Well it’s been one full year since we moved into our “new” home and as promised, I wanted to update you on our progress of turning our home into the green, all natural paradise I’ve always dreamed of. When we moved in last July, I had envisioned writing this post and taking you on a home tour, showing all the beautifully re-done spaces and cool eco-friendly additions we’ve added, but as I mentioned before, it’s not a coincidence that our home was built the same year that the movie “The Money Pit” came out. We’ve had many similar scenes as the movie play out here in our own home, and turns out it’s a lot less hilarious in real life. While I’d hoped we would have an updated kitchen and maybe have made some progress on the bathrooms by now, we’ve mostly done things like replace the air conditioner, heat pump and re-do some of our electrical wiring (okay, I know it was a safety issue, but talk about a very unsatisfying way to spend a couple of grand). Such is the way with older homes though and we plan on staying here for while, so it’s good to take care of those things as well. In the meantime, we did manage to make a few natural and eco-friendly updates that I’m excited to share!
This is a big one! We completely transformed some of the rooms using just paint and while traditional paint off-gasses harmful VOC’s, there are some great choices on the market now for low and zero VOC paint. After having most of our house painted, I’ll say my two favorites are Benjamin Moore Natura and Sherwin Williams EcoSelect. Both have zero VOC’s and have been certified to have zero emissions (traditional paint will have emissions even after the paint has dried). These also covered the best out of the different paints we tried and if you use a professional painter, many have discounts at one or both of these stores and some will pass on the discount to you.
Still a work in progress, but here’s our living room before and after paint:
One lesson I learned is to be extremely clear with your painter about what kind of paint you want. We had the first painters come in before we moved in and during our quick meeting to walk through the house I said I wanted zero VOC paint and he nodded and said “Of course!”. Turns out we had VERY different ideas about paint though. I came by to check on things a couple of days after they started and the fumes made my eyes water. The guy in charge told me it was from the strong primer they were using (WHAT??) and then I took a look at the paint which had no evidence of being non-VOC. When I asked about it, the guy said that all latex paint is non-VOC.. (shaking my head even thinking about this whole interaction) Ummm.. that is definitely not the case. Anyway, due to some other crazy things that happened with these painters (very similar to the contractors in The Money Pit actually), we ended up stopping things and going with some completely awesome painters for the rest of the house. Long story short, we couldn’t undo what had been done, but everything was painted over with zero VOC paint, for what it’s worth and I was able to air the house out some before moving in. Mostly, I learned to be super clear about things.
I’ll get into flooring a bit down below, but being mindful of what rugs you bring into the house can have a big impact on your indoor air quality and family health (especially if you have young kids who typically play on the floor). Most rugs have flame retardant chemicals and can have other things like vinyl backing and many rug pads are made from vinyl. Here’s a great article on why vinyl is one of the worst things you can bring into your home. While there’s a lot to avoid, it’s more important to know what to look for.
A great start is to choose natural materials like wool, organic cotton, bamboo, etc. and look for eco-friendly rug pads. We really like West Elm for rugs. They have a large variety of 100% wool rugs (which are naturally flame resistant, by the way) and are ethically made in some of their artisan fair trade programs. We also love their jute rugs and they have a lot of colors and styles to choose from. After talking to some of their design staff, I was assured they don’t add any finishing chemicals (like stain guards, which are terrible for you and the environment, or flame retardants). I keep my eye out for sales and we’ve scored some great deals. You also get a 15% off coupon just for signing up for their email list.
I’ve also found a GREAT vintage rug etsy shop that sources everything from Turkey. They clean the rugs before sending, but everything is made from natural materials, like wool. I purchased the rug above from them and get asked about it all the time. It’s from the 1930’s! They change stock a lot, so you may have to keep checking back to see if they have something you like.
