Is a Zero-Waste Home Renovation Possible?

Whether the prior owners of your home didn’t update the kitchen since the 1960s or the layout just doesn’t work for you, chances are your home will need to undergo a renovation or at least a minor makeover at some point in your life. And over the past few years, homeowners have doubled their remodeling efforts, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

But all the waste associated with a renovation—from old appliances and leftover materials to broken drywall and an abundance of packaging—feels inevitable and, for an ardent environmentalist, like a barrier to aesthetically upgrading a home. According to Houzz’s 2023 US Kitchen Trends study, over half of renovating homeowners are keeping environmental friendliness top of mind during projects.

But is it possible to do a zero-waste home renovation? “It can be done, and we do it every single day, but it’s a huge responsibility and it’s way harder than normal,” says Marshall Gobuty, the founder and managing partner of Pearl Homes, which constructs net-zero-energy homes.

Achieving zero-waste in a home renovation depends on several factors, such as the scope of the project and how innovative you can be with reused materials. It also depends on your definition of zero-waste. A stringent definition might include the waste that occurs along the supply chain that manufactures and transports products to your door—as well as how those products are handled at the end of their useful lives. Using a plastic item over a natural, untreated material, for example, would be overall more wasteful since such products are almost impossible to recycle.

Eliminating all waste may be a much more involved project, but if you simply want to minimize any waste that you directly create in a home renovation, there are plenty of ways to do so.

Resell or donate what you don’t reuse

Excess wallpaper, for instance, can be donated.

Photo: Irina/Getty Images

It might be hard to perfectly estimate what you need for a project ahead of time, but you can make sure any excess doesn’t go to waste by finding another use for it in the community. On Facebook, you can resell or give away what you don’t want through the Marketplace tab, or post in specific groups like Buy Nothing or Take My Shit. The NextDoor app also has a free and for sale section. And don’t sleep on Craigslist, either. Taking a social media hiatus? The Freecycle Network is another place to post unwanted goods that are still valuable, although what’s considered valuable varies from person to person.

Local community groups might be interested in taking items off your hands too. Think creatively about the organizations near you and what they might want, and then reach out to ask before showing up with the goods. A group that helps low-income neighbors repair their homes might want spare bathroom tiles, while a children’s support group could use extra paint and decals for classroom decoration or crafts.

Utilize secondhand products and reclaimed materials

Put your antiques to use.

Photo: Andreas von Einsiedel/Getty Images