Green Building and Remodeling

* When building or remodeling your home, ask for building materials and supplies that have the least amount of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds. VOCs have been shown to cause cancer or developmental problems. Toxic fumes can come from unexpected sources like new carpet and cabinets.

* Select a power source that is self-renewing and nonpolluting. Domestic solar electric or wind-generated electric systems can fulfill your power needs. Low-impact hydro-electric generation is also an option if you have a natural source of running water.

* Choose no- and low-VOC paints and varnishes when finishing walls, floors and furniture. Make sure you have proper ventilation.

* Ask for carpeting that meets standards for indoor air quality established by the Carpet and Rug Institute. Once a carpet is installed, thoroughly air out the house for at least 48 hours.

* For decks and playground equipment, use reclaimed cedar or redwood, which is naturally resistant to fungus and insects. Or use recycled plastic lumber. Ask about these products at your home improvement store.

* Avoid using "green-treated" lumber, which is treated with the toxic compound copper chromium arsenate (CCA). In particular, don't use it for eating surfaces on picnic tables or children's play equipment. Clean up all scrap treated wood and sawdust and dispose of it properly—it should go to a lined landfill or licensed waste incinerator. Treated wood should not be burned at home for bonfires or in stoves/fireplaces.

* One of the easiest ways to save money around the house is to seal off drafts, which can reduce your energy bills 5 to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

*Install a programmable thermostat. By maintaining more constant heating and cooling levels, and always 'remembering' to turn down the heat at night, the average family will save $150 a year, according to the EPA. A programmable thermostat will pay for itself in one season, and save you time and hassle.

* Fix water leaks. One faulty faucet wastes 3 gallons of water per day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

* Install low-flow toilets & shower heads. Most older models waste large amounts of water. In fact, more than 30 percent of indoor residential water use is flushed down the toilet.  Low-flow toilets use less than a gallon, and work great.  A low-flow shower head can slash bathing-water consumption 50 to 70 percent and still have ample water pressure. They are simple to install and start at around $8. 

* Buy Energy Star appliances. Energy Star was designed by the EPA to take the guesswork out of appliance buying. Look for the blue-and-white label, which means the item is at least 10 to 50 percent more efficient than standard models.

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