Going Green One Step at a Time

Conscious choices

Going Green One Step at a Time

Every day we're bombarded with more gloomy news about the sagging economy and the threats to our environment. We're all focused on protecting our financial well-being, but we want to do this without compromising our green principles.

Every day we’re bombarded with more gloomy news about the sagging economy and the threats to our environment. We’re all focused on protecting our financial well-being, but we want to do this without compromising our green principles.

Many cost- and eco-conscious Canadians have closed the door on plans to renovate, shelved redecorating ideas for another day, and even skirted thoughts of any new summer clothing.

If you’ve been put off your plans for updating your home, your bedroom, or your closet because of concerns for your pocketbook and your world, read on. We have some ideas that just might change your mind.

Canada’s new Home Renovation Tax Credit
The credit will only be available for the 2009 tax year and applies to eligible expenditures of more than $1,000, but not more than $10,000, resulting in a maximum credit of $1,350.

Expenses related to the following home projects may be eligible:

  • Renovating a kitchen, bathroom, or basement
  • New carpet or hardwood floors
  • Building an addition, garage, deck, garden/storage shed, fence
  • Re-shingling a roof
  • New furnace, woodstove, boiler, fireplace, water softener, or water heater
  • New driveway or resurfacing a driveway
  • Painting of interior or exterior of a house
  • Some window coverings
  • Laying new sod
  • Swimming pools (permanent)
  • Fixtures, such as lights and fans
  • Associated costs, such as permits, professional services, equipment rentals, and incidental expenses

—Source: Canada Revenue Agency (cra-arc.gc.ca)

1: Renovate with an eco-conscience
Now’s a good time to fix up

With the new economic reality on everyone’s minds, renovating our home looks a whole lot more attractive than buying new. And with Canada’s new Home Renovation Tax Credit, upgrading our existing home makes even more sense.

“When we’re renovating, we check with our Habitat for Humanity ReStore for leftover building supplies from contractors,” says Angela Krueger, a mother of two in Guelph, Ontario. Materials sold by ReStores are usually donated from building supply stores, contractors, demolition crews, or from individuals who wish to show their support for Habitat for Humanity.

According to Kim Pettersen, director of marketing and development for Habitat for Humanity ReStores, pricing of donated building materials ranges from 50 to 80 percent off their fair market value. For example, a steel entrance door that retails at Home Depot for $404 would sell (as a returned or donated new item) at ReStore for as little as $80. You can even purchase an entire kitchen at their stores—at incredible savings.

Auctions, demolition sales, architectural salvage yards, and bankruptcy sales are additional ways to avoid buying new and put existing materials to good use.

Colour your rooms green
When you want to freshen up a room with new colour, it only makes sense to spread organic paints on your wall. These paints are free from petrochemicals, fungicides, and preservatives and are made from natural wood resins, plant oils, and earth pigments.

Use specially formulated paints for low odour and low VOC emissions (volatile organic compounds, which the US Environmental Protection Agency regulates to control air pollution).

“These paints are available in latex flat, eggshell, and semigloss finishes, so they’re easy to apply and clean up,” says interior designer Debbie Wiener, author of Slob Proof! Real-Life Design Solutions (Alpha, 2008).

Though you can pay as little as $15 for 3.79 litres (1 gallon) of inexpensive latex paint at a large building supplies store, a premium latex paint can run upward of $50—and you get all the toxins to go with the price tag. Instead, buy “green” for the price of a conventional premium paint and get the reassurance that comes with knowing you’ve made a choice for the environment—and your health.

Step up your flooring
Bamboo and cork are eco-friendly alternatives to hardwood flooring. Bamboo, a grass that grows quickly and renews itself, is as durable as wood when fully harvested. Cork, which comes from tree bark, can be harvested without harming the tree and is widely available from most home improvement and flooring outlets.

Another option that has become popular—and widely available—is “engineered” flooring in the form of durable wooden planks made out of wood scraps originally classified as unusable.

Roll out the green carpet
If hardwood is not your choice, you can still maintain your eco-conscience with low VOC-emitting carpeting. Unlike conventional carpeting, which can emit toxins from the VOCs contained in the unnatural fibres, carpeting made from natural fibres with little or no chemical treatment is a fashionable, yet safe alternative.

Look for carpets made of undyed or vegetable-dyed yarn such as woven wool and natural sisals, jutes, and seagrass with natural fibre backing attached with less toxic adhesives such as latex (rubber) glue. Some boast no mothproofing or stain repellent chemicals.

