Girl Planting seeds

Tips on Greening Your Home

5 Easy Steps to 'Greening' Your Home

  • Have your home and the surrounding soil checked for lead, especially if it was built before 1978. If lead is detected, be sure to have your children tested for poisoning. Consult your physician about testing your children for lead. Call the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) at 1 800 424-LEAD (5323) for a list of qualified professionals in your area who can test every painted surface in your home for the presence of lead. They can also determine if any painted surface poses a significant threat of exposure. 
    Source: Environmental Protection Agency

    In addition to paint, other items such as dishes, glasses, and solder should be tested for lead content. Home test kits are available at hardware stores, home centers and through the web.

Choose Environmentally-Sound Building Materials

  • Air conditioning – Be sure that the air conditioning system in your home and automobile are free of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a group of refrigerants once marketed under the tradename Freon®.* These man-made coolants evaporate into the air and can damage the ozone layer upon reaching the upper atmosphere. The ozone layer protects us from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet radiation. The artificial coolant can also contaminate water and soil.

    Although Freon was banned in 1996, it may still be found in older cars and air conditioning systems. Technicians and those who service such systems are required to recapture remaining coolant for proper disposal. Alternatives are available and typically require replacement kits for compatible gaskets and hoses.
    Visit the EPA website for more information, including alternative refrigerants for cars.
    * Freon is a registered trademark of E.I. Dupont de Nemours

    As an alternative to conventional air conditioning, consider using ventilation to cool your home. Ventilation cooling is usually combined with energy conservation measures like shading provided by trees and window treatments, roof reflectivity (light-colored roof), and attic insulation. Mechanical air circulation can be used with natural ventilation to increase comfort, or with air conditioning for energy savings. Source:National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Consult with your contractor to find a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system that maintains a comfortable indoor environment and effectively controls the growth of micro organisms, such as mold, without wasting energy or jeopardizing your family or the environment.
  • Architectural paints -- If your home was built before 1978, it may contain lead-based paint. When undertaking a new painting project, layers of older paint can become disturbed through scraping or sanding. Take precautions to protect your family from this lead-based, toxic dust. Follow EPA guidelines for proper prep and clean-up techniques, found at  

    Some paints contain volatile organic compound (VOC) levels which can cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose and skin, as well as headaches and dizziness. Prolonged exposure can also damage the kidneys and liver.  These toxins are used to give paints certain desirable qualities, such as the ability to provide coverage in one coat, and the ability to dry in a reasonable amount of time. However, the health risks should be considered when deciding on the right paint for your needs.  

    For safer, No-VOC or Low-VOC paints, see: 
     for EcoSpec, Aura and Natura paints 
      for SafeCoat paints 
     for healthier paints, including their own Ivy Coatings,
              made in Brooklyn, NY 
      for Mythic 100% Non-toxic paints

  • Flooring – There are many environmentally-sound flooring alternatives. Consider the following options:

    Linoleum – If you plan to cover your floor with linoleum, be sure that you ask for natural linoleum because it has a more favorable environmental profile than those made with synthetic substitutes, which may contain vinyl. 
    Sources:Green HomeBuild It Green.

    Carpets –Indoor air pollution can also stem from carpets. Unless they are made from organic fabrics and dyes, they may be petroleum- based, emit VOCs, and contain toxins such as PVCs, xylene and other chemicals.

    Significant resources and energy go into the production of carpets. To avoid this environmental expense:
    - If you choose a new carpet, buy one that is made from recycled materials.
    - Consider leasing a carpet that will be taken back to the manufacturer when you are through with it. Source:Green Seal 

    Cork Flooring – Environmental advocates are raising awareness about the dangers of poly vinyl chloride found in cork-vinyl compounds that are often sold as floor covers. Natural cork is a safer alternative. Be sure to ask your contractor to use environmentally safe adhesive when applying the cork tiles. Source:Building Green.

    Bamboo – Consider bamboo flooring because of its environmentally friendly characteristics. Bamboo is a grass, and one of the fastest growing plants known to man. It looks like wood, but replenishes itself in two to five years – a fraction of the time needed to grow most trees for lumber. Also, since bamboo is a grass, it does not need to be replanted like trees. In addition to its aesthetic value, bamboo has proven itself to be a durable flooring material.Sources:Building GreenEnvironmental Bamboo Foundation.