Just like rugs, much of the furniture on the market is processed with materials and coatings that off-gass harmful chemicals and also create toxic dust in your home. Feeling overwhelmed yet? I know it’s a lot to think about, but for bigger things like furniture, I think your best bet is to work on replacing furniture with healthier option as needed, rather than try to get all new stuff at once. I’m also lucky enough to have both a talented father and husband who each have built some of the furniture in our home. Like my dining table and coffee table.
Another option that Laura from Laura’s Natural Life mentioned in my interview with her, is to seek out floor models. They’re often cheaper and have already off-gassed quite a bit of the chemicals. One more great idea is to go vintage or try to refurbish older furniture. In my daughter’s room below, we painted an old Ikea bed with non-VOC paint and changed the hardware. I also have my great-grandparents dresser and vanity set in her room, which we also painted and changed the hardware.
I also went for the floor model on her doll house since I knew it had some undesirable things like MDF.
If you want new furniture, a lot of stores are coming around and offering GREENGUARD certified furniture which has been tested to have low or no VOC’s. Some major retailers like Pottery Barn now offer some GREENGUARD certified furniture, as well as specialty furniture places that have all green furniture like Copeland Furniture. Also, for mattresses I just posted about a great nontoxic brand that’s certified to have zero VOC’s. You can read my review here.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share one of the most eco-friendly things we did (aside from installing much more energy efficient heat and air equipment). We’ve changed a lot of the bulbs in our house to LED and it’s resulted in a sizeable change in our electric bill. We chose LED over CFL bulbs because the truth is that CFL bulbs are horrible for the environment! They’re full of mercury and when they’re not disposed of at a facility that can process them, it goes to regular trash dumps where it seeps into the ground water and can affect surrounding wild life and even get into our own drinking water. If you have some in your home, you can check with your local Lowes to see if they will take them when the bulbs burn out. Many Lowes stores do accept them.
On to the LEDs- They’re a bit more money than regular bulbs, but last for years and help lower your electric bill. They also come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. Be sure to get ones that say “warm light” for inside, since some LED’s are more blue. Another note and possibly part of what went wrong with our wiring… Be sure the light fixture and wall switch are rated for LED’s. Many of our switches weren’t. Lesson learned. If you’re in a newer house, you are probably fine as our electrician said the world is switching over to LEDs slowly and most newer equipment is rated for it.
HEPA Air Filters
Eventually I’d love to get a whole house air filter, but for now we have individual ones in our bedrooms. I went with this one, which is actually one of the cheaper air filters (since we’re planning to get a whole house one at some point), but we’ve been really impressed with it. Many recent studies suggest indoor air quality is often very polluted and way worse than outdoor air quality (see all of the items above that we bring into our homes that often off-gas harmful chemicals). Air purifiers can help clean common allergens out of the air and help clean up indoor air pollution.
Odds and Ends
In my last house update I mentioned we were looking at water filters and would pull the trigger on something soon. Totally not the case. I fell into several research rabbit holes and never ended up feeling comfortable enough with a system to go for it. My friend Janny is in the process of moving and doing much of the same research I’ve been doing and may have found something great. We’re both looking into it and I’ll devote a post to it as soon as I’m sure it’s a go.
Flooring. Our downstairs is all hardwoods and upstairs is entirely carpeted. At first I thought the carpet was new, but as we’ve lived here I’ve discovered it’s not and the old stains popping up and dust coming out of it are grossing me out. I’m looking into low-VOC hardwood options, as well as green carpeting for some of the rooms (conventional carpeting does a lot of off-gassing). I’ll keep you posted on that.
We’re in the process of renovating our mudroom. Knocking out walls and adding in built-in cabinets and a bench, along with tiling and paint. I hope to share more about this as well, but I’ve found a cabinet maker to custom build the pieces, rather than use pre-fab cabinets that are made with MDF, formaldehyde and other toxic substances. It’s cheaper than I thought it’d be and I feel great knowing what’s coming into the house is all real wood and non-VOC paint.
I know this was a ton of info! I’ll keep updating as we go, but if there’s anything above you want me to devote a whole post to, just shoot me an email or comment below. Here’s to creating a pure home for your family!