Whether your home just needs a touch-up or you’re feeling more ambitious, it’s a very good time to go green. Eco-homebuilding is expected to double its market share by 2013 to between 12 and 20 percent, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. Energy savings and improved quality of life are top drivers of this growth. And green products are getting the job done. “Many sustainable materials perform as well as, but often better than, traditional products,” says Sarah Beatty, founder of Brooklyn, New York, building suppliers Green Depot. 

They’re also just as beautiful, if not more so, these days, and can be designed to please any taste. When Thom Filicia, interior designer on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, created a model apartment for Riverhouse, the new green luxury high-rise in New York City, his goal was an elegant, sophisticated design appropriate for an urban lifestyle (Leo DiCaprio and Tyra Banks will reportedly be moving into the building). Under his direction, everything from reclaimed wood to natural-fiber fabrics was styled with an innovative flourish.

“People think that when you go green, it has to look it—but not every thing has to look like ‘hemp world,’” Filicia says. For Plenty’s first Home Renovator’s Guide, we’ve put together a list of building products that are healthier for you and the planet—the two complement each other, we’ve found—along with tips from green building and decorating pros. The US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which is certifying Riverhouse, now covers green home remodeling as well. For guidelines, go to the green home guide's “ReGreen.” To find eco-building architects and contractors in your area, search: usgbc.org, greenbuilder.com, greenbuilding pages.com, coopamerica.org, and nahb.org. With those resources and the following product information, the dream green home is within reach.

 

KITCHEN: COUNTERTOPS

Many popular countertop materials are not kind to the environment: Conventional solid-surface products are often petroleum-based, and granite mining scars the landscape. The following surfaces are more gentle on the environ­ment but just as durable.

- Squak Mountain Stone is made from coal fly ash, recycled glass and paper, and low-carbon cement. About $56 per square foot.

- IceStone sparkles with flecks of recycled glass set in concrete and is manufactured in a day-lit factory in Brooklyn. It’s Cradle to Cradle–certified for energy-efficient and socially responsible production, and healthy materials. $100–150 per square foot, installed. 

- Colorful TrendQ Engineered stone uses up to 72% post-consumer material. $15–30 per square foot.

- PaperStone, selected by Filicia for Riverhouse, is tough (originally used for skateboard ramps), stain- and heat-resistant, and Forest Stewardship Council–approved. It resembles soapstone but is made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper and cashew-nut resin. From $40 per square foot, uninstalled.

- Its production is energy-and resource-intensive, but concrete does have some salutary ecological properties: A local fabricator pours it in place in a custom mold, so very little energy is consumed by shipping, and there’s almost no waste. Erika Doering, a Brooklyn designer, gussied up her concrete counters with glass from her building’s recycling bins.

TIP: Have your contractor check with manufacturers before cutting composite materials to fit, to minimize splintering or cracking.

KITCHEN: CABINETS

Stock cabinets are frequently made from formaldehyde-laced fiberboard or plywood. A healthier route: Start from scratch with low-VOC materials.

- For cabinet boards, Environ makes Biofiber from wheat stalks (agricultural waste), and Dakota Burl from sunflower-seed hulls.
- For veneers, bamboo has become popular; but Rick Hilton, green building specialist at the Rainforest Alliance, says that increased demand could lead to “clear-cutting natural bamboo forests.” Best choice: bamboo with the FSC label.
- Kirei (pronounced key-ray), is VOC-free and made of sorghum stalks from which the edible parts have been harvested. Its striped pattern resembles tropical wood. 

TIP: To protect standing old-growth forests (and pandas) ask for FSC-labeled bamboo.

Story by Brita Belli, Brian Clark Howard, and Tracy Tullis. This article originally appeared in Plenty in December 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

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