Q: I am a DIYer and need to make some improvements to my home, but I have strong green values. How can I make sure that when I make these changes, I'm using the greenest materials and products?
A: In any green remodeling project, our greatest goal is to create a healthy and safe home, and one that encourages us to live more sustainably. This entails more than the selection of green materials and products. Before we make any materials selection, it's important to look at the bigger picture: how we use our homes. Proper space utilization can help us function better--and of course greener--by using less energy, consuming fewer resources, and maintaining better indoor air quality. And by maximizing the use of all our inside, and some outside, living spaces, we can also reduce the need to add extra square footage.
Our changing lifestyle and work requirements often find us multitasking, and these changes necessitate rethinking how we use our homes. While I don't advocate putting an office in a bedroom, it's not uncommon that modern homes do away with formal living and dining rooms and merge these areas with our kitchens into a single, more uniformed, multi-functioning space. This "space-use" rethinking is the first step in assessing a remodeling project: to make our home better support a greener lifestyle by decreasing our footprint in square footage, conditioning any underutilized space with heating and cooling, and reducing the resources we use to outfit those spaces. Good, "up-front" thinking can also support our efforts to move less frequently and "age-in-place," or build and remodel so we can stay in our homes comfortably, safely and independently, regardless of physical challenges.
When it's time to select and assess new products and materials, be they furniture, carpet or new flooring, it's important to look at the product's whole life story. Evaluating the greenness of a product in this way is called "life cycle assessment." There are many shades of green available to us, as well as, unfortunately, a lot of greenwashing in the industry, so we need to look deeper into what a product is made from, how it's manufactured, how far it had to travel to get to our homes, and watch out for any possible chemical emissions. We consumers all look forward to the day when we can read the content label on a piece of furniture just as we read a label on a package of food. Currently, although those labels do not appear on many...