Greening Your Home Part 1: Big Purchases

In my opinion home should be two things: an oasis, which makes you feel safe and healthy and a reflection of your personal style. Okay, three things, it should also smell terrific. Whether your home is a sprawling house in the suburbs or a closet-sized apartment in the city home should make you release a sigh at the thought.

Greening your home doesn’t require a decorator or another mortgage. In fact, if you went and replaced everything in your home to “greener” products, you would actually be the anti-green (red?). So let’s break this down: we want to reflect our personal style, we want to feel safe and healthy and we want a nice smell. Over the next couple of weeks I will try to address each of these topics.

Today, let’s talk about the big things for decorating in an Earth-friendly, sustainable way. Furniture, floors, walls and building will be the main focus.

Furniture

The most prominent feature in your home (besides the walls and ceiling and stuff) is probably your furniture. If you really need to replace your furniture you should, just keep in mind it take a lot of energy to manufacture new products and processing emits toxins and chemicals. Here are some alternatives to buying new.

ONE: VINTAGE
Antiquing is an action for a reason: not only can you find carefully made (things were just made better long ago), GORGEOUS furniture, it is completely ecofriendly because no energy is required to produce it (it’s already been made, and used, and maybe used again). Check out local antique stores, flea markets, garage sales, and furniture consignment store (How to shop garage sales etc. coming soon!).

And if you think antiques are stuffy, or boring, check out the above image, which is totally chic.
TWO: REFURBISH
A little sprucing up can do wonders for furniture, sometimes making it look new and always returning unique results. As an added bonus, upgrading furniture uses 85 to 95 percent less energy than producing a new piece.
THREE: REPURPOSE
In Fort Collins and Boulder, CO there is a company called ReSource Yard. They operate by removing usable cabinets, doors, windows, hardware, lumber, etc. from buildings, which are being remodeled or torn down. They then sell these building materials. My dad made an entertainment center entirely from material bought at the location in Boulder. 
Look for something like this is your area or check before purchasing furniture whether it has been repurposed. Scrapile is a Brooklyn-based company, which uses piano wood scraps to make furniture and home accessories.
FOUR: ECOFRIENDLY PRODUCTION
More and more you can find new furniture in furniture stores made from sustainable materials. Check for Forest Stewardship Council certification on wood. Bamboo is a good choice because a forest of bamboo that has been clearcut can regenerate in as little as 3 years (compared to the average conventional wood forest, which can take 30-50 years, or even longer). Fabrics should be organic (for more about organic products check out future post on organic foods).
FIVE: GIVING
When you DO need to upgrade your furniture, be sure to donate (or give to a poor college student) the old furniture. If you liked it at some point, chances are someone else will like it too. Also, it can’t hurt to get that karma boost from having such a kind-hearted nature. If you feel that your karma is maxed you can also try selling the furniture in a garage sale or on Craig’s List.

Building

FLOORS
If you deside to replace whatever floors you have, please consider the following…

Carpet, though soft and confortable, are loaded with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as toluene, formaldehyde and xylene, all of which are bad for your nervous system and the Earth. Carpet is also very difficult to clean, even if you steam it, therefore they accumulate soot, fungus, flea eggs, dust mite poop, arsenic, mercury and pesticides. Yum!

Instead, opt for either bamboo flooring (for the same reasons mentioned above) or reclaimed/refurbished wood (possibly from a piano factory). Lay out some areas rungs, which are easy to shake out. Look for those made from natural fiber with no nasty glues.

If you absolutely must buy carpet for whatever reason, Interface is a company that, while not completely guilt free, at least uses some recycled and renewable materials in production.


PAINT
Painting is a great way to drastically change the look of a space, but most paints contain high levels of VOCs, which is probably why you get that headache when you paint. The best thing you can do is look for low or no VOCs latex paints or milk-based paints. We don’t want petroleum-based paints (don’t even get me started on petroleum). Check out BioShield paint by Benjamin Moore or Old Fashioned Milk Paint. If you learn nothing else today, learn this: never dump unused paint down the drain! (Also, just covering my bases but please don’t set it on fire… I know you were totally just about to do that.)

WALLPAPER
I know, wallpaper brings to mind scenes of interior design nightmares, but there are some very chic patterns available (it’s making a comeback ya’ll). Most wallpapers are made with vinyl, aka PVC. If you have room to learn two things today, I suggest you learn this too: vinyl is literally the worst. Look for the wallpaper that is vinyl free (since ’93).

That’s all I have today. Leave a comment below if there’s something you’d really like to know more about.

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