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Green Home Improvements Promote Healthy Living

Consumers who want their homes to reflect personal values and tastes can rejoice at the growing array of home-improvement products that promote healthy living and help ensure a healthy planet.

These products may take some searching out, but they provide fresh options for families who are building a deck, outfitting a kitchen, repainting a room or tackling other projects. Consumers asking for these products helps to make them more widely available.


If you’re building a deck, a fence, or any other wood project, you can seek out lumber from a healthy forest managed for sustainable production, wildlife, water supplies and recreation — not just short-term profit. The best way to do this is to look for the insignia of the Forest Stewardship Council, the international non-profit organization leading forest protection worldwide. The logo is green, with a squiggly tree and the initials “FSC.” Ask for it.

Fence or deck projects often put wood in contact with soil or concrete. To avoid rot or insect attack, homeowners often buy “pressure-treated” lumber—wood that has been injected with arsenic, deadly poison, and chromium, a heavy metal. The amount of arsenic is far from trivial. A deck just 8 feet by 10 feet contains more than 1-1/3 pounds of this highly potent compound. A single 12-foot-long 2X6 has enough to kill 250 adults were they to ingest it. Widespread use of this lumber is creating difficult disposal problems for the future.

But there is an alternative. Ask for wood pressure-treated with a copper formula known as ACQ (for ammoniacal copper quartenary). It’s free of arsenic and chromium, yet just as effective in keeping away rot and insects. The initial cost is only slightly higher, with much greater benefits in the future. This wood does require some extra care during construction, however. Because the formula is richer in copper than ordinary pressure-treated lumber, nails and screws can quickly rust. The manufacturer recommends using stainless steel or hot-dipped galvanized fasteners, joist hangers, and other connectors. Electroplated galvanizing isn’t enough.


Indoors, there are many environmentally sound choices, including true linoleum, cork, bamboo, sustainably harvested hardwood, and carpeting made of plant fibers or wool. Standard flooring companies offer some of these products. Many of these choices are more durable than standard flooring. They are also very stylish, which is why Sunset Magazine chose both cork and bamboo flooring for its showcase house Renton earlier this year. Bamboo is a fast-growing grass that’s incredibly tough. For flooring, the stocks are pressed and glued together, producing a grain pattern somewhat similar to vertical-grain fir. Bamboo has a lovely blond look that’s right at home in many modern settings. It’s a particularly good choice for brightening up rooms with wood ceilings, which tend to be dark.

Cork flooring is made from waste left after wine corks are punched out of bark slabs harvested from a special type of oak. The trees are not damaged, so cork qualifies as a truly sustainable product. Cork floors are soft and warm underfoot, yet so durable that they have lasted in busy places such as courthouses for a half-century or more.

True linoleum, another of the environmentally friendly flooring choices, is made from linseed oil, jute and other natural, rapidly replenished ingredients. Installed as a wall-to-wall floor covering in a room, linoleum looks great for 40 years or more because the color goes all the way through. It is a great alternative to short-lived vinyl.


Many home-repair projects conclude with a fresh coat of paint or other finish, and there are choices to be made here as well. Although water-based, “low VOC” coatings are all the rage, it pays to look beyond these words on a label. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds — technically meaning materials that contain carbon and evaporate at room temperature. Many VOCs cause health problems when inhaled in sufficient quantities, but that’s not the whole story. Paint labels note only the VOCs that contribute to smog. This means “low-VOC” paints may still be quite toxic. Many, for example, contain considerable amounts of ammonia, which is not a VOC yet is hazardous. To find a paint that’s low-VOC and low-toxic, ask the store for the Manufacturers’ Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). All hazardous, non-proprietary ingredients must be disclosed.

Smart choices in your decorating plan can enhance life for you, your family – and all the rest of us, too.


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