zero waste tips for renovating your home

Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home

We recently had a major piece of work done on our home – the addition of a new floor upstairs – and I was absolutely shocked at how eco-unfriendly and wasteful the whole process was. We did our best to ensure that the existing building materials which were still in good condition, such as the slate roof tiles, were reused, recycled or repurposed. It wasn’t a great experience, and when it was all over we came to the clear conclusion that we will be personally be managing any future property improvements ourselves.

But that got me thinking, can you create a luxurious, comfortable home while still saving both environmental and financial resources? Surely there must be companies out there willing to make an effort to reduce the waste in building or renovating a home? And finally, at the end of your project, there must be some creative ways to repurpose unwanted kitchen and bathroom goods rather than sending them to landfill sites?

Here are some ways you can update your home while still keeping your eco cred:

1. Buy a Second Hand Kitchen or Bathroom

We inherited our cheapo white standard IKEA kitchen when we bought our home several years ago. We’ve updated the room by having a pantry built (to match the white finish of the cabinet units), we had the wooden countertops refinished, installed some attractive handmade Spanish tiles and then painted the room a pleasant shade of pale blue. Its a very simple but functional kitchen. In my heart of hearts, I still don’t like the shiny white cabinets though.

I recently saw a piece on the news about a couple of companies which make birch plywood doors designed to fit standard IKEA kitchens like mine. I think they look really cool and appeal to my Canadian/Scandi aesthetic. It could mean just replacing cupboard doors and handles for a kitchen like mine, rather than ripping out all the cupboard units unnecessarily.

But some kitchens are really and truly badly laid out and I know how frustrating that is. You really do need a whole new kitchen when this is the case. If you’re building a home from scratch or doing major renovations to a property, you’ll also be shopping for a whole new kitchen. But the good news is that you don’t need to actually buy a new kitchen – it just needs to be ‘new to you’. You can now buy beautiful kitchens and bathrooms second hand.

There are a few ways of doing this. You can go onto a second hand website like Craigslist (US, Canada & UK), Gumtree (UK), or Kijiji (Canada) or even eBay. You’ll be really surprised with the beautiful high spec kitchens and bathrooms, barely a few years old which you can find for sale second hand.

You can even get a free kitchen (or give your old kitchen or bathroom away rather than having it sent to a landfill site) on Freecycle.

And for those who will not compromise on having their perfect Shaker style kitchen or white Carrara marble counter tops, there are also companies like the Used Kitchen Exchange (UK) which sell both used and ex-display kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms for a fraction of the price of buying them new. You’ll also get the reassurance of 14 day purchase protection.

This family-run business has a number of environmental, social and business awards behind them and all the kitchens they sell have been pre-surveyed for quality. There is a visualisation service so you can see how the kitchen will work in your space and there’s also the possibility of selling them your old high spec kitchen which they will professionally remove (saving the main hassle when you’re selling it yourself).

Photo of Shaker style kitchen

2. Refinish, Repair & Restore, Don’t Replace!

Wooden floors, kitchen work surfaces, banisters, mantles and furniture can all be refinished. Our downstairs neighbour recently had her old gap-py and yellowing pine floor boards sanded down and the gaps between the floor boards filled in, and it looks amazing now – a luxurious Scandi-look pale smoked finish.

All the beautiful natural chalk paints on offer these days can paint over a multitude of sins in your home. I hear great things about UK-based Frenchic and of course you can get Annie Sloan just about anywhere these days (though not as confident in her eco cred as much as Frenchic). They do paints for furniture, walls, trim as well as waxes and something you paint on for a crackle effect if you like that kind of look.

A friend in Canada (well, my BFF really) updated the upholstery on a dozen or so of the old vinyl covered chairs from her in-laws’ long-gone Greek diner from the 50’s and ended up with the most beautiful, sturdy teenage-boy-proof chairs that were both a labour of love and have some family history to them.

Exquisite walnut floor boards or oak stairs could be hiding underneath that horrible carpet from the 80’s and lovingly restoring them may take a little time and effort but will respect the heritage of your home and could save you a lot of money.

Damaged surfaces such as chipped countertops, scratched wood floors, cracked tiles and furniture can all be repaired. I recently read an article in Good Housekeeping singing the praises of a company called Magicman. Their technicians can repair wood, stone, marble, uPVC, veneers, laminates, granite, ceramic tiles, stainless steel and even glass, rectifying chips, dents, scratches, burns, holes and more, on site, nationwide throughout the UK. I haven’t tried them yet, but have a burnt elm Ercol table which could use a little love.


3. Buy Reclaimed

When shopping for the wooden floors for our new loft bedroom, I was delighted to see that its pretty easy to get a hold of beautiful reclaimed flooring these days. You can always go to a salvage yard to get rough flooring and refinish it yourself, but if you aren’t that brave (like me) you can get it through one of a number of reclaimed wood flooring specialists – just Google ‘reclaimed wood flooring’ and you’ll be surprised by the variety on offer with nationwide delivery.