Eco-Deco Tip
Debbie Wiener, author of Slob Proof! Real-Life Home Decorating Solutions (Alpha, 2008), recommends leaving your shoes at the door to keep the petrochemicals in street tar and resurfacing materials from spreading through your home.

“Use a wooden shoe tray or a large decorative basket with a washable cloth liner for outdoor shoes,” she says. “Your floors will not only be healthier, they’ll last longer and look better.”

 Brush up on painting accessories
When it comes to painting, don’t stop at the organic, low odour, low VOC paints. There are many tools of the trade now available to the conscientious home renovator.

Paint brushes: Bristle heads that wear out can be replaced on some specialty paint brushes thus avoiding the need to replace the entire thing. The bristles themselves are easier to clean, requiring less water or solvent to remove leftover paint.

Paint rollers: Rollers that are made from a special polyester filament yarn gleaned from 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottles are fitted onto a 100 percent recycled plastic core.

Paint trays: Rollers can be used in paint trays that are made from recycled plastic. Also available are paint tray liners made entirely from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), giving new life to recycled pop and water bottles.

Other places to look for great bargains for household renovations include:

  • Habitat for Humanity ReStores
  • Craigslist
  • eBay
  • Your company’s intranet
  • Salvation Army and other charitable organizations’ thrift stores
  • Used furniture stores (check your local yellow page listings)

2: Redecorate the green way
Relax in eco-friendly comfort

Going green isn’t black or white, so you don’t have to redecorate your entire home to improve your health and protect our resources. Just take it one small green step at a time.

If you need to make some changes in your bedroom, we have some ideas that will help rest your mind and ease the pain in your pocketbook, too.

Rest assured
“Your body is vulnerable when you’re asleep, making you more susceptible to environmental toxins,” says Candita Clayton, author of Clean Your Home Healthy (Morgan James Publishing, 2008). Good health starts in the bedroom because that’s where your body heals and regenerates.

Creating a sleep sanctuary can range from decluttering your closets to replacing wall-to-wall carpets.

Choose organic materials such as cottons, latex, and wool for your bedding, mattress, and pillows. These materials eliminate unhealthy off-gassing and are resistant to fire and allergens.

Bedding
Long considered the best cloth for bedding, organic linens are a good investment as, with proper care, they can last a lifetime. Organic linen, alone or blended with organic cotton and hemp, gives a luxurious feeling to sheets, pillow slips, duvet covers, and towels.

Organic wool, produced with sustainable farming practices and without toxic chemicals, is becoming more readily available. Blankets and throws made of organic wool (for anywhere from $130) have the unique appeal of suiting those who get very hot or very cold in bed.

The fresh smell and soft feel of natural organic fabrics are two of the most noticeable differences, but there are additional significant benefits. There are no chemical washes or dyes, toxins, or pesticides used in the manufacturing of organic fabrics.

Pillows
To make the switch to organic bedding, start with the pillows. They’re relatively inexpensive (anywhere from $50 to $180 depending on size, fill, and covering) for an item you’ll have next to your face all night.

Look for pillows made of natural rubber, a renewable and biodegradable resource, as they don’t contain fire retardants or other chemicals and they don’t allow molds, mildews, or dust mites to thrive—an added benefit for those who suffer from allergies.

Some companies sell pillows made from shredded natural rubber which shape to fit the contours of your neck and head. Other recycled options include pillows made from recycled billboard material, reclaimed wool sweaters, and even plastic bottles.

Sheets, pillowcases, and duvets made from soy, bamboo, or hemp are some of the softest, healthiest fabrics on which to rest your weary bones.

Mattresses
“Most standard mattresses contain chemicals which provide nonflammable properties and allow mass production. These include boric acid (roach killer), formaldehyde, and other petroleum-based chemicals,” says eco-friendly lifestyle expert Robin Wilson. “Many of these chemicals are intended to prevent allergens, dust mites, mold, and other naturally occurring toxins.”

These chemicals can leech into your body through your lungs and skin. Purchase an organic, natural latex foam or natural latex rubber mattress. If your current mattress is still in good condition, consider a bamboo or wool mattress cover.

Furniture
“Look for products with a seal that shows the wood came from responsibly managed forests, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seal,” says Terra Wellington, author of The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green (St. Martin’s, 2009). “While wood is renewable, it can only be sustained if we take care of our trees. Sustainable forest [practices] also protect valuable ecosystems, including rainforests.”

Again, buying new is just one of many green options. “The barrister bookcase in my living room, circa 1932, is a back alley discard,” says Maggie Rayner of Bowen Island, BC. “And I found my wooden buffet next to a dumpster. It was missing a middle drawer, but I fit the space with storage baskets and added new hardware.”

