Top tips for refurbishing your vacation rentals in a sustainable way

How to refurbish and retrofit short-term rental properties to save money, carbon emissions, and waste

There comes a time when you will have to think about refurbishing your vacation rentals to update them and freshen them up. This offers the perfect opportunity to introduce some sustainable initiatives and think about saving carbon emissions. In addition, this approach makes real financial sense, as it will allow you to make longer-term decisions that will future-proof your business.

Here are some reasons why you should consider incorporating sustainability into your decision-making when refurbishing your vacation rentals:

  • Environmental regulation for buildings continues to increase as they represent around 40% of global carbon emissions. Stay ahead of the game.
  • By investing in state-of-the art renewable technologies you can make significant savings and become less dependent on the volatility of energy markets.
  • Install green tech to help you manage costs and help your guests to help you consume less and subsequently lower your carbon footprint.
  • Many sustainable initiatives positively impact the comfort and wellbeing of guests and inspire them to take action at home
  • Green technologies and sustainable products increase the value of properties and make them more attractive to buyers and investors


In this article, we will share simple, effective ways to incorporate sustainability when you are refurbishing your vacation rentals. We will look at fairly low-cost actions for inside the property which have excellent cost-saving potential. Then we will give you advice on higher-investment technologies and materials for the building itself. Lastly, we will recommend sustainable ways to deal with any waste you generate as a result of a refurb or retrofit.

This advice ties in seamlessly with the Sustonica criteria and will help you effortlessly improve your score!


4 ways to make sustainable decisions inside your short-term rentals

The easiest place to incorporate sustainability is inside your vacation rental. These are all simple things to do and when done to replace the old or the broken have the potential to save you money in the long term. As well as enhancing the guest experience and internal comfort and ambiance.


1. Change all halogen lightbulbs to LED

This is a really easy action to take when you are refurbishing or retrofitting a property. Swopping out halogen or incandescent bulbs for LED can generate significant cost savings. And, importantly, LED lightbulbs emit on average 80% less carbon emissions. 


DID YOU KNOW?  Having 80% LED bulbs can get you up to 3.00% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? Lighting typically accounts for around 15% of energy use in homes. LED lightbulbs are cheaper to run and generate less carbon emissions.


2. Upgrade your appliances to energy-efficient ones

If you are revamping your vacation rental properties, it is an ideal time to replace old and inefficient appliances with the most energy-efficient ones. This will save on both energy consumption and carbon emissions.

The main appliances you will probably be considering upgrading are fridges and hobs. Did you know that the fridge is the most consuming energy appliance in a vacation rental?

So, how do you identify an energy-efficient fridge or hob? The European Union updated its energy labeling in 2021 to make it easier for purchasers to lower their energy consumption and their carbon footprint. They have gone back to a stricter number system from A-G. In the USA they operate the Energy Star scheme.


DID YOU KNOW?  Having an energy efficient fridge can get you up to 0.36% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? Apart from air conditioning, this is likely to be the appliance that consumes the most as it runs 24 hours a day. So having the most efficient model will reduce electricity bills and carbon emissions.

DID YOU KNOW?  Having an induction cooktop can get you up to 0.18% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? An induction cooktop conserves energy as it is 12% more efficient at heating food than a smooth-top electric cooktop or range.


Want to discover other ways to save energy and subsequent carbon emissions? Read our previous insight “Reduce energy in your vacation rental”


3. Look for sustainable furniture when you are refurbishing your vacation rentals

Fitting out your short-term rental property with suitable furniture is an important part of creating the right ambiance as well as considering longevity. But have you ever thought about how sustainable the furniture you choose is? Probably not. However, there are some real benefits to making eco-conscious choices.

Here is a great article to help you source sustainable furniture from Architectural Digest. Here are our tips to help you make the right choices when refurbishing your vacation rentals:

  • Upcycling means taking something you already have and repurposing it or changing it to become something different. So maybe you could take a stained coffee table and paint it to give it a new lease of life. Or use a marked bedspread to make some cushion covers. You should be able to find local craftspeople who can do this work for you.
  • Second-hand or vintage is extremely popular and chic. So why not check out your local antique market or vintage shops to find some real treasures?  which will make your rental unique.
  • Think about the materials used. Plastic can be a big turn-off for travelers as most of them are aware of the negative connotations of marine life. Not to mention the fact that plastic is made from fossil fuels. It also is a cheap material and can feel that way. Consider having furniture made from natural materials like wood (as long as it is responsibly sourced), bamboo, or cork. If you choose plastic, try to find recycled products.
  • Locally made furniture can create a unique design style for your short-term rental and you can actually be involved in specifying the materials used. If you have a number of properties you can negotiate a good price for a bulk order. You can also promote the maker in your property and be seen to be supporting the local community


4. Choose eco-friendly fabrics that are better for the environment and guests

This tip for refurbishing your vacation rentals in a sustainable way may not seem obvious at first. But the fabrics you choose for bed linens and towels as well as other soft furnishings can impact the environment as well as your guests. Synthetic fabrics like polyester or polycotton are made using byproducts of petroleum. Cotton is one of the fabrics most sprayed with pesticides and needs huge amounts of water in its cultivation. Also, certain nasty chemicals can be used in the dyeing process which can pollute waterways. If you are interested in knowing more about fabrics, read this article by Treehugger.

