The evidence for climate change is getting harder and harder to refute. NASA satellite monitoring has shown that carbon dioxide levels stand at about 400 parts per million. Before 1950, that level had never been higher than 300 parts per million, reflecting a precipitous increase in the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases that trap heat. Many homeowners are responding to the crisis by looking for new and innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Many of the most fundamental materials used in home construction and renovations are made of toxic components that are known to be harmful to the environment. Fortunately, there are many green-friendly changes you can make in your home that are also friendly to your budget.
Pay close attention to the composition of things like insulation, carpeting, and paints. If they’re high in volatile organic compounds and harmful chemicals, replace them with alternatives that minimize or eliminate substances that find their way into the ecosystem and break down the fragile balance of nature. If you’re concerned that going green means going off the grid and swearing off dairy and red meats, relax. You can be an environmentally sensitive homeowner and still lead a comfortable life in an attractive home.
Insulation is one of those things you don’t think about, but you certainly notice when it’s ineffective. That’s why so many homeowners are content with traditional fiberglass insulation (as long as their homes are warm and their heating bills are under control). However, small fiberglass particles that break away pose a serious indoor air quality threat and escape into the atmosphere—children are especially vulnerable. Look for a safer option, such as GreenFiber Cocoon, which is made of recycled newspaper and treated with a flame-retardant substance. Best of all for retrofitters, it can be blown through walls via small holes.
Homeowners also tend to overlook the toxic effects of carpeting, even though it contains a host of carcinogens, like toluene, formaldehyde, benzene, and styrene, which have been proven lethal in laboratory animal studies. In humans, these chemicals can cause respiratory problems and even nerve damage. You can protect the environment and your home’s indoor air quality with floor coverings made from natural, recyclable fibers, such as jute, rush, or even seagrass.
Enamel and other commonly used house paints contain toxic solvents that may produce headaches, dizziness, and labored breathing, particularly in people who struggle with allergies and asthma problems. They also contribute to widespread atmospheric pollution. Consider replacing enamel-based paints with alternatives made from safe, natural products like clay, water, bee’s wax, plant dyes, natural oils, or chalk. If you’re uncertain whether a product is environmentally safe, look for the Green Seal stamp, meaning it’s been certified by a nationwide nonprofit organization.
Inefficient heating and cooling is a problem in many homes, especially those with aging HVAC units. Ceiling fans are an excellent year-round investment because they can blow warm air down to floor level during the cold months and circulate cool air during the summer. They’re relatively easy to install, which makes them good candidates for remodeling and home upgrades. Most importantly, they can substantially reduce heating and cooling costs. If you’re looking for a more ambitious home-heating option, check into solar panels. According to HomeAdvisor, the national average price to install solar panels ranges from $15,513 to $29,016.
Environmentally responsible community action can take many forms. Composting and community gardens are excellent ways to produce sustainable, healthy food (they’re also a good way to get some exercise and fresh air). Community-wide recycling has also become a popular activity in recent years. In fact, neighborhood recycling drives are pretty commonplace these days.
Environmental responsibility begins at home. Using products made from natural materials can protect our environment as well as your family from dangerous chemicals. Just bear in mind that it’s easier to take it a step at a time than to try and change everything at once.