Building Green Awareness

Make a healthier and more sustainable home

If you recycle your glass jars and newspapers, compost your vegetable peelings, and telecommute a day a week to save gas, you're probably looking for additional ways to make your home and life a little greener.

The big picture includes saving energy, recycling buildings, finding community alternatives to car usage, and reducing the consumption of non-renewable resources. On a more personal scale, we can contribute to this effort every time we buy something for our homes. By thinking about our purchases, we can eliminate a lot of the fluff-n-stuff and zero in on those products that give us, and the planet, the best bang for our buck. A little extra analysis is the key.

What's is it made of?

Before making purchases, consider what an item consists of. Whether it's paint, carpet, or new windows, think about its composition. If it's completely new, is it made of recycled materials? If so, how much of it is recycled? If it's wood, is it certified? Is the material rapidly renewable? Will it help you save energy or reduce resource use? Was there a lot of agricultural or other waste created making it? Is it made of salvaged or reused materials? Finding the answer to these questions helps make selecting products a little easier.

Is the bad stuff left out?

Is the object of your desire free of toxic preservatives [like pressure treated lumber that uses chromated copper arsenate (CCA)? There is an alphabet soup of toxic materials and emissions like PVC and VOCs, as well as formaldehyde, mercury, dioxin, and ozone depleting gases in many materials. Some materials like particle board contains a formaldehyde resin. Many adhesives contain a relatively high concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Fluorescent light bulbs, for instance, contain a tiny amount of mercury. (It doesn't mean you shouldn't use them. Just be sure to take them your community's next hazardous waste disposal. Check with your city or county for information.)

Will it improve construction or maintenance practices?

Does the product use new technologies? New products come out all the time. Some, like PEX, can simplify plumbing projects and at the same time be sustainable. Rastra® is an ideal material for building an addition. It is a concrete form building system that is made of recycled post-consumer polystyrene waste, and is itself almost waste free. These are just a couple examples of innovations that are out there.

Will the product improve efficiency?

If the product saves energy, conserves heat and cooling, or saves extra work, it may also be sustainable. Windows can be a big saver; with a U-value of 0.35 and VT (visible transmittance) of 0.5 or greater, new windows could be a money saver when the electric bill comes. Windows are a good example of the choices between energy efficiency and sustainability. Vinyl windows are very popular right now, but because vinyl is made from petroleum, it can't be considered renewable. There are a number of other issues that you'll need to weigh for your specific situation. The idea is to reduce the impact of your material choices, which may be arguable either way.

Another example of efficiency is applying plaster walls with integral color. On one hand, you won't need to plan future paint jobs which saves energy and materials, but has a downside because you can't change the color and this type of plaster application can be very expensive even though it can be a beautiful effect.

Does it reduce waste or prevent pollution?

A few ways to prevent polluting city water systems include ecoroofs, rain barrels, permeable pavers in the driveway, or cisterns for rainwater storage. Keeping storm runoff out of the city water system has a huge impact on the environmental quality of your region's water systems. Using flexible hose to direct rainwater from downspouts into garden beds is a simple, low cost solution. Using compost on your lawn and in the garden instead of pesticides and chemicals not only keeps toxins out of the water systems, but improves the health of your plants.

Does it make your home healthier?

Natural materials, technologies that improve air quality, and products that contain no toxic additives add to a healthful environment. A good vacuum goes a long way toward removing dirt, mites, and other allergens from carpets and upholstered furniture. The Carpet and Rug Institute has a list of vacuums that they've approved for their "Green Label" program. Green fabrics such as hemp, linen, wool, or green cotton can be used in slipcovers that can be tossed in the wash. To prevent mold and mildew from getting a foothold, install and USE your bath fans to vent unwanted moisture. Also, choose air filters with a MERV rating of 8 or higher to reduce airborne allergens and change them regularly.

Let there be daylight

Good light in your home is healthful and aesthetically pleasing. A dark cave-like house in the winter can be hard to take even if you don't have Seasonal Affective Disorder. By adding skylights and solar tubes, you can cut down on energy use and make every room in your home more comfortable and pleasant. For rooms where privacy is not an issue, consider eliminating window coverings entirely.

Add beauty and have a little fun

From a greenhouse made of recycled windows to custom stenciled walls, the "oh wow!" factor makes it good to come home. Being good to your home planet doesn't necessarily mean you have to go Spartan or give up dessert. Delight and surprise are subjective, but your home can be uniquely yours with features that suit you and your family.


Do you need a contractor to help with home improvements? If so, UpdateRenovate can help. Don't hesitate to ask your contractor if they can support your green building goals.

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