You’ve all heard the tired mantras about changing your lightbulbs and recycling at home in order to save the planet – are you yawning yet? Many consumers think that going green is a gesture of self-sacrifice that often comes at great expense and inconvenience – but nothing could be further from the truth. What many don’t realize is that going green is not really about doing something good “for the planet” but is instead about improving your own quality of life through making your environment safer and healthier. And one of the easiest places to start leading a greener and healthier life is in the home.
No one better epitomizes smart, healthy and stylish green living than Ecofabulous founder and cradle-to-cradle green designer Zem Joaquin. This eco jetsetter and green girl about town is well known for her phenomenal green parties, her insightful analysis of green products over on her site Ecofabulous, and her ability to make eco-friendly lifestyle choices feel glamorous and fun. We recently sat down with Zem to find out more about her gorgeous green home in the beautiful hills of Marin County, CA, and get her personal tips and tricks on how to make your home cleaner, greener and healthier through the power of smart design. Read on to find out about Zem’s secret tips for a green home, including – believe it or not – foot pedals on sinks!
Tip 1 – Install Foot Pedals on Your Sinks
Many people take access to clean drinking water for granted and don’t realize that water conservation is becoming a critical issue — as access to potable water becomes increasingly scarce, even in many parts of the United States. One surprisingly great way to cut back water usage while making your life more convenient (and germ-free) is to install foot pedal valves into your sink systems to control water flow with your feet! Not only can it save you money on your water bill, but it solves the whole soapy hand / turning faucets / teeth brushing conundrum with one elegant design solution – no more having to twiddle faucet knobs with sudsy hands! I chose PedalValve.com for my foot pedals, but if you aren’t quite ready for foot pedals but want an easy one-touch solution, Brizo also makes a great water-saving device called the ‘Smart Touch Faucet’ that I have used in a number of design projects with excellent response.
Tip 2 – Improve your indoor air quality for better health and well-being
Since we rarely have to remind ourselves to take a breath (although most of us could benefit from a deep inhale and exhale from time to time) it’s easy to overlook the importance of air quality. And that is unfortunate, because indoor air quality has a huge impact on our health and well-being. Just think about how much time each of us spends indoors every day (for most of us we’re talking around 18-20 hours per day). I learned this the hard way when my children started developing asthma. As I began to search for causes and tried to eliminate various toxins in the house, I learned about numerous culprits of indoor air polluters. The more I learned, the less I trusted traditional household products. This is why Tip #2 addresses steps you can take to make your air as fresh and clean as possible, and eliminate some of the common causes of indoor air pollution. Get ready, as there is a lot of information here!
First always say no to VOCs in your paint. VOC stands for ‘volatile organic compound’ and includes a whole host of nasty chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene and acetone that off-gas particles into the air which irritate the skin and mucus membranes and cause many short- and long-term adverse health effects. Traditional paint is full of VOCs – that is the typical ‘new paint smell’. Happily, excellent quality, no-VOC paint is readily available these days in most big box hardware stores like Ace and Home Depot. My personal favorite brands are Mythic and Yolo Colorhouse. I also really like Benjamin Moore’s Natura, and you can find it almost everywhere!
Think carefully about laminated wood, as it is usually dressing up MDF…
Another sneaky hidden culprit of indoor air pollution is MDF, a basic staple of most cabinetry and furniture. MDF, which stands for ‘Medium-Density Fiberboard’ is ground up wood pulp bound together with adhesives. Most inexpensive and mass-produced furniture, cabinets and wood floors are made from composite board these days, but typical MDF uses urea formaldehyde in the resin, and formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen that off-gases vapors into the air and has been associated with nasal cancer and leukemia.
When shopping for furniture and cabinetry, make sure that any and all MDF that you see is ‘non-toxic MDF’ which is made with formaldehyde-free resin. Additionally, look for products from companies that use non-toxic finishes (such as varnishes, paints and lacquers). Mainstream brands like IKEA and West Elm are great options for inexpensive low VOC furniture, but if you want something special that’s going to last many years take a look at some of the beautiful styles offered by Q Collection and Ironies.
The greenest piece of furniture is one that already exists.
I’m a huge advocate of vintage furniture. Not only is it more eco-friendly to reuse an existing product rather than get a new product, but most vintage furniture uses solid wood and is much better quality and craftsmanship than mass-produced furniture that is churned out of factories today. I love to browse antique fairs like the Alameda flea market, and shop on Ebay for vintage diamonds in the rough that I can refurbish myself and turn into treasures.
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DON’T FORGET THE BASICS
Don’t forget the small things that can make a big difference! Simple things like removing your shoes in the house and making the most of cross-ventilation can have a huge impact. It’s also important to use only gentle, eco-friendly cleaning supplies. My favorite brand is Method – especially Method’s Wood for Good floor cleaner.
