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Writer remodels home with environment in mind

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Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:07 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Natalie T. Hull

Killeen Daily Herald

My home renovation started the day I received the keys to my new house. I walked in that evening, walked through the house and ended up squealing for joy in the middle of the living room. It was a blank canvas, and I could hardly wait to create my masterpiece.

However, there is one special variable to my home renovation plans: It has to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

I have been a recycler for years. Maybe it's a karma thing, but I use a lot of paper in my job, so I try to recycle. I am constantly preaching to the editors and reporters at the Daily Herald to print on both sides of the paper and to use their entire notebook before they get a new one. The thing about home renovations, however, is that it usually involves some pretty harsh chemicals and a lot of waste sent to landfills.

So, as I take on a new task in my house, I make sure to read up on the environmental impact my renovation might have.

Painting

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted from certain solids and liquids in gas form, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These chemicals may cause short- or long-term side effects to your health including eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and even some internal organ damage.

The EPA says that studies show levels of several organics average two to five times higher inside when compared to outdoors – even in rural communities. These compounds can even cause cancer. Guess what? Normal paint contains VOCs.

Luckily, there are several paint manufacturers that are making their colors with low or no VOC ingredients. Home Depot offers Freshaire Choice paint that contains no VOCs. Lowe's offers low-VOC paint in its Olympic paint line and Sherwin Williams offers a no-VOC option in its Harmony paint line. Even Wal-Mart has a line of eco-friendly paints in the Dutch Boy Clarity paints.

Compare prices and find out what colors they offer in each line. Some don't always have a full rainbow to choose from, but if you shop around, I bet you can find that perfect hue. Guess what color I picked ... green!

Flooring

For my next trick, I bought a big box-cutter, a face mask and a pair of kneepads. I spent an early Friday afternoon ripping, yanking and tugging to remove the grossest carpet I have ever seen. Because I have five animals, I was pretty adamant against putting down new carpets so I started looking at my options in flooring.

If you are interested in carpeting, look for carpets made of recycled materials. These include plastic (sounds weird, I know) that is resistant to stains. Greenfloors.com is a great resource for information on how "green" a type of flooring is.

Basically, I found several options that would work: bamboo floors, reclaimed wood floors from demolished houses or barns and cork flooring. Bamboo and cork are both resources that are easily renewable. The tree doesn't die when cork is removed from it and bamboo just grows fast.

Sadly, I couldn't afford any of these options. While bamboo flooring is comparable to hardwood, I couldn't even afford the real deal, so I had to compromise with Mother Earth. I chose laminate flooring from a local hardware store. According to the North American Association of Laminate Flooring, it contains low VOCs and uses a significant percentage of renewable resources. The click-in-place installation doesn't use any glues or harsh adhesives. Instead, the floor floats on a moisture-locking pad. The negative, however, is that the sustainability of the wood isn't easy to verify.

Since cost was a big factor, I decided to do it all myself, a decision that had many of my close friends (and several hardware clerks) biting their nails in concern. Well, forget them; I did it! I had one helper who manned the saw, but otherwise, I spent a weekend on my knees snapping hundreds of boards together and am pretty proud of the final product, thank you very much.

Furnishings

The neatest thing about a new house is the chance to redecorate and buy new furniture for your pad. Luckily, there are some interesting options for eco-friendly design. Bamboo sheets can be bought from most retailers and provide a soft, airy sleep through those hot summer nights. Use reusable dish towels instead of paper towels in your kitchen. Use glass jars and baskets for storage.

To keep things nature-friendly, it's important to look at reclaiming and repurposing items. When it comes to furniture, call family members to see if they have any pieces to spare. You might just snag a great heirloom.

When furniture is thrown out, it ends up in a landfill and starts a whole heap of environmental problems. However, organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army make it easy to buy old furniture that you can fix up (using low or no VOC paints, of course) that will not only add character to your home but also help with the mess at the landfill.

In Killeen, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 2601 Atkinson Ave., is a garden of unharvested decorating ideas. Doors, lights, appliances, tiles, wallpaper and so much you never think about can be found, reclaimed, at the ReStore. Plus, not only are you helping the environment by saving landfill space, but you are helping a charity as well. Talk about a double-whammy!

There are a lot of Internet, magazine and television resources that can give you plenty of ideas for repurposing your finds. There is still so much to do and so many options out there for earth-conscious homeowners.

From Energy Star-rated appliances to tank-less water heaters, correctly installed windows and fancy programmable thermostats, it's getting easier to stop treading so hard on this lovely planet of ours.

While my redesign is going a bit slower than I would like, it's important to research and think about how your actions could affect generations to come.

Contact Natalie T. Hull at nhull@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7442.

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