Live Green and Earn Points


A Green and Frugal Renovation

By Leah Ingram |
Here are three quick ways green choices that will also help you be pennywise while you renovate.
UPDATED: 04/25/11 | Originally Published: 06/04/09

The backhoe showed up in our driveway last week as our home renovation finally got underway. After months spent getting a survey of our land, then architects' drawings, then building permits, then brainstorming meetings with our builder, our renovation is a go.

What are we having done? Primarily, we are replacing the retaining walls in our backyard, but we're also having a 40' x 12', two-story addition built onto the back of the house — which will allow us to break free of our 10' x 10', circa-1960s kitchen, and finally have a dining room that fits a dining-room table. In addition, it will give us the mudroom and entrance out to the pool that this house desperately needs.

One of our goals when we embraced frugality two years ago was to save up for this renovation. Now that we've attained those financial goals, we are continuing to be pennywise with other areas of the renovation. In addition, whenever possible, we are trying to make the greenest choices. Here are some of the ways that we're acting both green and frugal during the renovation process:

Composting Landscaping Scraps

Our builder let us know that it costs him money to haul away any rubbish from our renovation. Since he needs to clear out a lot of greenery in order to make room for building, we're saving him (and us) money by having him compost the landscaping scraps. We have a wooded area across the street from our house, and any branches and greenery that aren't reusable are getting tossed there. If there are any plants that could be reused, I'm either keeping them for replanting in the front yard or giving them away on Freecycle.

Making a Few Extra Bucks on Clutter

Part of the renovation will involve demolishing the back wall of our house's second story and breaking through to my daughters' bathroom and one of my daughter's rooms. In preparation for that, we've been clearing out as much clutter from those rooms as possible. When I find something of value that I think I can make a few bucks on, I'm setting it aside so I can put an ad up on Craigslist. In addition to selling items, we now have an entire bookshelf of chapter books that my 6th grader hasn't been interested in reading for years, and last night I put those books up for a "swap" on While this doesn't actually put any money in my pocket per se, you earn credits for free books on PaperBackSwap when you give your old books away — so now I can use the free books I can get off PaperBackSwap to supplement my book habit when borrowing from the library isn't an option, and I can pass on a book, rather than dispose of it.

Giving Stuff Away on Freecycle

With all of this clutter we've been combing through, we've been dividing the stuff we find into different categories: Items we can sell (see the previous bullet point), donate to charity, or give away on Freecycle. As you know from my earlier Suddenly Frugal Seal of Approval for Freecycle post, I can't get enough of this notion of keeping items out of the trash stream by giving them away to others. So as we clear out clutter to prep the house for the renovation, I will continue to set aside items that I think someone else will want via Freecyle. Eventually, when we renovate our kitchen, I plan to give away our kitchen cabinets on Freecycle as well. We can't reuse them here, and I definitely don't want them going to the dump.

What are some other ways you might recommend that we think and act green and frugally during our renovation?

Leah Ingram is the author of Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less (Adams Media, 2010) and founder of the popular blog Suddenly Frugal.

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  • Elaine F. 7 years ago
    good to know.
  • 8 years ago
    Maybe you guys might want to make a little vegetable garden
  • 8 years ago
    Often times we have tshirts that are not in a good enough condition to pass on for wear. However Goodwill will pass these on to a 'recycler' of sorts who makes these into rags or cleaning cloths. Also towels, washcloths, and stuffed animals please take to your humane society or vet. They will appreciate recycling them in the cages while they care for the animals.

    If you have a 'yard sale'...all at once hand out paper bags and tell everyone whatever they put in their bag it all is $1., $5. whatever. People will be very creative with what they take!
  • 8 years ago
    Any reclaimable wood or other building materials/fixtures can be donated to habitat for humanity.
  • 8 years ago
    When we took out a wall I had used 2x4's.. I called them int to our local radio station on Swap Shop within a minute of me calling it in a man called and said he wanted them.. He took all of our used lumber he could get his hands on. Kept us from having to have them hauled away.
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