Friday, February 20, 2009

How 'green' are you prepared to go? Where will you draw the line?

Everything we do has an environmental impact somewhere at sometime. Even carbon-neutral activities can have a degree of environmental impact e.g. Solar-power is a great free 'clean' energy source, but what about the fuel consumed when used to ship the solar panels to your home? Or the production of materials used to get the solar system working - have they all been manufactured using 'clean' energy and did they use harsh chemicals during the extraction of the raw materials needed?

We can criticize every product and find fault with them all - but where do you draw the line? At what point are we realistically balancing the impact on the environment, our own well-being and our own financial stability? You really have to draw a balance between all the variables - there is no perfect solution! Taking small steps in the right green/sustainable direction is definitely a good approach vs. burying your head in the sand...

Let's face it - nothing is perfect and no one is guilt free! To that end, you have to decide what realistically works for you. We personally try to balance a number of factors when deciding which materials to use in the construction of our home. Ranging from proximity of any raw materials through to the impact of a particular product on our own health.

So when is something GREEN enough?

Degrees of 'greeness' definitely depend on the product type you're considering. We try to take into account:
-> Is it energy efficient? e.g. Energy Star appliances will use less electricity = lower energy bills
-> Does it save water? e.g. Consideration of guttering to collect water run-off = less water needed to e.g. water the garden
- Is it made from non-toxic/hazardous materials? e.g. Wood-Stain - will it 'off-gas' and emit VOCs (volatile organic chemicals), these have shown to cause ill health
- Is it made from recyclable or renewable sources? e.g. Bamboo flooring, bamboo is rapidly-renewable, and requires far less energy to harvest and produce than most ‘lumber’ products (but huh-oh - it would cost a fortune to make a home from bamboo, that's why we are using FCS certified lumber that comes from managed forestry programs - see what we mean about balance of different variables?)
- Are the products more durable? E.g. Metal roofing lasts longer, no need to replace it within our lifetime = money savings, less energy and effort required
- Is it recyclable or biodegradable? Packaging of products, will breakdown naturally, could make up part of a composting heap
And finally...
- Is it AFFORDABLE? Let's face it, so many green products have premium pricing, how can we expect to buy some of these items, we don't all have an infinite amount of cash to spend!! Sensible spending/savings = less stress!!

This topic came up, as we are looking into spray foam insulation (SPF - Spray Polyurethane Foam). Many SPF products now claim to be 'greener' and use SOY as a substitute for other chemical components. FACT: there is only a small percentage of soy in SPF (much less than 50%). Does that make a product any more stable and durable? - Who knows? - The jury is still out on that one!

All spray foam is solvent free and contains no added formaldehyde, so that's good news all round! The best part is that SPF has a high R-value making it an excellent insulator. The net result: an air tight insulation, a moisture resistant barrier, excellent energy savings, reduced fossil fuel consumption, lower electricity requirements for heating and cooling your home = saving you money.

Even if you think you might use a SOY-based SPF, do your research, we just recommend selecting a big enough company that will stand by and guarantee their product should any problems ever arise!!

Small steps = improved well-being + greater money savings + healthier environment

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