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.


When it comes to flooring, you can have it all: beauty, strength, and sustainability. To help preserve old-growth trees, choose products certified according to FSC standards as coming from well-managed forests. Look for the distinctive tree logo.

- Made from plantation-grown trees that no longer bear fruit, Coconut palm floors from Smith and Fong have a distinctive grain, and the tongue-in-groove planks can be installed like a traditional hardwood floor. Smith and Fong also sells FSC-labeled bamboo flooring. Coconut palm, $11–12 per square foot, installed; bamboo, $7–9 per square foot.

- The wood in reclaimed floors, which may come from a defunct warehouse, barn, or pickle-barrel factory, among other places, may not be perfect, “but that’s part of its character,” says Emily Fisher, an eco-minded developer in Brooklyn. Conklins barn wood or Mountain lumber.

- Marmoleum, or true linoleum (not to be confused with vinyl), made from wood flour, jute, flaxseed, and linseed oil, is a retro-modern green choice. It comes in tongue-in-groove planks, which can be laid over almost any existing floor and clicks together without the use of glues. About $6 per square foot, forboflooringna.com.

- Cork flooring from Globus is LEED-qualified, made from the recycled waste of bottle-cork manufacture, and comes in deep, rich colors. $5.60 per square foot. 

TIP: To find local old wood, check the yellow pages for demolition contractors and salvagers, says Matt Ford, a Houston designer who put a recycled gym floor in a new house.


Conventional carpet glues, backings, and treatments can off-gas toxic formaldehyde (classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA), toluene, and xylene. The following all-natural or recycled carpets are VOC-free.

- Get creative with recyclable carpet tiles from Flor, which can easily be replaced and returned to the company when worn. $12–14 per tile.

- Fibreworks makes carpets from jute, a soft plant fiber, with a variety of borders. $60 per square yard.

- Loomful of Hues sells wool rugs handwoven by Jeanne Heifetz. $1,800 for a 4 x 6 foot rug.

- Carpets made of sisal, which comes from the agave cactus and is durable and easy to clean, are available from Eco Rugs. From $678 for an 8 x 10 foot rug bound in cotton.

- Earthweave offers Bio-Floor undyed-wool carpets in different hemp- and cotton-blended weaves, using rubber and jute as backing. About $100 per square yard.

TIP: Take care: Spills, including water, can stain some plant-based carpets; wool is easiest to clean, says Wyatt Whiteman, owner of Natural Fiber Carpets & Rugs.

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

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Continue reading this series

See also:

How to recycle carpet

Recycling old carpet: Is it possible?