Go Green; 5 Tips for an Eco-Friendly Interior: Home Design
These days, it seems like every manufacturer is claiming their products are sustainable, making it tough to determine what the best materials for your health and the environment really are. Once you understand the following terms, however, you’ll be able to use common sense to determine whether companies are telling the truth or not. It’s surprisingly easy to do and will help our planet greatly.
USE RAPIDLY RENEWABLE RESOURCES
Rapidly renewable resources are materials that regenerate quickly in nature. Bamboo—used for flooring, cabinets, countertops, and even clothes and towels—is the most commonly found renewable resource, because stalks grow to maturity in five to seven years and require no pesticides and very little water to grow. Turns out, a panda bear’s favorite snack can be turned into incredibly soft, absorbent, and fast-drying fabric. Cork, another favorite sustainable product, is used for flooring, furniture, insulation, and more. It comes from the bark of the cork oak tree, and the extraction of the bark is a process that doesn’t harm the tree and is renewable (every nine years, there’s new bark to be removed). Even better, a cork tree that has its bark removed every nine years will absorb up to five times as much CO2 than a similar tree that’s left idle. Renewable materials are also biodegradable and produced from agricultural crops, so they don’t take energy other than the sun to grow (although some require considerable energy to manufacture, which is another factor to consider). Wheatboard, organic cotton, and wool are other examples of renewable materials.
CONSIDER RECYCLED AND SALVAGED MATERIALS
Recycled and salvaged materials are being used in carpet, countertops, lighting fixtures, and more. Any time you use something that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill, it’s a good thing. Reusing what already exists is almost always better for the environment than making something from new materials—whether it means buying a table at a garage sale, gathering waste from a manufacturing process to use as an ingredient in something else, or re-milling beams from a torn-down building into tongue-and-groove flooring. This Kerrie Kelly for Feizy rug (pictured) uses 100-percent recycled PET from plastic bottles, rendering it soft and sustainable.
LOOK FOR LOW- OR NO-VOC PRODUCTS
Low- or no-VOC products are those that emit little to no volatile organic compounds (VOC). Because so many products in our homes release VOCs over time—including furniture made of plywood or particle board, vinyl shower curtains, mattresses and upholstery treated with fire and stain retardants, and carpeting—the air quality inside our homes is often much worse than it is outdoors. According to the American Lung Association, VOCs can cause eye and skin irritation, breathing problems, headaches, nausea, muscle weakness, and liver and kidney damage. In addition to being dangerous inside your home, VOCs eventually migrate outdoors, where they mix with other substances in the air and turn into ozone, a component of smog. Buying low- or no-VOC materials is vital—not just for your own health but for the health of the planet, too. Federal and state legislation now regulates the amount of VOCs contained in coatings such as paint and stain. VOCs in other products, including furniture and mattresses, are not regulated, which is why it’s important to look for products that have other environmental certifications.
STICK TO LOCALLY PRODUCED PRODUCTS
Locally produced products, just like locally grown food, are eco-friendly because they don’t have to travel far to get to you, resulting in fewer carbon emissions along the way. A marble countertop from China that travels by truck and boat to get to your door takes a lot more gas and energy than ceramic tiles made locally, for example. You’re also helping to boost the local economy by keeping your dollars in the pockets of your neighbors, which is always a good thing.
OPT FOR ENERGY-SAVING PRODUCTS
These days, you can find a number of easy energy-saving products to reduce your carbon footprint further. Installing fluorescent lights, LED lights, or natural skylights all reduce the amount of energy required to attain the same level of illumination compared with using traditional incandescent light bulbs. Light switches that sense movement in a room and power strips that help appliances drain unnecessary energy when they’re not in use are all examples of energy-saving products. It can be as simple as switching your showerhead to something with a lower flow to help conserve water.
It can sometimes be daunting to remember all the factors that make a product eco-friendly and balance those issues with your needs and budget, the style of your house, and the health of your family and the environment. To help you weigh the factors, ask the following questions about the product you’re considering: Where did it come from and how many miles did it travel to get to me? What is it made of and are any recycled materials incorporated?
By Kerrie Kelly, Fasid
Kerrie L. Kelly is an award-winning interior designer, author, and multimedia consultant. She has authored two books: Home Décor: A Sunset Design Guide, published by Oxmoor House, and My Interior Design Kit, with Pearson Professional and Career Education. To contact her, visit kerriekelly.com or call 916-706-2089.