
A few starting questions to consider include:
What is your budget?
What part of the house are you renovating?
What are some unsustainable materials and practices to avoid for this project type?
Which eco-friendly options or alternatives are available for your project?
Is your budget capable of supporting these alternatives?
What’s the timeframe for completing your project?
Setting up your project scope paints a better picture of what you can get with your budget while helping ensure the sustainability of your renovation.
Do Your Homework
Once you’ve established your goals, it’s time to do some research on eco-friendly businesses near you. As more companies tout green products and services, it’s more important than ever to make sure your contractor understands eco-friendly techniques and truly practices them.
Check out online reviews, testimonials, and company websites to gather an accurate picture of prospective contractors’ practices. You can easily search for local green contractors near you to determine whether a contractor has:
Committed to using green products or work practices
Become a member of green building organizations
Reported various green certifications
Certifications to Look for in Eco-Friendly Companies
"Green" is interpreted in a number of different ways across the home-building industry. For example, LEED certification means that an independent, third-party verifies that a home meets high-performance standards in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Meanwhile, contractors certified as green professionals by the National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry must document experience and training.
As a reference, the following certifications mean your contractor has gone to the lengths needed to establish that eco-friendly label:
Green Plumbers USA membership
National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) certification
Use of ENERGY STAR-certified products
Carbonfree product certification
Participation in sustainable nonprofits, such as the National Association of Home Builders, Wildlife Habitat Council, or Carbonfund
Compare Your Options
You’ve researched local contractors and confirmed their credentials: check and check. Now it's time to reach out to the companies and receive an estimate on your project's cost, process, deliverables, and timeline.
It’s a good idea to have a few options on your list as you go about this, as it helps you determine if the estimates are reasonable. Some companies may have a clearer definition of the project scope than others, while others might use more sustainable materials. When deciding on an eco-friendly contractor for your home, compare each company and weigh the pros and cons by asking a set series of questions before making your final choice.
Questions to Ask Your Pro
A few questions worth asking include:
Where do you get your materials or products from?
What was the last sustainable project you completed?
Do you use renewable energy to fuel your equipment?
How do you dispose of waste from the job site?
Depending on your project, there may be more specific questions to include. For example, if you’re inquiring about a new roof, information about solar installations, waste management procedures, and energy-efficient materials can be helpful. Or, if you want to repair a deck, you’ll likely want to ask your pro where they source the material from and what they’ll do with the old wood.
Watch Out for Greenwashing
A healthy dose of skepticism benefits all consumers and helps to identify any instances of greenwashing—a term used when a company falsely proclaims to be environmentally friendly.
Some companies may create a false sense of sustainability by inflating community involvement without supporting environmental commitment. So you'll want to look for a company's sustainability pledge or mission statement when viewing their website to help verify the use of eco-friendly construction, products, materials, and practices.
In fact, inflated sustainability was a major concern for the U.S. government as far back as 2009, when the U.S. Government Accountability Office looked into how the Energy Star program lacked effective controls to prevent fraud and abuse. Fortunately, the EPA and the Department of Energy implemented significant changes to improve the quality of consumer products and transparency. The EPA decided to expand its testing to verify eco-friendly companies and products and even created a pilot program that helps showcase the most efficient Energy Star products.
Make a Payment Plan
Before you sign off on that contract, read the fine print. Your contractor should have insurance and bonding, if applicable. Avoid companies that try to get you to pay 100% upfront, as this may be a sign that they’re less reputable. Instead, check with your state’s requirements for upfront costs when hiring a contractor. Most states require a maximum of 33% of your total project price.