Spring Green Rehab
With Mother Nature beautifully transforming our outdoor environment this time of year, it’s only natural to feel inspired to rejuvenate our indoor environment, too. Given this natural source of inspiration, it makes sense to do it using green products that are better both for us and for the Earth.
Kelly Lerner, a principal of One World Design Architecture, in Spokane, Washington, and co-author of Natural Remodeling for the Not-So-Green House, sees a willingness among home-owners to sort through all the green options. “Yes, green materials have become stylish and chic. But homeowners are genuinely concerned about their own health and they also see the connection between their own well-being and the health of their homes and the ecosystem. We all depend on clean water and air, indoors and out, for example, and consumers are beginning to see how their everyday actions impact the whole system.”
It helps to know that making over our home doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, says Lerner. “Taking even small steps to renew a space will give us a sense of ownership, pride and comfort every time we enter it.”
Foot (and perhaps paw) traffic, spills and abuse take a toll on floors. We could just cover them up with new carpet, but carpet harbors dirt and bacteria. A hard floor is easier to keep clean and will provide more flexibility, should we decide to redecorate down the road. Among the dizzying array of flooring options, a growing number of choices are better for the environment, so doing the right thing doesn’t mean compromising on style and quality.
Certified sustainable wood
Forest certification began as a way to urge logging companies to adopt environmentally sound practices. Today, several certification programs exist within the industry, but according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, independent Forest Stewardship Council certification remains the only credible seal of approval for wood products. Look for the FSC mark on packaging and accept no substitutes. Reputable sources include EcoTimber.com and AltruWood.com.
Bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource that grows faster than almost any other plant, has found its way into many products, most notably, flooring. Dan Smith, president and founder of Smith & Fong Co., makers of Plyboo, remarks that “Bamboo easily passes the environmental test, but it’s also aesthetically and tactilely pleasing as a finish product.”
To ensure quality and sustainability, select bamboo flooring that carries reputable third-party certifications of compliance with high environmental and indoor air quality standards.
Cork flooring is made from either the bark of a cork oak tree or recycled natural cork wine stoppers. The former renews every 10 years; the latter, each time we uncork a bottle of wine. As long as cork is harvested correctly, the cork tree is unharmed and regenerates bark 20 or more times during its lifespan.
Cork is strong, resilient and reduces noise, making it an ideal choice for many home applications. Look for formaldehyde- and PVC-free products.
Natural linoleum flooring is made from renewable raw materials such as linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour and jute. Marmoleum, produced by Forbo, comes in so many different colors that the design possibilities are limitless. But its color palette is just the beginning of the allure: “Marmoleum actually becomes stronger with age, as the linseed oil oxidizes,” explains Melanie Valerian, the company’s product line manager, “and its natural anti-static properties repel dust and dirt, making it easy to clean and maintain.”
Make Over Countertops
Got peeling laminate or stained grout? Resist the popular choice, granite, which is nonrenewable and requires significant energy to extract and ship. Instead, try a renewable countertop material that rivals or surpasses granite in beauty and performance for the kitchen, bar or bathroom.
Countertops made from recycled paper or glass are desirable for far more than their renewable status; among their fine qualities are strength, durability and a stone-like appearance. Another advantage is the ease of workmanship involved, making the installed price often lower than that for stone.
This versatile and beautifully distinctive material can be poured in place, molded into any shape and complemented with decorative accents to create custom looks.
Mining aggregate is disruptive to the landscape and producing cement for conventional concrete is energy intensive. It’s better to choose a local fabricator that uses recycled, locally sourced aggregate and industrial waste byproducts to replace some of the cement.
More information at ConcreteNetwork.com/Sustainable-Countertops.
Wake up Walls
One of the most dramatic changes we can make to a room is changing the wall covering. Something as simple as a fresh, vibrant coat of paint can liven up a room and our mood. Here are several Earth-friendly ways to introduce decorative color and texture.
Paint that is low in VOCs emits fewer volatile organic compounds that pollute indoor air, but note that low-VOC paint can still contain harmful toxins. Other toxic ingredients like formaldehyde, acetone and ammonia are found in many conventional paints. Be good to the environment and choose paints that omit troublesome ingredients without compromising quality.
