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Living Green
Wise choices make your home healthier for you and your dog

Try this: Select a spot in your home and lie down on the floor. Is it the kitchen? Give the floor a little lick. Or the living room? Put your nose on the carpet and take a really deep breath. Then, wander into the bathroom and check out the porcelain “drinking fountain.” Okay, stop the experiment. You get the idea: this is your home from your dog’s point of view. You generally experience your surroundings from a five- or six-foot elevation, but your dog is much closer—and much more inclined to sample her surroundings.

While there isn’t one set definition for “green” or “eco” buildings, there are important general concepts to bear in mind: Energy efficiency, size (it matters), sustainability, use of recycled materials and low impact. Considering that the average US household is responsible for twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the average car, energy efficiency tops the list—aim for good insulation throughout your home, well-sealed heating and cooling ducts, windows and doors weather-stripped, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting. (More tips can be found at epa.gov.)

If you are remodeling or redecorating, use resource-smart building materials, which are safer for you and your dog as well as for the environment. And, before you purchase flooring material, or even paint for your walls, give some thought to the environmental consequences of your choices. Even small changes can have a big impact. Consider using traditional materials—beeswax polish and vinegar and lemon juice for cleaning, for example—zero to low-VOC paint (latex), finishes and adhesives; and non-aerosol products.

Follow suggestions laid out by green-building expert Jennifer Roberts in her book, Good Green Homes. When you are selecting home furnishings or building materials, ask yourself (or the retailer or product manufacturer) the following questions:

• Is it safe and healthy to use in my home?

• Will it introduce irritants or off-gas potentially harmful chemicals?

• Will I need to use harsh chemicals to clean or maintain it?

• Is the harvesting or manufacturing process safe and healthy for workers?

• Is there a safe way to reuse, recycle or dispose of it when I’m done with it?
It is easy being green these days, and a little research will lead you to many good, environmentally sound alternatives. Your dog’s life, not to mention your own and your family’s, will be the better for it.

Green Flooring Materials
Many kinds of flooring materials can be considered green, including:

Wood
There are basically two types of wood: softwoods, which come from rapidly growing trees like pine and fir, and hardwoods, such as oak, maple, teak, etc. Be sure all wood is FSC certified and does not come from old-growth trees. Even better, use reclaimed/recycled wood. Wood flooring is easy to clean with simple products like vinegar and water. Only use zero- to low-VOC and plant-based sealants.

Bamboo
There are more than a thousand different species of this fast-growing woody grass. It is stronger than most hardwoods, and, like wood, can be sanded and refinished multiple times. (Luckily, the type used for flooring is not the kind pandas feed on.) After harvesting, it quickly regenerates. TIP: Even if it comes factory-finished, experts recommend resealing it to protect it from doggy water-bowl spills.

Linoleum
Made from linseed oil, a byproduct of flax (Oleum Lini). It is antibacterial, making it ideal in kitchens and bathrooms. It is also antistatic, so it repels dust and dirt. It comes in a wide range of colors, and even though it does offgas due to the oxidation of lineolic acid, it is less harmful than vinyl, and is considered to be more environmentally friendly.

Cork
From the outer bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber). The bark naturally sheds and regrows about once a decade, so harvesting does not harm the tree. Cork resists rot and mold and makes a great sound-absorber and insulator. It also adds an extra cushioning and “bounce” to the step, great for the long-standing cook and indoor ball-tossing!

Other good flooring materials to consider are concrete, brick, tile (ceramic, porcelain and glass), terrazzo and stone.

Avoid Vinyl!
Even though its low cost and wide variety of colors and patterns make it a popular flooring choice, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) continues to be the subject of considerable controversy. Its production releases an extraordinarily toxic chemical—dioxin—and many, including the Healthy Building Network, consider PVC to be one of the “most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced.”

Does Green Building Cost More?
It doesn’t have to. Many green building features and products cost the same as, or even less than, their conventional counterparts. Other green features may cost more upfront but result in savings year after year. Energy-efficiency upgrades, for example, usually pay for themselves by lowering your monthly energy bill.

Here are two places to start your investigation. If you’re thinking of remodeling or other large-scale projects, visit greenbuilder.com. For tips on home care, see care2.com/healthyliving.

 

GLOSSARY
FSC Certified
The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization whose certification process provides consumers with assurance that wood was harvested from well-managed forests and plantations. Be sure to look for the FSC label when purchasing wood. fscus.org

LEED Green Building Rating System
A national standard established by members of the US Green Building Council, it provides a framework for assessing building performance and sustainability. It is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. usgbc.org

Offgas
The release of vapors from a material; many materials in the home offgas formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). TIP: Interior plywood emits urea formaldehyde (a carcinogen)—use exterior-grade plywood instead.

Rapidly Renewable Resources
Don’t contribute to deforestation; instead, use products made from rapidly renewable resources that regenerate quicker than the demand for the products—bamboo and cork for example.

VOCs
Volatile organic compounds are a range of chemical substances that become airborne, or volatile, at room temperature. They are found in paint, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, glues, cleansers and disinfectants, moth repellents, dry-cleaned clothing, and even air fresheners. VOCs are a major source of indoor air pollution, exposure can cause symptoms ranging from nausea, eye irritation and headaches—just think of how your dog will feel being that much “nearer” to the source TIP: by choosing a zero to low-VOC water-based paint, you can really reduce, or even eliminate, this concern.

Safer Paint
Here’s a quick chemistry lesson. Not everything with “organic” in its name is actually good for us. When we walk into a newly painted room, the first thing we notice—besides the lovely color—is the smell, which comes largely from VOCs, chemicals added to paint to speed up drying time. Choose low- or zero-VOC paints; interior flat paint with VOC level of 50 grams per liter or less, and interior non-flat pain with 150 grams per liter or less. VOC content should be labeled on the packaging. Note: that low odor does not mean low VOC, some manufacturers use fragrance to mask the paint odor.

 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 38: Sep/Oct 2006
Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and editor in chief. thebark.com
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