We live in a town home — which in Washington is defined as a single family unit with at least one shared wall (a condo is multiple units within a single structure) — which makes ecological living more difficult. This is because we do not own the exterior of our house, need to get approval for interior changes, and don’t have our own landscape. But there are still a number of ways we’ve managed to ‘green’ our home.
- Before we moved in, we painted nearly the entire house. This meant delaying our move until more than a week after we took ownership, but it made the process 1000 times easier. In response to consumer demand, household paint is becoming increasingly low vocs (volatile organic compounds which can include bezoin and formaldehyde — its the stuff that makes paint fumes so hard to breathe). One alternative product is milk paint, which has a velvety and surprisingly durable finish. But paint manufacturers like Benjamin Moore, Glidden, Kelly Moore, and Sherwin Williams have all created low or no VOC paints for the mass market.
- At the same time as we were painting, we took out the wall-to-wall carpeting in the front room (a combination living room/media room/library area) and laid down bamboo. We bought the bamboo from an construction overstock retailer and hired an installer through craigslist. He was in and out in an evening, and we have an easy-to-clean, durable, floor made from sustainable wood. the other half of the first floor (the dining room/kitchen area) was already hardwood and its in decent shape. We won’t replace it (thereby reducing the amount of materials we send to the dump) unless we’re in the house 10 years.
- As bulbs have gone out over the years, we’ve been switching to the new compact florescent bulbs. The variety is increasing each year, and manufacturers are providing more alternatives to the slow-to-light, stark white bulbs that were first offered. Because they look very different, it can be hard to tell which is the best cf bulb to use to replace an incandescent. The government has a pretty good breakdown here.
- We’ve also switched to rechargeable batteries for our smoke alarms (all four of them) and remotes. The only thing that we can’t recharge is our telephone handsets, which remain plugged in all of the time.
- In the wintertime we lay down rugs (100% wool, with the thickest rug pads we could get) on the hardwood floors. This single change cut out heating bills by 40%.
- We also hang up polar fleece liners under our regular curtains — the doubled curtains keep heat transfer loss to a minimum.
- A fleece curtain hangs across the doorway to the front room, trapping heat effectively and fooling our thermostat into thinking its warmer, quicker.
- All of our appliances are Energy Star rated. They are also the best we can afford in a matrix of reliability, economy, performance, and durability.
- When we recently had to replace our washer and dryer, we did so with a front loading washer –saving gallons of water every year, as well as laundry soap — and an efficient dryer with a moisture sensor. It will stop the cycle when the clothes are dry, not when a timer says they are. I’ve noticed that our clothes are cleaner, and lasting longer (the washer’s cleaning action is vastly more gentle than top-loading machines). As well, the drying cycle seems to be anywhere from 10-15 minutes shorter than with the old machine.
Creating an environmentally responsible, sustainably-based home is easier when you own it, and the land it sits on, entirely. But its not impossible to make a positive impact on your surroundings. These changes increase your health, your families, and only benefits the environment.