If you are contemplating updating your home or office and are interested in “going green” to do it, here are the important points to know about what to do.
To begin with, the are three facets of “green”: energy and water efficiency, air quality and environmental stewardship. Knowing the importance of each will allow you to invest your money in these updates most effectively.
Energy and water efficiency are probably the most important and easiest to understand. Especially with the current energy crunch and recent water crisis in Florida, most people are beginning to care about going green. The “low-hanging fruits” of going green include replacing incandescent and some halogen light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs, using Energy Star computers and appliances, putting non-vital electronics on strips that can be unplugged or turned off in one place to eliminate “ghost” energy usage, and insulating walls, ceilings and around doors and windows.
Taking it a step further, if you are upgrading your light fixtures, invest in fixtures that use fluorescent bulbs. But be aware that the fluorescent bulbs require correct disposal due to mercury.
Concerning water efficiency, invest in landscaping that requires little or no water, use zoned irrigation specific to the type of landscaping, and use cisterns for irrigation, rather than from a well or city water. If you are upgrading your bathrooms, look into dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals.
Every dollar invested in efficiency should save $1 or more over time – these create greater value over the lifetime of the building.
Air quality has become very important as mold and “sick building syndrome” have been highly publicized. Investing in fixing water infiltration into buildings, and correctly sizing air conditioners to manage moisture are very important to stamp out mold. Another factor in mitigating “sick building syndrome” include using materials that don’t off-gas toxic volatile organics such as formaldehyde, which can be in paint, cabinets and carpet.
Right now, you need to ask for low-VOC paints, and you will spend more for these. Higher-quality cabinets often will use low-VOC plywood, but you should ask for any cabinetry and countertops, whether created with MDF or plywood, without formaldehyde. Even your new desks and chairs may harbor VOCs like fire-retardants, so ask about the material content before purchasing - sometimes using gently used desks and chairs (recycling) has air-quality benefits, too.
Also, you should use mold-resisting ducts and good filtration in air conditioning systems if you are modifying these systems. Additionally, ensure that the cleaning products that you or you staff are using don’t contain harsh chemicals. Clean shouldn’t smell – Shaklee has produced a basic cleaning product for decades that doesn’t have a smell. They wouldn’t still be in business if it didn’t work.
When looking at In-door Air Quality, think of these costs as offset by reductions in medical expenses – these improve the quality of life. (and potentially protect you from litigation from no-longer sick employees.)
Environmental stewardship mostly refers to choosing finishes with low environmental impact. This includes using recycled plastic or wool for carpets, renewable woods like bamboo for flooring, wall coverings or furniture, or even ditch the new floor coverings and stain your concrete floors with soy-based stains for a crisp, modern look. You can even explore the many beautiful recycled glass or concrete tile options, or even reclaimed or managed-growth wood (look for the “FSC-certified” logo).
These choices can cost more without direct return on investment, but in terms of long-range health of the environment, they do make an impact. They also impart emotional or intellectual benefits. Someone may comment on the beauty of your new bamboo floors, and be just as impressed that it is a sustainable product manufactured with low impact to the environment. Additionally, durable finishes that will stand up to repeated abuse for many years and won’t need to be replaced often are both financially and environmentally friendly.
To reiterate, there are three facets to going “green”: energy and water efficiency, air quality, and sustainability. Start with the easiest first, but look into the other choices and determine what your comfort level is – you might be surprised to find that there are a lot of great choices out there that you want to make.