4. Recycle, Reuse & Repurpose

And finally, when you have your lovely new home updated, what do you do with what’s left over that you haven’t been able to sell or give away?

If you have an old unwanted carpet, check out Carpet Recycling UK for ideas on how to dispose of it. It can be:

  • Given away on Freecycle.
  • Donated to a furniture reuse network
  • Used in your allotment or community garden (to keep weeds at bay on paths and in plots). Wool carpets have a high nitrogen content which helps to increase growth and growth rates too!
  • Donated to a local animal rescue shelter for kennel mats (especially to keep animals warm in winter).
  • Laid down on your loft/attic floor for some added insulation – it will help retain heat and lower heating bills!
  • Used as a pond liner in your garden.

For a full list of specialist carpet recyclers go to Find A Recycler Near Me.

And all the other leftover bits? What do I do with those? Well, I asked my friends in the Zero Waste community what they’ve done…

  • Sinks and some parts of old kitchen cupboards can be used to make mud kitchens in the garden – lots of kindergartens and preschools want to build mud kitchens and may be happy for the donation.
  • Tiles can be broken up and used as drainage for potted plants.
  • Old bath tubs can be used for raised bed gardens in allotments – great for ‘fussy’ vegetables like asparagus. They can also be used as garden ponds.
  • Old glass shower doors can be used for cold frames in the garden or to cover alpine troughs in winter.
  • Wooden kitchen worktops can be turned into bread boards.
  • Kitchen worktops can be made from old recycled wooden doors.
  • Kitchen cupboards can be downcycled for use in garages, greenhouses and/or potting sheds.
  • Old paint can be given to a community repaint scheme or there may be a donation point at your local recycling centre for paint to be re-used rather than recycled.
  • Anything else you don’t know what to do with? Check the Recycle Now website for ideas.


This article was in part sponsored by Used Kitchen Exchange

43 thoughts on “Zero Waste Tips for Renovating Your Home

  1. Sarah Moses

    I love my Greek diner chairs! Recycling furniture has the be the number one way of being a bit eco-chic when redesigning a space. I have reapolstered a lot of things with good luck. We also just filled our cottage with furniture that was new-to us. The only thing we bought new was a sofa set.

    I find the biggest challenge is mattresses. What to do with old ones?

    In Canada there is also the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store which sells gently used furniture, fixtures and appliances, and accepts donations of good-condition kitchen cabinets as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. micaelalevachyov

    I think more people should repurpose and renovate pieces to reuse in a home update. With some imagination you can make something eco friendly and affordable!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Globalmouse (@globalmouse1)

    Such great ideas, it’s so important to all try and do our bit. I love the idea of companies that build specifically to fit IKEA frameworks, I would have never thought of that so good to know, especially as I’m REALLY hoping to be moving house in the next few months!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy

    Love this post! We are always so quick to buy new things but refurbishing is definitely one that we should all try to do more of. Buying second hand kitchens is a great idea too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Joanna

    I have renovated my flat a few years ago but I never thought that I could buy second hand items. I remember I spent a fortune for new floors and for the bathroom, which I changed completely.

    Liked by 1 person


    That’s really good news to hear that there are companies making products that are compatible with Ikea cupboards so you can just change the front. That might be useful for us so I must pass this on to my husband. Great idea for reducing waste x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our Little Organic Life Post author

      Isn’t that cool? I think they’re called Plykea and there’s another one I can’t remember the name of, but just google it and it comes up. Saves waste…saves money too and saves the hassle of having the whole kitchen gutted! 🙂


  7. Sarah Ann

    I recently restored an old cabinet I had and with a lick of paint and some new handles, it looks like a brand new piece. I really enjoyed working on it (normally I would just have bought something new) and it’s encouraged me to restore the items I can before admitting defeat and buying something new!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Healthy and Psyched

    I always try to reduece my waste in terms or packaging or not using takeaway coffee cups, but I’d never really thought of zero-waste in this context before. At the moment I like the idea of getting new doors for units in an existing kitchen, but I’m not sure I could buy a second-hand kitchen (something in me would want a new one if I was paying for it) – maybe the idea will grow on me though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Our Little Organic Life Post author

      Don’t knock the small stuff – those coffee cups you’re not using and bags and other bits of packaging add up to an awful lot over the years and you’re making a huge impact. I think if you can find a second hand or ex-display kitchen which is what you were after (design wise) to begin with and you’re happy with how it could be integrated into your home, then its probably worth considering, but there are certainly other ecologically more sensitive options, such as using eco-friendly materials. Its not a one size fits all solution, but a great option for many people. Thanks for your great comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. amandawastefree

    As someone currently building a house (well technically a tiny house) while trying to keep it low waste- this was really relatable and useful, thank you! I love Freecycle by the way, I’ve gotten so much cool stuff on there (including an entire kitchen!) and also given away heaps of stuff I didn’t need.

    Liked by 1 person


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