Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Green Wisers Read The Label

How do you know what you are buying?  We look to labels to help us out.  With companies pushing back on what the label can contain, it becomes difficult to really know the content or the processes that were used to manufacture a product.

Reading the labels on food packages has become a common and important practice for us.   It is the result of efforts from many experts who know the importance of good nutrition. 

‘You are what you eat’ may have been a slogan scoffed at by some as something belonging to those hippies.  Even then, as those words reverberated and bounced around in our brains, it was hard to deny.  

While much is still left out of food labels, we are becoming wiser and continue to demand more transparency.  

The same is true with products we purchase for our homes and work places.  Being green isn’t just a trend, it is a way of life whose effort is to get us closer to a healthy and abundant lifestyle.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to breathe in tons of toxins and then have to spend tons of money on health care to fix the problems that arise, assuming those problems can even be identified.

Best choice?  Learn to read the labels.  Just like what has been done for our food knowledge in helping us to make better choices for fuel for our bodies, we can do the same for our homes.   So what we breathe in, rub against, put on and kick up won’t make us sick.

Here are reasons why labels are important to consider for your home.

People spend a large amount of time in their homes, and the air they breathe is 2 to 5 times worse and more pollutant than the air outdoors.  Hard to believe, but true.

The primary source of the pollutants comes from furnishings, building materials and cleaning processes and products we use every day.

These products release potentially harmful toxins and particulates that you breathe in and have been linked to a number of health problems like asthma, heart disease, learning disabilities, reproductive disorders and some types of cancer.  Yikes!

Take a look at kitchens, for example.  Cabinets and countertops (yes, even stone) can contain adhesives, finishes and sealants that release or offgas chemicals into the air, for a long time, that you and your family breathe in. 

Because flooring is in every room, the amount of chemicals and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are released in the home can potentially be very high.  This is one area you really want to consider products that are low in the chemicals emission. 

Paint is another product that covers lots of surfaces in the home.  Paint is a bit quirkie.  Even when it says low VOC or no VOC, applied paint to your walls can still offgas for years to come.  It is in the make up of the paint itself, its ingredients that do the releasing of chemicals.

In looking for labels you can trust to be reliable, look for those that are supported by research, testing, analysis, and professional evidence.  It is important to look for third-party certification whose interests is in health and who is independent from the product, manufacturer and industry.
Because these are times of mass misinformation distribution, greenwashing has also raised its ugly head by misleading consumers regarding the environmental standards or practices of a company and product.  

So, an important piece to evaluating a certification is to make sure the certification body stands behind its claims and evaluations.

At Eco Living Design, we do the heavy lifting for you!  We work to improve the indoor air quality in your home and work place.  Sustainable solutions can absolutely be integrated with your aesthetics to make beautiful spaces to be, that are healthy, more comfortable, add greater value and last longer.

Being green may be easier than you think!

Monday, October 11, 2010

See Your Kitchen Countertop Everywhere You Go?

Do you get tired of seeing the same material used for kitchen countertops everywhere you go?  Oh, it may be a different color or have a larger vein running through or even be the most unique of its type.  It's still the same material. 
Granite Quarry
Countertops used to be lengthy discussions with my clients when I am designing a kitchen.  Most often, their first choice is for what they have seen everywhere, granite.  I am sure this initial reaction is partly the result of a “social proof” characteristic that we humans have and why we follow trends such as this one.

Countertops are trendsetters.  Why, even the type of kitchen countertop used in a home is becomes a selling feature and part of its description  when selling a home.  Imagine, a countertop determining a house sale.  Does that strike you as odd?

After all, when you buy a house, is the countertop the indicator of how well, let’s say, the house is insulated, or what the R-value of the windows are, or how well it is built, for that matter. 

I don't know about you, but I want to know a bit more about a house that I'm going to invest in and live in for some time than what kind of countertop it has.

These days, as the green revolution begins to take hold, I see more hesitation in my clients when we begin discussing countertops.  This is a good thing. 

To me, it means they are becoming aware of the many choices out there and more aware of environmental damage some choices may or may not cause. 

Here are a few tips that might be helpful next time you’re looking for a countertop, or any surface covering for that matter.

Since granite is a trendsetter for many, let’s start there.

Granite and other natural stone is a quarried material.  That means mountains are taken apart to get the stone.  It is not renewable, and it is a finite resource.  A lot of energy is used to transport it unless you find some that is quarried locally. 

The mining of natural stone impacts the land and water quality.  These stones are durable but do require sealant against staining.

Terrazzo is an aggregate of glass, stone chips, mirror, etc.  Introduced by the Italians, it is a mix of leftovers, and makes beautiful surfaces, countertops and flooring alike.  There are various amounts of recycled content in terrazzo but it can take lots of energy to transport it, so look for locally manufactured products.  Terrazzo resists stains is durable and easy to clean.

Butcher block (wood) does not take much to process, but it’s important to look for FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) along with a Chain of Custody certification to make sure it has been managed correctly.  Wood, managed correctly, is a renewable resource.

Sometimes butcher block is pieces of wood laminated together.  Make sure there aren’t any added formaldehydes in the glue.  For sealers and cleaners, look for products that are benign or are low in VOCs.  Butcher block can be recycled.

Paper Composites are also a good choice.  There are many brands available.  This product is made from paper that is held together with a resin binder.  It has a high content of recycled paper, is easy to clean, very durable (after all, skate board ramps were intially made from the stuff) and, it is renewable. 

If you just have to have that granite, look for a salvaged piece and use it as a highlight or focal point in the room.

Want to find out more about how to green your home and lifestyle?  Sign up now for DIY Greenstyle Tips. 

Have questions or don’t know where to begin?  Contact Me at EcoLivingDesign.  Look forward to hearing from you!