Natural clay plaster
Plaster is a natural, environmentally friendly material, used in homes for thousands of years because of its strength and longevity. Its unrivaled beauty is now drawing the interest of modern home owners, notes Armin Croft Elsaesser, president of American Clay Enterprises, LLC. Plaster’s beauty is more than skin deep, however. “Plaster controls moisture, absorbs odors and doesn’t attract dirt,” he says, “which makes it the workhorse of wall coverings.”
Learn more at AmericanClay.com.
Plant-based wall coverings
Who knew that covering our wallswith grass or coconut shells could produce such exquisite results? Papers, tiles and panels crafted from sustainable plants and reclaimed agricultural waste will beautifully cover sections or entire walls, imbuing them with pattern, texture and color.
Add Architectural Detail
Architectural detail can be that special touch that really makes a room pop. Crown molding, baseboards, door and window trim, mantels, beams and wainscoting are affordable details that add interest and value to a home. Planet-friendly products of recycled and reclaimed origin ensure that we get the look we want and keep a clear conscience.
Reclaimed wood comes from a variety of sources and species. Whether it’s heart pine from a 1890 Virginia warehouse or burgundy-stained oak from old California wine barrels, all reclaimed wood has a story—and the kind of character and richness not available with new wood. Choosing reclaimed goodies also keeps more trees firmly planted in the ground.
Wood-like composites made from recycled plastics are as much or more effective as solid wood for interior decoration. Timbron International makes decorative moldings that are 90 percent recycled. “Our moldings can be cut, nailed, glued, sanded, caulked and painted, just like wood,” says Steve Lacy, the company’s president and CEO, “but, unlike wood, our product is more durable and impervious to water.”
Dress Up Windows
Window treatments should complement décor, rather than dominate or dictate it. Earth-kind window fashions that come in soft, natural colors allow furnishings and decorative touches to be the star. Select natural window treatments that are easy on the planet and anything but drab.
Natural shades enhance any design aesthetic, from traditional to modern. Earthshade, a leader in natural window fashions made from rapidly renewable plants such as grass, reed and bamboo, produces shades in an array of styles and flexible options. Principal Craig Swanson promotes the rigorous quality standards his shades must meet, as well as the fact that they are sustainably procured and fair trade crafted, all without chemicals.
Learn more at EarthShade.com.
Natural window fabrics may be luxurious silk or organically grown cotton, hemp or linen. These fabrications are much more than renewable, however. Hemp, for example, is naturally insulating and can improve a window’s energy performance. Loose linen weaves will allow natural light to filter through while protecting furnishings from harsh sunlight.
Lighting is an integral part of a room’s appeal, but the right lighting does more than enhance the beauty and utility of a room; it can also improve its energy efficiency and safety.
Use compact fluorescent light bulbs only in fixtures that are continuously on for a half hour or more a day. For fixtures turned off and on for a few minutes at a time, stick with standard bulbs. This protects your investment in CLFs, which can deteriorate faster if subjected to frequent on/off cycles. Recycle at Home Depot or a hazardous waste receiving site because these bulbs contain a trace of mercury.
HomeDepot.com lists eco-options.
Light emitting diodes are fast becoming the new light source for ultra- energy-efficient household lighting. Bulbs designed for home applications typically house a cluster of several small LED bulbs under a diffuser lens with an Edison base. Although more expensive than a comparable incandescent bulb, an LED bulb can last up to 50 times longer and use 85 percent less energy, so the cost is recouped over time.
We want to turn lights off to save energy, but no one likes fumbling in the dark for a light switch. Occupancy sensors enable lights to turn on automatically when a room is entered and shut off once exited. No more forgetting to turn out the light. Look for sensors using passive infrared technology that detect the heat energy from our bodies.
Find some options at Leviton.com.
With a growing number of green products and materials to choose from, it’s becoming easier to remodel responsibly, safely and elegantly. Lerner concludes that “This empowers us to make healthy choices and create the life we want to lead.”
Crissy Trask, the author of It’s Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living, is a freelance writer and green lifestyle consultant based in Washington state. She can be reached at [email protected].