Renovate Your Home to Make it Warm and Eco-Friendly

Not many people can afford to totally remodel their homes when they want to upgrade and improve their living environment. But there are many different ways to renovate houses relatively inexpensively, depending, of course, on your needs and desires.

While all home renovations aim to improve the house and home environment, if you want to improve the sustainability of your home and make it warm and eco-friendly, there are certain elements you’re going to need to focus on.

These range from heating and ventilation to interior décor and finishes. Just changing the color of internal walls and paying attention to furnishings can transform the look and feel of a room, making it much cozier and inviting. Rethinking and upgrading heating and cooling methods to more sustainable, energy-efficient systems can make a real difference to your life, both in terms of cost and comfort.

A stylish, modern living space features warm colors that add warmth to the room. The IECC compliant fireplace adds heat, while the wood-paneling above adds a feeling of warmth.

Another factor to consider when doing renovations relates to energy conservation requirements. While local councils in various cities, towns, and rural areas have their own codes, an increasing number are adopting the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) in an endeavor to meet the U.S. headquartered World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero project. This aims to have all buildings, including our homes, operating with a zero-carbon footprint by 2050.

For instance, Chicago has incorporated the international code into its municipal code, effective June 1, 2019, while New York has based its building and residential codes on international codes for many years. Before you start home renovations, familiarize yourself with the relevant building codes in your area, or consult a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineer or an architect.

For anyone undertaking renovations, Chapter 5 Existing Buildings is the most important part of the IECC, although certain parts of Chapter 4 Residential Energy Efficiency are also important. These provide invaluable guidelines that will help homeowners improve and/or at very least maintain the conservation of energy in the building. Chapter 4 covers the all-important requirements for the thermal envelope of buildings, which may be sorely lacking in old houses.

Solar-Powered Energy & Heating

Although not mandatory, switching to solar energy is an obvious route for anyone wanting to make their home eco-friendly. Heat from the sun is free, and it can be harnessed and used in various ways:

• To generate electricity using solar photovoltaic panels. Electricity is expensive, and the costs of installing solar panels can be recouped relatively fast. Maintenance is minimal and panels last for decades. There are also inviting tax benefits for homeowners.

• To heat water using solar thermal collectors. The costs of heating water using natural gas, oil, or electricity are also high and both solar collectors and photovoltaic panels may be used to heat water.

• For natural light and space heating, which relies primarily on the design of the house and positioning of windows. It may not be financially viable to change window placement if you are renovating.

You might also consider using a heat pump run with solar power, rather than fueling it with electricity, oil, or gas.  

Photovoltaic solar panels can be installed on new or existing roofs making them suitable for new builds and renovations.

Using Heat Pumps

While not new, the technology used for heat pumps has improved over the decades and they can decrease energy costs dramatically. Similar to some central heating and cooling systems, heat pumps move heat from a cool space to a warm space, rather like the consider coil in a refrigerator. Additionally, they may be used for both heating and cooling, and they dehumidify the air inside homes much more effectively than air conditioners.

Electric resistance heaters, including forced-air electric furnaces, and electric baseboard, radiant heat, space, and wall heaters, are 100% energy efficient, but they are expensive to run. Because heat pumps use up to 50% less power than electric resistance heaters, they achieve the same heating power for a fraction of the cost.

So, if changing your existing heating system is an option, it certainly makes good economic sense to consider switching to a heat pump.

There are three different types:

• Air-to-air or air source heat pumps (ASHP) that operate with a condenser or outdoor compressor and are potentially 250% efficient. The most technologically advanced ASHPs are forced-air systems, including mini-split machines that don’t incorporate ducts. ASHPs are ideal for retrofits and for heating and cooling individual rooms, but be sure to choose an Energy Star compliant unit.

• Geothermal heat, some of which rely on either water-source or ground-source heat. Rated as 400% efficient – based on the units of heat (in this case four) it produces with one unit of electricity – these machines boast very low operating costs. They are, though, relatively expensive to install.

• Absorption heat pumps that are usually fired by natural gas, but may also be operated using solar power or geothermal heat. The newest type of heat pump available for homes, they cannot be operated with electricity.

Whether you are looking for heat pump engineering solutions in Chicago, New York, or any other city, be sure to discuss your options with an experienced MEP engineering firm like New York Engineers. Every house is different and an MEP engineer has the knowledge to ensure a new HVAC system will work for you and your renovated environment.

Radiant Heating Systems

Design for radiant floor heating.

Radiant heating and cooling systems are energy-efficient and cost-effective, though certainly not cheap. Used to supply heat to wall panels and floors, radiant heating systems deliver heat from the ground up without ducts.

Radiant floor heating uses less energy than forced-air floor heating systems and they may be installed wet or dry, depending on the type of floor in the house. For renovations, dry installation is easier, but it relies on there being an air space under the floor. Wet installation involves embedding tubing in concrete, which means it is essential the height of existing rooms will accommodate an extra layer of flooring. The latter method work particularly well with tiled floor finishes which transfer heat well, but carpeting is acceptable.

There are several different radiant floor heating types:

• Electric radiant floor heating, which works best in concrete and is recommended by the U.S. Department of Energy for home additions, not renovations.

• Hydronic radiant floor heating, which incorporates tubing through which water flows. Zoning valves or thermostats and pumps may be used to regulate temperatures, but heat pumps may also be used and even linked to solar collectors.

• Air-heated radiant flooring, which isn’t cost-effective even when it is used in conjunction with a solar heating system.  


There are many different types of fireplaces on the market, some of which are easier to install than others. There are not many regulations relating to fireplaces, but the IECC does specify that new wood-burning fireplaces must have doors or tight-fitting flue dampers, as well as outdoor combustion air. This is good for safety as well as energy efficiency.

If you opt for installing appliances that burn “combustion fuel” most need air ducts that are either outside the thermal envelope of the building or enclosed in an isolated room.

Décor & Finishes

Having completed structural or semi-structural renovations that add warmth to your home and increase its sustainability, you can get on with the fun bit of decorating your space. Paint is a quick and easy solution, but to add a feeling of warmth you will need warm colors like sunny yellow, vibrant red or pastels from a red color palette, shades of peach and orange, or even warm blue. It’s not the intensity that matters, and it doesn’t have to be solid color. You can even opt for a relatively neutral background and add color with upholstered furniture and artworks.

Remember that warm colors can visually raise the temperature of a room, which helps to make it snug and cozy. But to make it eco-friendly, you’ll need to do some more demanding renovations.

Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of 30+ mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led more than 1,000 projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia.

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