Don’t forget the tried and true: Garage sales are a fabulous source of great buys, especially old lamps and accessories, which can often be freshened up with a quick coat of paint (no or low VOC, of course).

Household cleaning
Out, damn spot! Living green isn’t as expensive as people think. There are many products available, such as environmentally friendly laundry detergents, household cleaners, shampoos, and deodorants that work just as well as the traditional brands. And they’re almost equivalent in cost.

Replace cleaning products one at a time in your move toward eco-clean. Choose products that don’t have parabens—a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor—or list fragrance or perfume in them. These names mask the real ingredient, phthalates, which are environmental toxins.

“With three kids, laundry takes a lot of time, personal energy, and resources,” says mom Linda Gordon of Edmonton, Alberta. “Remember play clothes? I get my boys to change into old clothes when they’re playing hard. These clothes don’t require as many cleaning products, elbow grease, or a second wash, because it doesn’t matter if they’re not pristine.”

3: Fashion that’s fit for the times
Sustainable and attainable green threads

Being a conscientious steward of the planet doesn’t have to relegate you to Birkenstocks and burlap. It’s entirely possible to be earth-friendly and chic, too.

There are many ways to express your eco-self: you can remain perched on the fashion edge with hip hemp or swim comfortably down the mainstream in designer-inspired organic fashion.

And if you’re especially inspired, there are treasures galore in vintage and thrift stores just waiting for your imagination to lend them new credibility.

Made in Canada
Finding earth-friendly fashion is getting easier all the time: locally made, sustainable hemp, bamboo, and organic cotton clothing is becoming mainstream. Eco-clothes stores populate many cities and towns, and garments are sometimes created locally.

Bamboo is known as the “vegetable cashmere”; it lets your skin breathe, and is antibacterial and thermally regulating. Bamboo is also a sustainable choice as its production uses very little land mass and doesn’t use pesticides.

From trash to treasure
“Another cool green fashion trend right now is reworked vintage clothing,” says Terra Wellington, author of The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green (St. Martin’s, 2009).

“By today’s standards, vintage can be any used clothing. Some boutiques employ seamstresses who rework clothes, which means you’re buying a fashionable, unique garment. Most vintage clothing just needs an adjustment, such as a change in collar style, to make it look new again.”

Second-hand revivalists make slick cocktail dresses out of ancient trench coats, and transform vintage ball gowns into gorgeous blouses, skirts, and purses. They take throwaways, such as those groovy drapes, duvets, and sheets from the ’70s, and transform them into eco-chic garments.

If you want to recreate the golden oldies yourself, do a quick Internet search for dozens of upcycling, recycling, and repurposing websites. And books such as Rip It: How to Deconstruct and Reconstruct the Clothes of Your Dreams (Fireside, 2006) and Reconstructing Clothes for Dummies (For Dummies Publishing, 2007) describe how to jazz up old T-shirts with lace trim and change ripped, faded jeans into trendy new skirts.

New eco-chic
Purchasing durable organic clothes not only protects environmental resources, but it also saves you money and time. If you think seasonless, ageless, and versatile, you’ll eliminate the need to make frequent trips to the mall to update your wardrobe.

Look for fabric weights, patterns, and cuts that can be worn all year round, either solo or with layers. Make sure they’re versatile and reversible, so that you can wear them inside out, backward, or even upside down.

Avoid buying current fads. Look for pieces that work with your figure and have interesting lines, nice details, and are current, but which won’t be relegated to the “who was I kidding” pile. You can always update a piece by adding a belt, a scarf, or shoes, or by tailoring hemlines later on.

 Fashion reduction
Take a browse through your local thrift store and you’ll be amazed at the fashion treasures you might find.

For example, instead of paying up to $180 for a pair of designer (Diesel or Guess) jeans, you might find the same brands at your local Salvation Army Thrift Store for anywhere from $6.99 to $20. (At the Sally Ann, pricing is dependent on quality, style, and seasonality.) Add a blouse to complete your outfit for as little as $3.99.

 Eco-undies
We have to mention unmentionables, because they could be the most health-altering clothes you wear.

Though many people have one or two organic shirts, they still purchase conventionally made underwear and sportswear. But that’s where you may be most susceptible, because synthetic fibres don’t breathe.

There is a wide assortment of organic undies available on the market made from hemp, organic cotton, and bamboo.

 As we become more accustomed to the new realities in our changing world, thinking outside the old paradigms will no longer be so difficult. As we weather the economic and ecological storms, we’ll come to appreciate that it’s much easier if we make the green shift one small step at a time.

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