Design to minimize. Use the least amount of material to meet your needs; create the least waste possible.
- Renovate or expand an existing house rather than build new from scratch to avoid unnecessary expense, high energy costs, and maybe even urban sprawl.
- Favor building materials made from recycled and renewable products, like fabric made from soda bottles or flooring made from bamboo.
- Use salvaged and reclaimed materials, like plumbing fixtures, cabinets, windows and doors.
- Build with locally-produced products to reduce the environmental impacts of long-distance transportation.
- Recycle or donate excess materials. Habitat for Humanity accepts a wide variety of household items; so does your local Salvation Army.
Building a new house? Before you do, visit www.greenhomebuilding.com or read the Green Affordable Housing Guide from the state of Minnesota for excellent overviews of your earth-friendly options. American Lung Association's HealthHouse includes a list of builders and ways to create a more comfortable indoor environment.
- Remodeling? These green tips from the state of Minnesota or this great series of guides from the city of Seattle will help. You'll learn how to hire design and building professionals, use salvaged materials when you renovate, and choose paint that won't give you a headache.
- Need energy-efficient builders, as well as appliances? Check in with the U.S. EPA Energy Star program. Then hustle on over to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Energy-Efficient Rehab Advisor. In about five seconds this on-line calculator will tell you how much money you'll save by incorporating energy-efficiency measures into room-by-room renovations. If you want even more info, read these Home Energy Briefs from the Rocky Mountain Institute.
- Want eco-tips specific to your region plus product information for a healthier home? Check out the Green Home Guide.
For one-stop shopping, try:
Seattle's Environmental Home Center, a comprehensive source for sustainable building materials including flooring, cabinets, countertops, paints and finishes, caulks and adhesives, bedding and bath accessories, lumber, insulation and roofing.
Twin Cities (MN) Green Building Products Retailers Directory , a 15-page listing of earth-friendly products available in-store and on-line.
www.GreenerBuilding.org , a well-organized site offering building products, local dealers, and helpful programs near you.
Lumber: Consider alternatives to lumber treated with arsenic and other toxic preservatives, like ACQ-treated wood . Steel and concrete may be substituted for structural applications. Plastic lumber is another option. For more information, read Treated Wood: Use, Disposal and Alternatives for Homeowners
Straw Bales : Straw bale construction seems to be all the rage in some parts of the country because it's so energy-efficient and earth friendly. If you're interested in using big bales of dense straw to build a home or addition, you can get more information from Green Builder or Strawlocator , a national ad-based service listing suppliers of straw bale tools and materials.
Cabinets: Manufactured cabinets rely on particle board that may outgas formaldehyde, a toxic chemical many people find difficult to tolerate. Alternatives include cabinets made from solid wood, or "prime board," a material made from wheat straw that is more environmentally friendly than particle board.
Carpets: Instead of nylon, try carpets made mostly of natural fibers, including wool and plant fibers . You can even get carpets made from high-quality polyester recovered from recycled soda bottles.
Paint: Standard paint contains VOCs (volatile organic compounds), solvents that evaporate into the air as the paint dries. VOCs contribute to smog and indoor air pollution; some consumers get physically sick from smelling the fumes. People-friendly "green" paint has replaced the VOCs with less offensive ingredients. Some options: Sherwin Williams' GreenSure line, in 1400 colors; Benjamin Moore's Eco Spec white paint; AnnaSova's vibrant " wall finishes "; Safecoat's nonallergenic all-purpose paints; Sundance Catalog's Prairie Paint, mixed from recycled leftovers, in six colors, including Wine and Hemp. Green Seal has certified at least 88 paints you can consider if you want to keep the color lively but subdue the fumes. Take a look .
Beware: If your home was painted prior to 1978, the paint probably contained lead. Lead dust is highly toxic, especially to children and pets. Be careful when you scrape and sand. Follow these instructions from the Environmental Protection Agency .
Even though I'm only doing a small renovation on my house, the task seems daunting. I want to repaint walls and woodwork, reupholster furniture, tear out the carpeting and replace it with sustainable flooring, and replace some of the wall hangings and other accessories. The accessories piece is simple: I'm starting in my attic, looking for things that have sentimental value as well as artistic appeal. I'm framing family photographs to give our house a more personal touch. Rather than buy "knock off" prints of famous artists who mean nothing to me, I'm "buying local" - acquiring artwork made by friends and shopping at local art galleries and seasonal crafts fairs that feature designs made by regional artists. Finding the right fabrics and flooring will be more difficult. There's still not a lot of organic upholstery fabric to choose from, and most of it is white or beige - two colors that don't go well with a dog, two cats, and two teenagers. I also have to research my floor options: I'm inclined towards bamboo, but I need to see it on the ground before I install it in my house. There is now an abundance of low-VOC (air polluting) paint to choose from. Since I'm so chemically sensitive, that's a real plus for me. One of my biggest expenses is going to be to replace my windows. They're double paned, and energy-efficient. But they weren't well-sealed when they were installed twenty years ago, and the panes have fogged up and can't be cleaned. The kind of windows I replace them with will be expensive and will take more research. I'm looking forward to giving the house a facelift - but I can't say I'm equally eager to spend all the time and money it's going to take to get to that point.
The U.S. Green Building Council offers computer programs for green building design and architecture here.
GreenGuard will help you find products that emit no or low chemicals, benefiting indoor air quality substantially.
Mortgage Financing for Green Housing:
Need help paying for all these green home improvements? Fannie Mae's Energy Efficient Mortgage enables lenders to use estimated monthly energy savings resulting from energy efficient improvements to qualify borrowers for higher monthly mortgage payments.
Finally, when you're ready to sell your home, list it on www.greenhomesforsale.com.