TIP 3 – Keep your floors healthy for all with eco alternatives
If you are searching for healthy, eco-friendly flooring, then cork or wood are likely your best choices. They are easy to keep clean, don’t harbor mites and dust, don’t off gas and definitely beat out carpet in every department. The small fibers and deep crevices make carpet a sink hole that accumulate dust, mites and toxins over the years, and is really hard to keep clean. Most carpets are also made with unhealthy ingredients and treated with nasty chemicals that you don’t want JR crawling around on!
The best, most sustainable option for wood flooring is to simply make use of wood floors that were originally in a home (maybe even hidden under old carpeting – but always re-furbish with toxin-free finishes). Unfortunately, not all of us have this option. If you are planning to install new wood flooring, my first choice would be to use reclaimed woods from beams or fallen trees, or a rapidly renewable new material like bamboo. Bamboo may sound ‘green’, but don’t forget to closely examine the adhesives and finishes when working with bamboo – as a lot of cheap bamboo flooring on the market is not produced consciously. Three great brands to check out are Ecotimber, Teragren and Plyboo.
When you are sourcing a new flooring material and are looking for something soft and sound-absorbing, my hands-down favorite flooring material is cork. Cork is an amazing rapidly-renewable material that is taken off the outside of cork oak trees without harming them, and it grows back in 6-9 years. It is soft, durable, hypoallergenic, and provides great insulation. It has all of the things that people like about carpeting (kid-friendly, soft under foot, sound-absorbing), without any of the environmental or health concerns. In addition to cork’s awesome eco & physical attributes, the material is community sustaining as well. Almost all of it comes from Portugal where the cork industry sustains entire villages. My two favorite companies for cork flooring are
CorkConcepts and Wicanders.
The best carpeting options are natural fiber rugs (like wool, organic cotton and silk) that can be picked up, vacuumed under and cleaned when needed. For some sustainable and super stylish rug options check out SHAW carpet for a good nontoxic carpet option, or Odegard for carpets you can roll out.
Tip 4 — Green Your Bedroom
On average, we spend almost 1/3 of our lives sleeping — that’s why it’s so important that we create healthy environments for rest and relaxation. But even the soundest night’s rest will not make you healthier if you’re breathing in dangerous toxins while you sleep. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of green products out there that will ensure your bedroom is a safe and environmentally friendly place to retire to at the end of the day.
Most mattresses are made with a variety of harmful, or potentially harmful, materials such as petroleum and fire-retardants. These chemicals, concentrated on the surface of the mattress, are absorbed through our skin and lungs. But don’t worry — there are plenty of eco-friendly organic mattress on the market. Some of my favorite green mattresses are made by Organicpedic by OMI, Green Sleep, Vivetique and InnoMax. Also when purchasing a new mattress make sure your old one doesn’t end up rotting in a landfill – contact one of these companies to take care of the hauling and recycling.
When creating the perfect healthy bedroom, one must also consider bedding. For organic bedding, I like Pottery Barn’s Organic Line, Amy Butler Design and VivaTerra (who makes duvets from peace silk). If co-sleeping is part of your routine and there’s a little one in the bed, you might want to consider Green Mountain’s wool peepee pads to protect your organic sheets and mattress.
Tip 5 — Treat Your Windows With Earth-Friendly Options
When it comes to saving energy, windows are one of the most important elements of your home in terms of regulating temperature and light — if they are not properly dressed they can easily contribute to heat loss or excessive solar gain. That’s why it is essential to consider eco-wise curtains and drapes that help regulate sun exposure while contributing to a healthy living environment and do not waste precious resources.
Avoid monstrous hybrids!
When picking out curtains or shades, it’s important to look for products made from organic materials that do not contain toxic adhesives — many companies that produce window treatments use petroleum-based materials. At all costs avoid “monstrous hybrids” made from blends of synthetic fibers like polyester and organic fibers like cotton. Many well-intentioned but uninformed companies think it makes a synthetic product slightly ‘greener’ to mix some organic cotton or linen into a polyester mix. They are wrong! Due to the very different physical properties of these opposing materials, absolutely nothing can be done with these blends at the end of their lifecycle and they are just destined for landfill. On its own, 100% pure polyester can be recycled – but not when it is mixed with cotton. On its own, 100% pure cotton can biodegrade back into the soil – but not when it is mixed with polyester. When it comes to window treatments (and most other products) opt for either a pure organic or a pure synthetic.
For window treatments that are affordable, easy to install, and highly customizable, take a look at Smith+Noble. If you’re going custom-made all the way, check out the beautiful organic fabric from modgreenpod.
ABOUT MARVIN WINDOWS AND DOORS
Some of America’s most energy-efficient LEED showcase homes feature the very same Marvin windows that you can buy for your own home. Marvin believes in building top performance into windows and doors with proven technology that are accessible to the average homeowner. And the proof is in the numbers: Marvin has more than more than 150,000 window and door products that are ENERGY STAR certified. More than 80 percent of the existing U.S. housing stock was built before 1990. Replacing old, inefficient windows and doors is one of the best ways to increase America’s overall energy efficiency.
To see how beautiful, efficient Marvin window and doors can become part of your home, sign up for Marvin’s online remodeling planner. This free planner helps you visualize space, track budgets and create an inspiration board.