Green can be good for you

  • By M.L. Dehm For the Herald
  • Monday, January 21, 2008 11:56am

Have you measured your ecological footprint lately? More Americans now recognize that living green is not just something to do for the sake of future generations. The impact of environmentally friendly living can be felt immediately in your own home and in your own well-being.

Living green is now easier than ever. The demand for energy-efficient, sustainable, nontoxic yet attractive products is now being met, and there are new product choices available all the time. This doesn’t mean that you need to get rid of all of your old tables, chairs and sofas and replace them with recyclable cardboard furniture. That would be defeating the purpose.

But by making careful choices as you improve, remodel or redesign your home, you can reduce your energy costs, live healthier and minimize your impact on the environment.

A great way to start helping the environment as well as your pocketbook is to replace old appliances with more-efficient models. Energy-efficient appliances sometimes may cost more, but the savings on your utility bill can more than make up the difference. Laurel James of Maytag Stores notes that there are energy-efficient models in refrigerators and washers.

“And, the dishwashers are incredible nowadays,” she said.

Whether you’re in the market for high-end luxury appliances to adorn a gourmet kitchen or simply something standard to meet a growing family’s needs, use the provided energy guide labels to help you decide which models are the best performers.

The materials you choose in redecorating your home can play an important role in both your indoor air quality and the world’s ecology. Flooring, for example, can make an impact on the environment due to the types of resources used to create it. There may also be dangerous chemical emissions from the manufacturing process.

Inside your home, the flooring can become a major source of indoor air pollution. Carpets, carpet backing and adhesives may all contain VOCs, an acronym for volatile organic compounds. These are dangerous chemicals that potentially can damage your health and that of your family. Carpet is also notorious for harboring allergens.

PVC or vinyl has been known to increase the risk of birth defects, neurological damage and cancer. Many flooring products are not easily recycled and end up in landfills once their usefulness is done. Fortunately, manufacturers are trying to address these issues.

“There are all kinds of green products out there today that are more environmentally friendly,” said Lori Butner, vice president of Van Dam Abbey Carpet in Marysville.

“There are recycled carpets that are now available. There are natural products like hardwood flooring and cork that are environmentally friendly as well.”

A bonus to using natural flooring over synthetic is that most major manufacturers offer products made from renewable resources. These products can include such things as wood from certified managed forest land. Bamboo is a fast-growing renewable resource that creates an attractive floor covering. A locally invented product called Deco-Pour has been revolutionizing the concrete floor industry. It’s a renewable and durable product that successfully mimics terrazzo flooring and is only half the cost.

The choice of paint is another area in which homeowners can make a significant impact on the internal health of the house. Paint can be a source of VOCs. It can contain fungicides and other toxic agents that affect indoor air quality.

“Some paints are more environmentally friendly now because they’ve taken out all of the bad chemicals and VOCs,” said Jackie Oglesby of E &E Lumber and Home Center in Marysville. “It smells better because of that, too.”

Nontoxic paints are manufactured using safe, natural products such as clay or a milk-base protein called casein. Paint experts such as Oglesby can let you know which products are best for your home or project.

Most people recycle their cans, glass, paper and cardboard. But one of the most exciting recycling opportunities involves redecorating your home. Have you ever had a piece of furniture or some building tiles that you no longer needed but were far too good to throw away? Or maybe you just need a new sink or countertop for your remodel and are short on cash? There’s no need to buy brand new. Our state is fortunate to have a program called 2good2toss. It’s designed to keep good surplus and reusable materials out of landfills.

“Technically known as an online materials exchange, 2good2toss is a convenient way for homeowners to exchange used or surplus building material and household items,” said Shannon McClelland of the Washington State Department of Ecology.

“I think people truly want to do the right thing when it comes to making something that they no longer want available for re-use. 2good2toss is just one more avenue that is available to make that exchange between people as convenient as possible,” McClelland said.

Items at are offered at low or no cost to consumers by other consumers. They must be exchanged in a not-for-profit manner. Although the program is offered statewide, listings are broken down by region.

Typical items you can expect to see are flooring, fixtures, windows and furniture. One recent free offering, quickly snapped up, was a newer cherrywood sleigh bed that only needed a minor repair to one leg. It’s not unusual to find shower doors, sinks, patio pavers or packets of flooring tiles available.

You don’t have to do a whole remodel to create a significant energy savings and to help the environment. Something as small as changing a light bulb can make a difference.

According to the Department of Energy, if every American household simply replaced its five most frequently used light fixtures and bulbs with Energy Star approved products, it would result in a savings of nearly $8 billion a year.

It would also prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from nearly 10 million cars. And don’t forget, it puts money back in your wallet.

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