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Going Green Made Simple – Environmentally-Friendly Design Does Not Mean High Costs Or Fewer Choices

Green design, also known as environmentally-friendly design, has gained a lot of popularity since its conception. Now that the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) is starting to recognize and reward builders, architects and other professionals for their efforts on residential projects too, the trend will grow quicker than ever.

Obviously green design is not about choices like forest green, celery green, or lime green colours. And going green doesn’t mean that your choices are limited to bales of hay and recycled materials that resemble soggy cardboard and cannot withstand normal wear-and-tear. Green design is about the environment — minimizing pollution to the air, water, soil, and more, and about preserving natural resources that are not easily renewable.

To reduce air pollution, opt for paints and finishes that are water-based (latex, acrylic…) instead of oil-based (alkyd), and when possible, avoid materials containing more adhesives and glues than anything else, like some particle board. The worst cause of air pollution comes from trucks, cars, and other vehicles, so choosing locally-made items is an easy, and often money-saving way to help the environment.

Unfortunately, many of the materials that we are most familiar and comfortable with are all non-renewable resources. Wood and stone (granite, marble, etc.) are two of the most commonly used materials that fall into this category, and we are now witnessing some effects of depleting supplies. Many wood species now have very unusual (sometimes even unattractive) grain patterns because the trees are being cut down when they are smaller and smaller in order to keep up with demands. Many species of granite and marble have become quite difficult to obtain, or their colours have changed drastically (often having red-orange streaks) because the quarries are being exhausted. Prices on these materials increase steadily even though the appearance, and quality in some cases, is going down.

Renewable materials are those which can be harvested for use and still continue to grow at a reasonable speed. Bamboo (which happens to be 25% harder than oak), unlike trees like oak or maple, continues to grow after being cut. Ditto for cork. Wool, cotton, and silk are all renewable too.

New faucets have water-economizing features built in to them — they allow the same water pressure we’ve grown accustomed to while using significantly less water to achieve it. Most toilets are now 6-litre instead of the old 13-litre but quality is very important when purchasing a toilet. How much water are you saving if you buy a 6-litre toilet that routinely has to be flushed two or even three times? New light bulbs last longer and contribute less to what is known as “urban glow” — a type of visible air pollution often seen over cities at night, like a glowing halo. New appliances (furnaces, air conditioners, laundry machines…) are a lot quieter now than their predecessors were; this is an effort to minimize noise pollution as well as improve our comfort levels.

Other green choices include solar heating and lighting, along with other alternative energies. Simply maximizing energy efficiency by making sure that drafts and heat loss are minimized through proper insulating methods can make a big difference. Insulation or weather-proofing of attics, exterior walls, and around doors and windows is the most important.

Of course it would be nearly impossible to build a liveable structure that is 100% environmentally friendly while meeting all of our needs and expectations without costing close to three times as much as a conventional building. But if we were each to make a few conscious choices on our next renovation projects, we will have made a positive impact on the environment without sacrificing anything at all.

©2006 Idealspace Design

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