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Thinking Outside the DIY Box
The best advice for an eco-friendly remodeling project is to select natural materials that are locally available. Building materials can come from all over the world to make it to the local home improvement box store. That means extreme fossil fuel usage, associated pollution, lack of regard for local businesses, and often abusive labor practices. Using a beautiful dark wood like wenge to build a countertop might sound appealing, but as this wood can only be found in West Africa, we are talking a lot of air miles. Finding building materials locally, eradicates those socially unconscious characteristics.
Visit locally-owned hardware stores, find woods that have been harvested from within the region, or visit salvage yards. Make the next remodeling project as green as possible. It will be an adventure and an education. The U.S. Green Building Council is an excellent resource for information about green building issues.
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Indoor Natural Materials
If planning an indoor remodel, consider green materials that are not only earth-friendly, but will be distinctive from the cookie-cutter box store materials that everyone uses. Natural materials that are gaining popularity with eco-conscious remodelers are bamboo, cork and reclaimed wood.
Bamboo can be used for flooring, paneling and molding, to name but three options. The downside of bamboo, as green and sustainable as it is, is that it usually must be transported great distances. Cork is used for flooring and can be made almost exclusively from post-industrialized waste.
Reclaimed wood is promising as well. Raiding old buildings (with permission) for doors, paneling and flooring is a cost-effective and completely green way to recycle the old into new. You can even repurpose items such as classic style doors from barn conversions to build a dining room table, or to make into some wall paneling -- a very unique wainscoting design.
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Outdoor Natural Materials
Concrete is often used for outdoor projects like patios, walkways and for other pavement projects. While concrete is a durable material, its production is energy-intensive and its production involves high emission levels of pollutants -- one tonne of cement produced means 2 tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Concrete also inhibits ground access to water. This makes concrete less environmentally-friendly than other options. If you are set on the use of concrete though, make sure you aren't likely to get rid of it any time soon. If you keep it for years to come then it could end up being a better long term solution. There are also some more green variations of concrete you can consider.
Walkways and patios can be paved with permeable concrete pavers. These solid pavers are installed over sand or cut stone. Water drains between the slabs, thereby adding to groundwater resources. Water that goes into the ground beneath permeable concrete pavers promotes cooler pavement.
Pervious concrete, made of stones and cement, allows drainage as well and is EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommended. Permeable concrete pavers and pervious concrete are only two examples of green ways to improve an outdoor area. Explore the possibilities.
Find what suits specific needs and share the information with neighbors and the greater community. House-by-house, yard-by-yard, green remodeling makes a difference in the new world of global climate change and other environmental challenges.
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Benefits of Green
Green remodeling has extraordinary benefits. Environmentally, it reduces solid waste and promotes healthy air and water quality. Economically, using natural building materials reduces building costs and takes pressure off of expensive fossil fuel consumption. In some cases, there are federal and local tax advantages to making green improvements. At the community level, remodeling the green way promotes a healthy and eco-conscious standard of life and provides proof of the viability of green building projects.
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US Green Building Council, http://www.usgbc.org/
Concrete production, http://www.ecosmartconcrete.com/enviro_statistics.cfm
Mother Earth News, http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/2006-12-01/Concrete-Brick-Paths-Patios.aspx
Salvaged barn wood - coffeehaus/photobucket
Cork floor - laxsupermom/photobucket
Patio - Kelly8743/photobucket