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Whenever possible, use recycled materials. Look for rubber and polymer roofing that imitates slate to reduce weight and maintenance. For countertops, backsplashes, shower surrounds, walls, and floors consider materials that blend a percentage of recycled glass with concrete. Choose carpets made from 100 percent recycled content.
Avoid products produced from old-growth timber or endangered tropical hardwoods. Seek out materials from certified and managed forests, recycled or reclaimed wood (salvaged from riverbeds or old buildings), or composites such as formaldehyde-free MDF (medium-density fiberboard) for doors and cabinets.
Many building materials have natural alternatives. Select cellulose insulation, which is made out of plant fiber, instead of fiberglass. Choose Homasote, a recycled newspaper product, as a substitute for drywall in some places. Use linoleum for the kitchen floor rather than vinyl. Real linoleum is made from biodegradable linseed oil, pine rosins, and wood flour on a jute backing. In other rooms, choose wood floors or carpet made of wool and sisal, a natural grasslike fiber.
Structural Insulated Panels (www.sips.org) are gaining acceptance for use in walls, floors, and roofs. Panels sandwich a rigid foam core between OSB, oriented strand board. OSB mixes wood strands made from fast-growing trees with wax and a binder to form mats. These mats are layered across each other for strength, then heat-pressed into panels. The makers say the panels save time and energy over stick-built construction.
High-performance windows, especially with low-emissivity, or low-E, glazings, are among the best-known ways to save energy for heating and cooling.
Use water-saving appliances throughout the house, such as Energy Star-rated dishwashers and front-loading washing machines. In the bathroom, new toilets are mandated to use 1.6 or less gallons of water per flush.
These compact, on-demand units attach to your plumbing system and heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger. You only pay to heat water when you need it.
Prevent environmentally triggered illness and allergies by using Greenguard certified low-emitting interior products and materials. The Greenguard Environmental Institute performs quarterly air-quality performance tests on these items to ensure building materials aren't emitting fumes or trapping air, which creates mold.
Air-polluting volatile organic compounds, VOCs, include toxic solvents and formaldehyde. Some new fiberglass insulation is VOC-free; other lung-friendly insulation includes recycled cotton batts, containing cloth trimmings usually scrapped, and soy-based sprayed-in foam.
Many paint companies now feature lines of low- or no-VOCs. These paints have virtually no odor during application and drying. Pick water-based paints when available. They have less odor and require less cleanup than oil-base paints.
Outdoor materials have also gone green. One eco-friendly decking option is treated lumber. Arsenic was banned for use in treated lumber and has been replaced by less toxic preservatives. The other green choice is composite decking (shown here), which is made from ground wood fibers and resin. It won't rot and may not need to be finished.