A home is a continual work in progress. There is always something to rearrange, repair, replace, update. With some careful planning and a little creativity you can bring the same eco-consciousness you use in your everyday lifestyle choices to your home improvements.
Whatever your home improvement project, start by considering what materials you can obtain used or salvaged. Check online for sources of salvaged building materials near you or visit one of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores which sell new and gently used building materials, appliances, furniture and home improvement items that have been donated. You can even check Craigslist for used flooring, fixtures, housewares, and tools you may need for your project. You’ll save money and help keep these items out of landfills.
Fortunately, environmentally-friendly home products are becoming more popular. So, if you are buying new materials you have several more options for green materials than you would have had just a few years ago.
For countertops there are several great-looking green options, including green laminates which are made from recycled materials and formaldehyde-free substrate, paper composite countertops made from post-consumer recycled paper and a resin binder, and highly durable countertops made from recycled plastics. For more details on green countertop options, check out the U.S. Green Building Council's Buyer’s Guide to Green Countertop Materials.
Carpets made of wool (a renewable and biodegradable resource) and other natural materials (such as plant fibers, jute, and seagrass) are greener options than traditional carpet which is made of synthetic materials and backed by SB latex, a petroleum product that contains the toxin styrene and is a suspected carcinogen. Keep an eye out as more companies come out with eco-friendly options made from recycled products like recycled plastics and organic materials like corn.
Bamboo is a good-looking and durable green flooring options. It comes from trees that have stopped giving fruit and grow back much quicker than old-growth forest trees. Other durable green flooring options include cork and natural linoleum (a long lasting material made from natural ingredients such as linseed oil, wood resins, cork, limestone, and jute).
Paint is a great, inexpensive way to give a room a whole new look, but traditional paints contain harmful contaminants that are damaging to human health and the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paints, stains, and other architectural coatings are the second-largest source of VOC emissions after automobiles. When looking for low-VOC paints seek out products certified by a third party such as Green Seal and make sure that the VOC levels are measured after the tints are added. For wood and concrete stains, opt for soy- or other plant-based stains. If you're feeling adventurous, try paint made of earth-based materials like clay and lime.
Many home improvement projects can even serve the added purpose of reducing the carbon footprint of your home. Updating or replacing drafty windows, adding insulation, upgrading to energy-efficient appliances, and switching to high-efficiency water fixtures are all great green home improvements. For more ideas check out 13 Steps to A Greener Home.