Even with the fall off in the housing market, demand for "green" building materials is growing. Sales of the green construction products and services amounted to $7 billion last year.
Some of the activity is driven by a desire to reduce energy costs and a genuine effort to build more sustainable structures. The effort promises a good return on the investment. Green homes cost a bit more but also command a higher price on the market.
Some of the interest is also attributable to a real concern about family health. The access of toxic materials to the average family may never be greater. There is simply a lot of stuff in the average home that is not healthy. To make a home green does not mean homeowners need to build anew, but it does require some changes.
Linda Mason Hunter is a pioneer in America’s green movement. Researching and writing about the topic for more than two decades, she is the author of 11 books, several of which offer step-by-step solutions for creating healthy homes. Her work has won international acclaim. She became concerned about the home environment in 1986 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported the levels of toxic pollutants were five times greater inside houses than outside.
Mason Hunter: "They came from paint, flame retardants from carpeting, cushioning and foam, building materials … a toxic brew of synthetic chemicals and products we clean with … the list just goes on and on."
Today more than 100,000 synthetic chemicals are registered with the EPA. According to the Breast Cancer Fund, the majority of them have never been tested for their effects on human health.
Mason Hunter: "They outgas, which means they evaporate into the air, and we are breathing them and little by little they add to our body burden. We might start out being fatigued, we have migraines, we might get allergies, we don’t feel so well, and then as the years go by they develop into chronic diseases like cancer and reproductive disorders, reparatory disorders and that’s how we get sick."
Linda developed her green acumen by using her own home as a laboratory. The century-old farm house, in one of Des Moines’ oldest neighborhoods, is a tribute to her work and philosophy.
Mason Hunter: "I like thinking about the home as a third skin. Your regular skin is your first skin, your clothes are your second skin and your home the ceiling, walls, floor, your shelter is your third skin and as much a part of you that is, you need to nurture it and take care of its health. You’re breathing the air, you’re enjoying the sunshine, it is a part of your ecology, therefore a part of who you are."
Finding green solutions to toxic problems in her own home Linda discovered the simplest solution is often the best.
Mason Hunter: "We had asbestos covering heating pipes in the basement and it was flaking off so it was a hazard to indoor air. Well, instead of calling people in that have masks and suits to take it out it wasn’t that bad, we decided to encapsulate it … we just got duct tape and wrapped it around the pipes so that it keeps the asbestos inside so it’s not getting into the air and harming us.
"There are three ways to have healthy indoor air. The first is to 'eliminate'; you don’t bring problem products into your home in the first place. The second is separate, if you have a problem like I had the asbestos pipes and you don’t want to take it out, you separate it from the living environment as we did by taping it. And then the third way is ventilate, because it’s very important to get that cross ventilation going in your house. My mantra is sparse and natural. The natural solution is almost always the greenest one."
Ironically some of the products used to clean our homes are among the most toxic, thereby polluting indoor air. Linda’s new book Green Clean offers safe alternatives.
Mason Hunter: "It’s important to understand that when it comes to products you bring into your house the labeling is completely different than it is on food. On food products the government says that all ingredients have to be listed. That’s not so on cleaning products or anything else we bring into our house. I really like the idea of green cleaning because it’s a very good first step for people who want to go down the path of being green. You also learn that going green doesn’t have to cost more."
Recipes for safe cleaning products are included in the Green Clean book. Home furnishings are also important to creating a healthy home atmosphere. Choosing natural fabrics and solid wood can greatly reduce off gassing from toxic chemicals.
Mason Hunter: "The most important room in the house is the bedroom because you spend so much time here. It’s very important that the air in here be good because when you’re sleeping you’re also breathing very deeply."
Green living means seeking solutions that promote human physical health and reduce the negative impact of our lifestyles on the planet. Some new products offer solutions made from recycled materials and sustainable resources.
Mason Hunter: "Americans are consuming ten times more than we did forty years ago. This puts the planet on a plague trajectory. The Union of World Scientists tells us that we have less than twenty years to right this course, we can change things. And how do we do that? We do it in our daily lives by changing our purchasing decisions, the way we clean, the way we dispose of things, the clothes we wear, those little day by day decisions are extremely important for each one of us."