I’m at that point in our house renovation (78 Main St) where the end is just around the next corner… I think. And then I get another barrage of decision requirements: what color for the second floor bedroom walls? What is the trim in the downstairs bathroom? What counter top did you pick out for the kitchen? What ventilation hood? Which carpet is going in the master bedroom? What tile is going around the tub? … If you’ve done a renoation, you probably get the picture.
I have been to the tile place, the counter top place, the carpet place, the granite place, and the bathroom fixtures place quite a few times in the last few weeks and one day I think I hit three or four in a 1 hour period.
I’ve been lugging around stones, tiles, floor vinyl, carpet samples and diagrams of floor layouts for 2-3 weeks now. For someone who doesn’t really get into the decorative part of a house as much as how the heating and electrical systems work… this has been a bit daunting. Way too many choices.
So, after a few showroom visits I came up with a strategy. I walk into a store and say “I’m building a zero net energy, LEED certified home. Can you please show me a ____ (counter top, paint, tile) that is made from recycled materials, or has a LEED certified rating, or has very low or no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).
Fortunately for me, that tends to reduce the number of things I need to consider quite a bit — so I am not quite so overwhelmed. For others, who really enjoy this part of the job but want to be as green as possible, it may feel limiting.
Here is a quick summary of some of the things I have found in this journey:
- Low VOC paints – Many paints are low VOC, meeting the LEEDs certification and all the colors you could ever want should be available. But the paints that “no VOC” are not getting a good reputation in the real world. They don’t cover as well, take more coats and cost quite a bit more … so I am going with very low VOC paints.
- Carpet – I am pretty happy with the green choices available in carpets. I found a line, SmartStrand, from DuPont that is based on a renewably sourced polymer, Bio-PDO, made from corn sugar. According to their website, they uses 30% less energy to produce than standard carpet materials. It seemed like many of the carpet lines you will find in a showroom will tell you about their energy production, fiber materials and binding materials. Just comparing a few manufacturers can get you to some renewable, recyclable or ‘greener’ products.
- Tiles, slate, countertops – There are some that are easy to rule out… but there are many surfaces that have been made from recycled materials, or local materials, and/or held together with low VOC materials. The few materials that were way ‘greener’ than others were also way more expensive. I chose affordable materials that met LEED certification guidelines. For instance, I am using some VT (local) slate on the entryways, Silestone countertops (recycled content, low VOCs, good energy and water use during production), and recycled glass and ceramics for bathroom tiles.
- Wood Flooring – I was very excited that we were able to re-use most of the original flooring that was in this 1860’s house. It was sized and re-installed and will be sanded and finished in the next week. Almost the entire second floor and about half of the first floor (Energy Emporium’s show room) is reclaimed wood. Bamboo and cork are other good possibilities for wood-based, highly renewable materials.
- Vinyl Flooring – For the rest of the show room I want something durable and not too expensive so I did some research on vinyl alternatives. I looked at marmoleum, which is 45% recycled materials, 30% renewable materials (lineseed oil, pine rosin, jute) and is getting a lot of press as a great green commercial flooring — but it is just about 3 times as expensive than VCT (vinyl composition tile), which may have a pretty good amount of recycled materials (read the labels for the tile you may be considering). I’m going with a product called BBT (BioBased Tile), which is made with rapidly renewable materials and 10% recycled content. It is slightly more expensive than the standard VCT, but reduces the use the fossil fuels and qualifies for LEED credits.
What’s the bottom line on green materials? You do have to read labels and look for certifications like “Green Building” and “LEED”s credits… and nothing is perfect. The kinds of things to consider in your trade-offs: locally resourced, low VOCs, recycled content, renewable materials, energy required to build and ship the product, and cost are a few. And be aware of ‘green’ washing — marketing that talks about a product being green but doesn’t actually make a difference in any of these trade-offs that might be important to you.