Why haven't you made your home more eco-friendly yet? Maybe it's because that single Internet search you conducted yielded thousands of overwhelming, unrealistic megaprojects for “greening your home.” Grow a vegetated garage roof? Install and wire a solar panel system for $30-40,000? How about putting in a geothermal heating and cooling system? Or what if you just hollowed out that tree in your backyard and lived there instead? The good news: you can make your home eco-friendly and retain your eco-sanity. If you're building new, renovating, or giving your space a touch-up, we have simple, practical, everyday tips and resources to get you started.
GREEN TIPS FOR BUILDING NEW
- Visit the U.S. Green Building Council's website, www.usgbc.org; learn about sustainable architecture and natural building at www.greenhomebuilding.com; read the “Minnesota Green Affordable Housing Guide” at www.greenhousing.umn.edu for eco-friendly options in cold climates; and view the American Lung Association's list of builders and ways to create a more comfortable indoor environment at www.healthhouse.org/index.asp.
- Greenerbuilding.org makes it easy to identify the right building products when you're ready to buy. They also make it easy to find local dealers and helpful programs that sell reliable, certified environmental materials for your home.
- Logging onto builditgreen.com will give you an explanation of the benefits of green building and renovating.
- Check out the U.S. EPA Energy Star program ( www.energystar.gov) or Green Building Blocks ( www.greenbuildingblocks.com) for suggestions on energy-efficient designers, builders, and appliances. Or with the Department of Housing and Urban Development's online calculator, Energy-Efficient Rehab Advisor, you can find out in seconds how much money you'll save by incorporating energy-efficient measures into your home.
REMODELING: USE SLAVAGED AND RECLAIMED MATERIALS
Anything you want to furnish your home with can be found through salvage and for half the price. Furniture, fabric, cabinets, flooring, accents, draperies, and appliances are all available and will help you create a unique, low-impact home.
- To find nearby warehouses you can browse, do a quick Internet search for “salvage furniture” and the name of your town or city.
- Seattle's Green Home Remodeling Guides offer assistance in hiring design and building professionals, using salvaged materials when renovating, and choosing paint that won't give you a headache.
- Check with businesses like The Loading Dock, a nonprofit materials reuse center in Baltimore, Maryland, whose motto is “Don't Dump, Donate!” The Loading Dock calculates that its 5,000 members save $2.3 million every year by shopping in its warehouses.
- Urban Ore in Berkeley, California; Materials for the Arts in New York City; and Barnraisers in Albany, New York are similar facilities that exist as part of the Reuse Development Organization.
GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR PAINT
- Select the Best Brand: Green Seal has dozens of certified, no- or low-VOC paints, as does the PPG Architectural Finishes Pure Performance Line. Safecoat also makes all-purpose paint that eliminates solvents, heavy metals, chemical residuals, formaldehyde, and other harmful preservatives.
- Buy What you Need: It's better to go back for more than to be stuck with too much leftover paint you can't use, so measure carefully.
- Prevent Paint from Drying Out: Cover the paint can with plastic wrap, hammer the lid securely into place, and store the pain upside down.
- Use Stored Paint: Apply it for touch-up jobs or smaller projects, blend it together with similar colors for larger jobs, or use it as a primer.
- Don't Pour Paint Down the Drain: You can rinse latex paint from brushes, but leave leftover paint you can't use in open cans in a protected outdoor shed.
- Circulate Air: Avoid as much indoor air pollution as possible by keeping windows open and fans blowing.
PICK THE HEALTHIEST AND GREENEST FLOORING OPTION
- Carpet: Carpet made from recycled soda bottles? Several manufacturers have begun relying solely on recycled plastics to produce flooring and because this production relies on post-consumer material, it avoids disposal of waste products in landfills and incinerators. Since they tend to be heavier, thicker, and more luxurious than conventional nylon carpets they last longer. These carpets are also considered green because their dyeing process is less polluting and they require less energy. Check out the five different pop bottle carpet lines at Mohawk Flooring.
- Wood Floors: Wooden flooring generally comes from domestic, exotic, or nondomestic forests. It can also be re-milled from other wood products and older flooring. Although hardwood flooring is a renewable resource, you need to be aware of the source of the wood you are considering. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) stamp of approval on wood and let it be a determining factor in your selection. The FSC is an international organization that brings together timber users, local foresters, human rights, as well as environmental organizations to promote responsible stewardship of the earth's forests. Eco Timber offers FSC-certified and reclaimed wood flooring, while North Coast Timber and Timeless Timber both offer salvaged wood options.
- Laminate: Laminate mimics the traditional wooden floor, but has a reduction in sealants and the potential for better harvesting practices. It's also easier to install than wooden floors and many projects can be done by homeowners over the weekend; some designs don't even require the use of glue. Overall, laminate floors are durable and easy to maintain.
- Cork: Cork flooring can be installed in much the same way as laminate and can be manufactured in a variety of colors and appearances. It can even be made to look like stone or tile. An added bonus to cork is that it's giving and flexible, which means it can be installed on floors that aren't completely level, so it's particularly useful in older homes. When choosing cork flooring, check to see that it's formaldehyde-free and that any varnish is water-based. Both Duro-Design and Natural Cork and More offer cork flooring options.
RECYCLE OR DONATE EXCESS MATERIALS
- Before you think about giving your furniture or cabinets away, ask yourself if they can be put to use somewhere else. If you're renovating your kitchen, for example, you could possibly transfer a couple of the cabinets to a basement bathroom, saving a few hundred dollars and reducing waste in the process.
- Contact www.earth911.org to find the nearest place to donate leftover paint, fabric, wood, and other building materials.
- After replacing the carpet in your home, take the waste to a nearby recycler who will take it off your hands for free instead of paying the floor installers a fee to dump the carpeting and padding at the local landfill.
- Donate unwanted items to charities like The Loading Dock.
- Your local Salvation Army will pick up a wide variety of household items at no charge, as will Habitat for Humanity's ReStores.