Do you know what kind of chemicals are in that can of paint you painted your bathroom with? Or how about where that old vanity is going after its tenure in your rented dumpster? How much energy are your brand new incandescent light bulbs going to suck up per year?
“A lot of people don’t put a lot of thought into what they’re putting into their homes,” said Aurora Sharrard, director of innovation at the Green Building Alliance.
Of course, now that the green movement has kicked into high gear and more and more commercial buildings and homes in the Pittsburgh area are built to LEED specifications, more people are thinking about how they can “green” their own homes.
Sharrard said that with a little bit of planning and research, anyone can make her home more energy-efficient and a healthier environment for the family.
For homeowners who aren’t planning any major renovations, Sharrard recommends a professional energy audit to find the places where air leaks out of the house, and where more efficient appliances can be used.
An energy audit might sound expensive, but places like Conservation Consultants, Inc. (www.ccicenter.org) offer them for $150.
Even without an audit, Sharrard said something as simple as caulking around windows and doors and using weather stripping will cut down on air leakage and by extension, heating and cooling bills.
“A lot of weatherization is just common sense,” she said.
Another easy energy fix is replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs that last longer and use less electricity.
When that appliance inevitably dies or you need to replace some molding in the living room, Sharrard said keeping in mind the source of new materials will help consumers think green.
Consumers should look for recycled or renewable materials and non-toxic paints low in volatile organic compounds that can off-gas and create smog or haze.
For example, rather than replacing the molding with hardwood, try bamboo, which is a renewable resource.
And rather than rushing out to buy the cheapest appliance, choose an Energy Star appliance — they even make Energy Star-certified printers and coffee makers. For more information on Energy Star, go to its website at www.energystar.gov.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a new way to save water, as well. Products labeled with the WaterSense label are guaranteed to be more water efficient, the same way Energy Star appliances use less electricity. The WaterSense website is www.epa.gov/watersense.
“It’s looking for the better alternative,” Sharrard said.
An alternative to putting old construction materials in a dumpster is donating them to Construction Junction, an East End store that re-sells anything from molding to mantels.
Buying from places like Construction Junction is a green choice as well, Sharrard said.
Another often overlooked way to cut down on energy consumption is to unplug small electronics and appliances when you aren’t using them. Even if your cell phone isn’t plugged into your charger, Sharrard said the charger itself is consuming a small amount of electricity.
“What am I not using, what can I unplug?” she asked.
For those planning a renovation in the near future, the U.S. Green Building Council- and American Society of Interior Designers-sponsored Regreen Program offers advice and strategy for green renovation.
The “Green My Project” Tool on Regreen’s website, www.regreenprogram.org, allows users to choose the type and scope of their project, and gives them appropriate strategies.
For example, if you are renovating your bathroom and are concerned about plumbing materials, Regreen’s tool suggests you use PEX piping over CPVC and copper, as the manufacturing and disposing of PEX is fairly clean and not resource-intensive like copper manufacturing.
Sharrard said Home Depot and Lowe’s now carry many green materials, but suggested Artemis Environmental Building Materials in Lawrenceville for harder-to-find products.
“I think people still have in their mind that green products have to cost a lot more,” she said, but “Even things like LED lights have come down a lot.”
Even historic home renovations can be green. Sharrard pointed to the Green Building Alliance’s platinum LEED-certified Terminal Buildings in Station Square. The building, now the River Walk Corporate Center, was built in 1906 and retains much of its original character.
“A lot of people think you need to make compromises” to make an old building green, but that’s not necessarily true, Sharrard said. All it requires is creativity, innovation and problem solving.
“It’s just figuring out where the waste is and reducing it,” she said. “A lot of what this is is being smart and saving money.”