Top-to-bottom green makeovers aren't practical or affordable for everyone, but there are also simpler things you can do, whether you own or rent a home or apartment. Just ask Carter Oosterhouse, the carpenter and host of HGTV's Carter Can and Red, Hot and Green.
"There are numerous things on numerous levels that people can do. Simple things like CFL light bulbs can make a huge difference," says Oosterhouse, noting that it's a good time to seal up any leaks in roofs, windows and doors to make the most of air conditioning this summer and heating later. "If you look under your front door and can see the outside, there is definitely a leak. A quarter-inch gap under an average size door is the equivalent of a six-inch diameter hole in the wall. Wouldn't you close that up?" he asks. "Everyone wants to know how they can lower their energy bill, and sealing up your home is a great way to do it."
Working on a kitchen remodel at a Los Angeles home for an episode of Carter Can that will air this summer, Oosterhouse reveals an eco-friendly strategy that includes EnergyStar appliances, and paints with low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). "We're reusing some pieces from another episode — we're turning an old desk into a cabinet," he says, heading outside to the trailer that holds all the tools and supplies needed on the job as a carpenter operates a table saw nearby. "Sometimes we have to bring in extra people, like today to help with the countertop, because we have so much going on in this episode."
Some of his favorite jobs have been outdoor projects. "I love doing backyard and outdoor areas. I like to get my hands dirty," he says, advising DIY landscapers to "bring in plants that are indigenous to the area. Take a little time to research what plants were in the ground before — those are the plants that will do fine.
"There's a lot of eco-friendly decking material out there now," adds Oosterhouse, who suggests balancing a garden and a hardscape area made of porous material, not concrete. "And it's a great time to plant a vegetable garden. We grow tomatoes every spring."
Oosterhouse lives near the beach in L.A. in a "contemporary, very simple" home he's made green with eco-friendly carpeting and materials like certified lumber, composite tile, CFL lighting, VOC-free paint and EnergyStar appliances. He favors gas over electric appliances where possible, "because gas burns so much cleaner and is so much more efficient."
While it's a bit easier to find green products and materials these days, and the Internet helps on that score, "People like simplicity; they just want to drive to the hardware store and grab it, and Home Depot and Lowe's aren't set up for green specifically," Oosterhouse says. "It's a matter of buying into the system — not just talking about green, but consistently practicing it on a day-to-day basis."
A native of Traverse City, Mich., Oosterhouse also keeps a home in that area, a Victorian on 13 acres. "It's definitely eco-friendly. We're working on getting a windmill to generate our own electricity," he says, still marveling that skills learned on summer jobs with his carpenter brothers led to a lucrative on-camera career, first as Trading Spaces' woodsmith. "I was very fortunate because my brothers taught me what I'm doing now," he says. "Now they come on the show and I get to teach them a thing or two."
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