Guidelines for Sustainable Home Remodeling in Los Angeles

Want an eco-friendly remodel? Consider these methods to improve your L.A. home’s energy and water efficiency

Remodeled dining area in Los Angeles with wood flooring and fresh white walls

Renovating a house in L.A.’s extreme climate requires special measures. Heat is intense during the summer and water is always in a shortage. Our Sweeten general contractors offer advice on sustainable home remodeling in Los Angeles with energy and water conservation in mind.

Energy conservation in L.A.

“Energy conservation and cool conservation are the same thing,” said L.A.-based Sweeten general contractor Chen. If you can adequately cool the home, you have gone a long way toward conserving the heat, too. The best place to start conserving heat is with airtightness.

Airtightness

“Think of your house as a bucket of water,” said Chen. “If you have any holes in the bucket, that’s water escaping from the bucket. Airtightness is the same with your home.”

The aim is to prevent conditioned interior air from escaping—whether cool or warm air. There are airtight home products that can help with this. For instance, caulk is used around stationary home elements like door and window frames. Weatherstripping is also used for movable components, such as the door itself or the window sash.

Home insulation types

Home insulation is a requirement for all new construction and remodeled homes. Whether holding in heated or cooled air, a wide range of home insulation projects can help.

Sweeten general contractor Jose, also based in Los Angeles, noted that spray foam insulation is becoming increasingly popular. Spray foam insulation is especially good for vaulted ceilings since it conforms to voids in the building envelope.

“More people are adopting spray foam insulation,” said Jose, “though it is a little bit dirtier than some other types of insulation,” meaning that foam will off-gas. But in the end, he noted, when you do a cost-benefit analysis, you might come out ahead environmentally.

While fiberglass is still the main type of home insulation used in remodels, it’s not the only product out there. Every so often, he will use denim insulation, mainly because it is eco-friendly and excellent for soundproofing.

Home heating and cooling systems

That traditional feature of Southern California side yards—the hulking HVAC unit—may soon pass into oblivion.

VRF (variable refrigerant flow) units are far smarter and more green than central units, which heat or cool the entire house at once. “These are far better than traditional central air,” said Chen. “These products adapt to the areas of the house where you need the heat or cooling.”

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As an example, you might have a 5-bedroom house with separate variable refrigerant flow units in each room. All units are connected to one large outdoor unit. This unit senses the needs and knows how to provide each unit with the right amount of heating or cooling.

Underfloor heating

In extremely cold climates, underfloor heating exists only to make your bare feet more comfortable on tile. But in moderately cool climates such as L.A.’s, underfloor heating can be used for heating rooms. The most common installation of underfloor heating is in bathrooms.

Sweeten contractor Chen said, “When you think about the physics of heating, heat goes up. So heat that starts at the floor is most effective.” Chen finds that the most efficient and sustainable type is water-based (hydronic) radiant heating systems, rather than electric cable systems.

Using solar power for home heating and cooling

The final and necessary component of home heating and cooling is solar power.

Los Angeles general contractor Jose does a lot of solar installations but it always depends on the clients’ budgets. He added that many clients like to go off-grid in terms of power. But off-grid doesn’t mean that they’re isolated out in the country. These are homes in the metro area.

Solar power helps reduce the power draw for heating and cooling systems. Robust solar power systems even allow the homeowner to sell back credits to the power company.

Water conservation at home in L.A.

With water being so precious in L.A. and across all of Southern California, water conservation in home remodels is no longer a choice; it’s a given. Luckily, contractors have a number of weather-conserving initiatives to use during remodeling.

What is greywater?

Greywater is any residential wastewater that isn’t septic waste (water from toilets or urinals). Greywater can be drainage from bathtubs, showers, kitchen and bathroom sinks, washing machines, or dishwashers.

Depending on clients’ budgets, Sweeten contractor Jose often does greywater reuse installations. At this time, greywater reuse is only approved for irrigation in Southern California.

Tax credits for greywater reuse may be available. But he cautions that credits likely won’t cover the cost of the greywater reuse installations—at least not for the first few years.

Rainwater collection

Contrary to popular thought, it does rain in Southern California. Just ask a resident during one of the El Niño periods from September to November. Some years get up to 30 to 40 inches of rain, according to the Los Angeles Almanac.

Rainwater collection can be as easy as purchasing rain barrels on your own to collect water runoff from the roof. Or you can speak with your contractor about larger capacity water harvesting systems as a sustainable solution.

Los Angeles water conservation rebates & credits

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has rebate programs that may help compensate you for water conservation remodels. You may be able to be rebated for drought-tolerant landscapes or high-efficiency eco-friendly washing machines. Read up on the full range of credits and rebates and discuss what your options are with your contractor.

When you’re ready to get started on your home remodel, work with Sweeten to renovate with the best contractors in LA.

Originally published on October 22, 2021

Updated on May 1, 2023

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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