By Erin Dale
The April 2008 Glamour magazine (the green fashion issue) featured an article called “10 simple ways to green-over your home.” The three-page spread shows a twenty-something’s New York studio apartment receiving several green tweaks, from new eco paint and wallpaper jobs to replacing the towels and bed sheets with those made from organic cotton. Some of these tweaks were chic and helpful, like a recycling center with stackable bins that blend in.
However, I had to wonder how much of this makeover was actually necessary; sure, Glamour needed a green story for their eco-issue, but what about homes in the real world? As much fun as it is to makeover your abode, it’s important not to go eco-crazy, running out and buying new products simply because they claim to be green (and may not be fair-trade, either). But I don’t want to ruin the makeover fun— so if something old needs replacing, or you just can’t wait to try out a new paint color, there are plenty of green options to make your place eco-chic.
(1) Matresses. I’m in the market for a new mattress, and searching for a green replacement is tougher than I thought. Until I started researching the subject, I didn’t know that most mattresses are treated with flame-retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals don’t stay on your mattress; they eventually leach into your skin. I’ve got layers of egg crates and a cotton mattress cover that acts as a barrier between the mattress and my skin, but those aren’t organic, either. And the flame retardants aren’t the only problem; a mattress should be made with natural latex and untreated wood. The difficulty with a lot of organic mattresses (for the vegan shopper, at least) is that they’re made from wool. So what if I want a chemical and wool-free mattress? Thankfully, I found a site that finished the intense search for me. Greenyour.com has a good variety of organic mattresses, including one that doesn’t have wool. The downside: because it’s completely chemical-free, it requires a doctor’s note to order. The price is no picnic, but I’m keeping in mind that buying organic means supporting sustainable industries. After I’ve made an informed purchase, I’ll recycle the old mattress!
(2) Bedframes. My bed frame doesn’t need replacing, but if yours does, look for one made from renewable or recycled materials. If it’s a wooden frame, it’s important to buy one made from FSC-certified wood. According to greenyour.com, the Forest Stewardship Council gives a seal of approval for sustainably-harvested wood. Of course, this goes for the rest of your furniture, too. Since I love vintage shopping, I tend to scour antique stores and yard sales before buying anything new. Or you could freshen up an old piece of furniture by having it refurbished, which uses way less energy than buying a new one.
(3) Furniture. To score used furniture (and other goods), you can try one of my addictions: Freecycle.org. This online community encourages you to ask for used items you want, but make sure you offer up your old stuff, too. It’s not a bartering system— trading items is highly discouraged, even forbidden in some groups, since the site exists for the sake of recycling and goodwill. Join your local chapter, and you’ll be surprised at the cool things your neighbors are just giving away!
(4) Carpeting/flooring. Thinking about carpeting your place? Think again. Like conventionally manufactured mattresses, carpets are loaded with bad-for-you chemicals— like volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even steam cleaning doesn’t make them go away. If you don’t have carpeting, revel in the gorgeousness of hardwood floors; if you have carpeting, care for it as best you can. When it needs replacing, install hardwood floors, try alternative floor coverings (like natural linoleum) or buy carpeting in tiles to cut down on waste. Try Interface or Flor. For more environmentally responsible carpet choices, check out some guidelines here.
(5) Paint. And when it’s time for a paint job, avoid oil-based paints with VOCs that are harmful to you and pollute the atmosphere. Glamour recommends Benjamin Moore’s Aura paints, but they are only low-VOC; the brand’s Eco-Spec paint is odorless and toxin-free. You could also try latex-, water-, plant-, mineral-, or milk-based paints. Greenyour.com is another great resource for these natural paints.
Not into paint? Glamour spruced up an apartment using wallpaper “made with nontoxic glues and environmentally friendly fabric.” It’s crucial to avoid paper made with vinyl (which is really toxic PVC). Mod Green Pod makes really cute, hand silk-screened wallpapers— and the inks are water-based and non-toxic.
(6) Cleaning products. And don’t forget—an eco home makeover involves more than just greening the furniture, floors or wallpaper. You have to use something to clean all of that with, right? It’s high time to switch to environmentally safe cleaning products. Regular ones contain VOCs and other toxic chemicals; and when you’re done “cleaning” with these products that actually pollute the air in your home, the chemicals in the bottle you toss out will seep back into the ground. Green Clean will help you green your supply closet, but you can find these things yourself by merely reading the labels. In “Green Chic” (my eco-Bible), Christie Matheson offers a great cleaning product checklist.
Only use products that:
- List their ingredients (many conventional cleaners don’t)
- Contain no chlorine, anything that starts with chlor, or ammonia
- Are certified biodegradable and free of synthetic chemicals
- Come in recyclable packaging
You can make up your own similar checklist when shopping for any kind of green product for your home. Just ask yourself if now is the time for a green makeover before you go shopping; if it is, follow these guidelines and buy with a clear conscience.
What do you think of green makeovers, and how far would you go to green-over your home? Do you think these things really make a difference?