    Wood – As an alternative to freshly cut wood, try using reclaimed wood that doesn’t require the harvesting of new trees. Reclaimed wood is retrieved from disassembled buildings, landfills, and other areas. After careful inspection, worn and damaged pieces are discarded, and quality lumber is salvaged for reuse. Recycled wood that has not been treated with formaldehyde or other toxins is another option. Consumers can look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification as an indication of product quality.

    Wood finishes – Be sure to inquire about the finish on new wood flooring. Ask your retailer what type of finish they use, and choose products with water-based finishes that are free of toxins.
  • Furniture – Choose sofas, loveseats and other furniture made of environmentally friendly materials.  Green, sustainable furniture is more accessible than ever, from traditional showrooms to online retailers: 
    - Cisco Brothers Furniture Company 
    - Pottery Barn (
    - Crate & Barrel (
    - Lee Industries (

    Sustainable furniture is made of reclaimed wood, and wood obtained in a way that protects our forests from excessive harvesting.  In addition, sustainable furniture fabrics are made of natural fibers, such as hemp and organic cotton, instead of synthetic materials.Sources:Building GreenSmartWood.
  • Grout – For bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas that are tiled, be sure to ask your retailer for non-toxic grout.

  • Insulation – Conventional insulation materials such as fiberglass can be detrimental to your family’s health because they contain the toxin formaldehyde.

    Formaldehyde is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, according to “The Report on Carcinogens,” tenth edition, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. The toxin is suspected of causing a variety of illnesses, including cancer; illnesses of the respiratory tract; developmental, reproductive and skin disorders; and problems of the nervous system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

    There are many other options for insulation that are safe and effective, including: 

    Cotton is free of formaldehyde, and can be recycled or turned into compost. It is also far less energy intensive to manufacture than fiberglass.
    Source: Build It Green.

    Bonded Logic makes natural cotton fiber insulation made from recycled denim and natural blend cellulose insulation.  

    Cellulose is made of wood fiber from recycled newspaper and other types of paper. Similar to cotton, it is energy-efficient to produce. It is important to note that inks from newsprint contain toxins. No inks are completely non-toxic, but you can minimize your risk of exposure by requesting materials that are derived form newspaper that was printed with vegetable- or soy-based dyes. Also, since toxic emissions usually become airborne through the dust that permeates the air during installation, you can request that cellulose be applied while it is wet. Dampening the material hinders the ability of the loose particles to become airborne. Also, choose a product that is treated with boric acid as a fire retardant. Source:The Green Guide Institute.  

    Straw bale is an excellent alternative to traditional insulation materials because it is undesirable to insects and flame-retardant when installed properly. Incinerating straw is a common practice, so reusing it as insulation is a great way to utilize a wasted resource and avoid air pollution created during the burning process. Since the material is particularly sensitive to moisture damage, it works best in dry areas with low humidity. Ask your contractor if straw bale is a reasonable option for your climate. 
    Source: Huff’n’Puff Strawbale Constructions.

    Please note that all insulations work best at low moisture levels.


  • Pressure-treated wood – If you have pressure-treated wood outside, use a sealant, such as Safecoat®, to prevent arsenic from leaching into the environment. Click here for information on the hazards of pressure-treated wood.
    Safecoat® is a registered trademark of American Formulating & Manufacturing (San Diego, CA)

  • Windows and window frames – Choose products with the Energy Star® label. The brand identifies energy-efficient products and promotes energy performance that saves energy and protects the environment. Source:Energy Star.
    • ENERGY STAR is a registered trademark of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Washington, D.C.).
  • Water purification –Buy a water purification system to protect your family from microorganisms, chlorine and other illness-causing agents in water. Water purification is easier than ever with a variety of home treatment options, including reverse osmosis (the most thorough home treatment option available):
    - KDF Fluid Treatment, Inc. (
    - Gaiam (
    - Aqua Sana-
    - Free Drinking

    Consider having your water tested to identify any contaminants that are present. Contact your county’s Health Department for the names of testing laboratories that are qualified to test the water. Once contaminants are identified, look for a filtration system to suit your family’s particular needs. Contact NSF International for guidance on choosing the proper device, at 1-877-8-NSF-HELP (1-877-867-3435). The not-for-profit, non-governmental organization certifies water purification products that meet their strict criteria.

Last updated 1-16-2017

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