So why not opt for fabrics that are less harmful to the environment such as organic cotton, linen, or bamboo? Your guests will thank you too as they are much more comfortable on the skin.


DID YOU KNOW?  Having eco-friendly bed linen and/or towels can get you up to 3.50% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? The bedding and towel industry is heavily reliant on cotton, which uses huge amounts of water in its cultivation as well as harmful pesticides and dyes which can be harmful to the environment and wildlife.


3 ways to make the building more sustainable when refurbishing your vacation rentals

If you are renovating a property to create a brand-new vacation rental or you have time to do some energy and cost-saving retrofits, this section will interest you. Undoubtedly, the initial investment and effort are higher but you can see substantial long-term savings, both financially and environmentally.

Some of our suggestions will be feasible but it will all depend on the type of property you are refurbishing. If you have a city apartment or townhouse, of course, your options will be more limited unless you can persuade your neighbors to get involved.

1. Insulate the building

If your short-term rental property is in an uninsulated building, you are literally letting money fly out the window. However, if you invest in energy-efficient heating, you will still be losing energy and creating more carbon emissions than you need to.  About a quarter of heat is lost through the roof in an uninsulated home and if a building has cavity walls these should be filled with an insulating material.

Here are some eco-friendly insulating materials:


Sheep’s wool – a fantastic renewable natural fibre which has lost its value as a clothing fabric in recent years due to the rise of polyester fabrics

Woodchip – usually made from recycled waste wood chips, making it naturally sustainable

Cellulose – from recycled newspaper so a great way of using one product to make another


Another way to make your property more energy-efficient with a lower carbon footprint is to install double or triple-glazed windows.


DID YOU KNOW?  Having high performance windows can get you up to 0.91% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? Up to 40% of a home’s heating energy can be lost, and up to 87% of its heat gained through windows.


2. Invest in green building technology

The development of green technologies has really ramped up in recent years, making it more affordable and pay-back times a lot faster. Of course, it does require investment. However, if you want to future-proof your vacation rental company long-term, it makes real business sense. Encouragingly, there are grants and support available in many countries for installing green tech in homes.

Here are some green tech solutions to consider:

  • Solar panels for hot water. Using the heat of the sun to produce hot water is a wonderful use of a natural resource. If you have a roof, it is fairly simple to install.
  • Photovoltaic panels for electricity generation. These use the energy of the sun rather than light to generate power. They can even work in countries with low light levels.
  • Heat pumps as hot water heaters or for cooling and heating. In general, for every 1kW consumed they generate 4kW. They are generally air, water or ground sources.


DID YOU KNOW? Having photovoltaic solar panels installed can get you up to 5.50% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? By using solar panels you reduce the need for non-renewable energy sources such as coal, oil, and natural gas. This, in turn, reduces the carbon emissions emitted by your rental business.

DID YOU KNOW? Having heat pumps installed can get you up to 4.40% on the Sustonica criteria! Check out our standard.

Why is it part of the criteria? Heat pumps are very energy efficient and as such reduce heat loss thus reducing electricity bills and carbon emissions (they run on electricity)


3. Install water-saving sanitary wear and devices

Water is another resource that is very precious and in short supply in many parts of the world. Furthermore, when your guests waste water, that is really money down the drain. When you are refurbishing your vacation rentals, it makes sense to install water-saving systems. Here are some ideas:

  • Dual-flush toilets
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Grey water use
  • Leak detection system
  • Flow-reducing shower heads


All of these water-saving practices will earn you points in the Sustonica Criteria. To find out more and the points you can earn, read our previous Insight “Save Water in Vacation Rentals: Apps and Devices”


Dispose of waste responsibly after refurbishing your vacation rentals

A property refurbishment or retrofit can create an enormous amount of waste which must be disposed of safely and responsibly. Depending on the scope of the work you undertake, you could be dealing with a wide variety of materials. From building waste which can be hazardous to old furniture and sanitary ware.

We always recommend that you check with your local municipality about their rules for different types of waste. For materials and items that need to be taken away by another company, check out their sustainability policies and find out what their procedures are.

Think about whether any of the items you are replacing could be sold or donated for repair or parts, like fridges and other appliances. We have already discussed above about repurposing or upcycling furniture but you could also donate any unwanted pieces to a local charity.

As you choose new appliances or other items, you will have the opportunity to think about their life cycle (often called cradle-to-grave). You will be able to go for purchases that have a longer life span but can also be easily repaired to prolong their use.


Your real superpower is that you can now refurbish and retrofit your vacation rentals in a sustainable way and inspire your guests to do the same at home!


Print a Sustainability chart for your vacation rental and list all the things that you do with regard to:

  • energy efficiency
  • waste reduction
  • water conservation
  • respect of the community
  • promoting the destination
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