Make Your Home More Eco-Friendly
By Kendell Cronstrom Reprinted from RealSimple
After buying a roomy, character-filled duplex four years ago, Jessica Jensen, 36, and her husband, Jason Pelletier, 37, set about making several eco- sensitive improvements and were stunned by the lack of information on sustainable products and strategies for conserving energy and water. Their curiosity soon grew into a calling, and by 2006 they had quit their marketing and consulting jobs and launched Lowimpactliving.com, a site that helps consumers make greener choices.
One might assume that Pelletier and Jensen lead a granola-and-Birkenstocks life, but their home proves that livability and sophistication needn’t be compromised in the name of an eco-conscious abode. Read on for a room-by-room look at the changes they’ve made thus far.
Living Room Changes
To make their house more energy-efficient, Pelletier and Jensen insulated the attic with GreenFiber Cocoon (from 25 cents a square foot, greenfiber.com for dealers), a product created mostly from shredded recycled newspaper that has been treated with borate, a natural fire retardant. Because it can be blown through small holes that are drilled into walls, GreenFiber Cocoon “is a great choice for reinsulating an existing house,” says Jason Pelletier.
Sofa and Bench
The couple prefer gently used furniture, but they’re also fond of new pieces from Cisco Home (prices vary, ciscobrothers.com for locations). All Cisco Home products utilize nontoxic natural glues, organic fabrics, latex foam, wool batting, and renewable woods certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international agency that creates forest-management guidelines. “My big beef with green furniture makers,” says Jessica Jensen, “is that their stuff is über-modern―you have to settle for a plain-looking plank most of the time. I love the fact that Cisco Home spans both modern and traditional.”
Woven from all-natural, sustainable jute fibers, this Merida Meridian floor covering [boardwalk braid] is free of synthetic dyes, recyclable, and biodegradable (approximately $1800 for 8 by 10 feet, meridameridian.com for stores).
Made from recycled coffee grounds, Java-Logs (from $2 a log, java-log.com) “burn cleaner than wood, producing less creosote (tar) and carbon monoxide,” says Pelletier. “It’s a good, crackly flame, and it lasts for three hours,” adds Jensen.
All interior walls in the house have been covered with paints low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful chemicals found in many paints and stains (prices vary, bioshieldpaint.com).
Dishwasher and Refrigerator
The dishwasher, which meets Energy Star standards, came with the house. Jessica Jensen and Jason Pelletier found their refrigerator by surfing energystar.gov, where “you can research models by manufacturer,” says Jensen. The couple air-dry their clothes on a drying rack in the little room off the kitchen. “We rarely use our clothes dryer,” says Jensen. “Clothes dryers are horribly inefficient, and Energy Star doesn’t rate them. If I have something that takes forever to dry, like a huge quilt, I will put it in the dryer on the lowest heat possible or the air setting.”
Pelletier and Jensen put all their organic food scraps, such as banana peels and eggshells, into a perforated metal composting pail (amazon.com), which is tucked into a corner of the countertop. They periodically move the contents to a larger composting bin in the backyard, then use the rich compost on their plants and trees. The couple also use compostable trash bags called BioBags (from $5 for 25, biobagusa.com for retailers); made of corn by-products, they look just like plastic trash bags and, under the right conditions, can “biodegrade in about three months,” says Jensen, “whereas plastic takes a long time to break down, if at all. Between composting and recycling, we generate only half a bag of trash―trash that goes to a landfill―a week.”
A barely visible standard faucet attachment (from $2.25, energyfederation.org for vendors) pumps air into the water, so users don’t need to run the tap at full blast.
Dining Room Changes
The table settings feature Jessica Jensen’s grandmother’s flatware; Kwytza Kraft Bao place mats, made from recycled chopsticks (find similar products at buygreen.com); and organic hemp napkins.
A repurposed secretary serves as a bar. Jensen stripped the piece of furniture with EcoSolve HomeStrip, which, she says, “is water-based and free of noxious fumes” (prices vary, ecosolveamericas.com for stores).
The solidly built oak dining table was a score from Wertz Brothers (prices vary, wertzbrothers.com), a 77-year-old shop in Los Angeles that stocks “used furniture of extremely high quality,” says Jensen, “so we don’t have to go from yard sale to yard sale. Buying used furniture is the best way to go. Anything we can do to stop tree-felling is a bonus.”
On the middle of the bedroom’s ceiling, the couple have installed a fan that helps them save on their heating bills. “Most people don’t use ceiling fans in the winter,” says Jessica Jensen, “but they should, because hot air rises. So if you run the fan in reverse at a low speed, it will help circulate the hot air.”
Inexpensive cotton thermal drapes (find similar products at gaiam.com) “leverage solar heat by blocking it in the summer and catching it in the winter,” says Jensen. “In the summer, you shut your drapes when you go to work in the morning, then open them in the evening. And in the winter you do the opposite. They’re great if you have a room with drafty windows and don’t want to replace them.”
The duvet cover and the Orange pillowcases from Loop ($20 each, looporganic.com) are made from organic cotton that has been treated with nontoxic, water-based dyes. “Organic cotton is free of synthetic chemicals and is therefore not harmful to the environment,” says Jensen.
A recirculating water pump, installed under the sink, delivers hot water instantly, so there’s no waiting around when you turn on the tap (from $367, gothotwater.com). “It saves three to five gallons of water every time we use it,” says Jason Pelletier. The couple also have a low-flow toilet, which “uses only 1.6 gallons of water per flush,” says Jessica Jensen. The aerating showerhead by Delta Fluidics ($30, amazon.com) “saves about 2,500 gallons of water per person per year,” she adds. “You use less water, but the pressure stays the same. It’s better pressure than our old showerhead, actually, and I’m very picky about my shower.”
The Lauren Spa collection towels, from a new line by Ralph Lauren (hand towel, $20; bath towel, $30: macys.com), are made from organic cotton.
Jensen favors soaps and lotions by Pangea Organics and Avalon Organics (prices vary, pangeaorganics.com and avalonorganics.com), which are free of synthetic fragrances and feature plant-based materials approved by the European Union Cosmetics Directive, an agency that has banned more than 1,100 ingredients suspected of causing cancer and other illnesses.
The recycled-glass soap dish ($16.50, naturalspaces.com) is made by Fire & Light, a company that crafts products with glass provided by a California recycling center.