Ideas for sustainable living including paint, flooring, and salvaged materials

August 26, 2015
Credit: Cooley

Chances are you're hearing a lot about green building. As energy prices soar and we grow more concerned about global warming, green building is catching on. But there's more to this story than tightly sealed, energy-efficient homes. Green building means moving away from chemical-laden building materials and toward healthy, natural alternatives. Because it keeps toxic chemicals and other air pollutants out of your home, green building is a better choice for your family's health and well-being—as well as the planet's.

Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is found everywhere in today's homes: flooring, wallcoverings, shades and blinds, window and door frames, and furniture. Seek out natural alternatives whenever possible for your own health and for the health of the environment.

The Healthy Building Network suggests the following possibilities:

Flooring: Natural linoleum, bamboo, ceramic tile, natural-fiber carpet, wood, rubber, and cork.

Wallcoverings and furniture: Natural materials such as wood, wool, and cork.

Energy Efficient Windows and Doors: Recycled, reclaimed, or certified sustainably harvested wood, fiberglass, and aluminum.

If you can afford to make one big change in your home, look to your floors. Consider these beautiful, healthy choices:

  • Cork: Made from the bark of cork oak trees, cork flooring is 100 percent natural and sustainable.
  • Natural linoleum: Made from linseed oil, cork, pine resins, and natural pigments on a jute backing, true linoleum (not the vinyl flooring that became known generically as "linoleum") will last for decades.
  • Natural fibers: Sisal, derived from the agave plant, is one of the strongest fibers available. Coir, made from coconut husks, and jute, made from the bark of a jute plant, are also extremely durable flooring materials.
  • Reclaimed wood: Old-growth wood salvaged from abandoned barns, warehouses, or river bottoms is dense and durable and brings character to any home. Look for floors made from vintage heart pine, elm, hickory, and walnut.

Reusing salvaged building materials, from flooring to fixtures, is a great way to go green and save money. Before you spend a bundle on new products, check out used building materials retailers, online exchanges, and recycling companies for salvaged flooring, cabinets, sinks, tubs, faucets, and landscape materials such as timbers, stone, and concrete.

Solvent-base interior wall paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Most mainstream paint manufacturers now make low-VOC paints, and companies such as American Formulating and Manufacturing ( and YOLO Colorhouse ( make low-VOC paints, finishes, and sealers. For a more rustic, natural look, check out American Clay Enterprises ( natural earth plasters. They're sold in powder form; just add water and apply.


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