Where Green Meets Design

Sadly, we Texans aren’t known for our green sensibilities. But, while most folks take the bigger-is-better approach when it comes to choosing homes, cars, and everything in between, our little family works hard to live a little greener than your average Texan. Here are 7 easy ways to take a greener approach to designing your house, straight from our own experiences.

1. Choose a zero-VOC paint. 

VOCs are volatile organic compounds. In a nutshell, it’s stuff you don’t want to breathe – particularly when there are inexpensive, easy-to-find alternatives. We always buy Olympic paint from Lowe’s, because it’s budget friendly and VOC-free. Plus, the kind folks at Lowe’s will color-match you to just about anything under the sun – including those gorgeous Martha Stewart colors.

2. Buy second-hand when you can.

Why? Because items with MDF or upholstery foam will already have gotten some of that nasty off-gassing out of the way, before they make it into your home. It’s a great excuse to scour Craig’s List, garage sales, and thrift stores for bargains that will keep your indoor air quality a little cleaner.

3. Build it on your own!

Can’t find a second-hand piece that’s exactly what you need? Thanks to websites like www.ana-white.com, there are tons of free DIY building plans out there in the blogosphere. Whenever it’s possible, build with only solid wood. If you need to use plywood, check out the next tip for a greener alternative.

4. Build with formaldehyde-free plywood.

Our master bedroom’s upholstered headboard has a PureBond plywood base. PureBond is formaldehyde-free plywood that you can find at your localOrange, and it’s only marginally more expensive than the chemical-filled kind. Plus, as an added bonus, it happens to be gorgeous – compare PureBond to your average plywood next time you’re at Home Depot, and you’ll see what I mean.

5. Make sure it’s CARB compliant.

For reasons beyond me, only the state of California seems to be concerned with the health of its residents. As a result, they have implemented standards for off-gassing of pressed wood products. Currently, the most aggressive standard for compliance is CARB Phase II – so if you’re buying a new piece of furniture (or other décor items, like picture frames), look for the sticker that proclaims it as CARB Phase II Compliant. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that the furniture won’t do any off-gassing – it’s just as good as it gets when it comes to pressed wood products.

6. Control the temperature.

Keeping your home’s temperature cool can help prevent items from off-gassing. We tend to keep the air conditioner parked at 78 degrees in the summer time, since our AC can’t muster much lower than that when outside temps are hovering around 110. You folks in cooler regions may have better luck with this tip!

7. Go green on your lighting.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are only marginally more expensive than your average lightbulb, but last years longer and consume significantly less electricity. The downside is they won’t work in every light fixture, and since they contain trace amounts of mercury, you’ve gotta recycle them instead of just pitching them in the trash when they’re spent. Luckily, Blue and Orange will recycle your CFLs. LEDs are the next big thing in lighting, but until the price comes down, they aren’t likely to make an appearance in my house. I’m also obsessed with the idea of Solatubes – basically tiny skylights that mimic the look of a pocket light, just using natural light. My parents are itching to add some Solatubes to their new house, so I’ll keep you posted if and when this project materializes.

At the end of the day, making small changes can have a big imprint on the health of our world and even on your own home. No one’s perfect, least of all me (the perfect example being my love affair with VOC-laden spray paint), but baby steps in the right direction can go a long way. 

Do you try to “think green” when it comes to your home? Any cool ways that you’re making an effort to be greener?


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