Monthly Archives: January 2013

How healthy is your home? How to start going green gradually and over time

Jim Gramata - Healthy Homes ChicagoHow healthy is your home? or perhaps better… how healthy is your entire home lifestyle? I have researched thousands of articles, blog posts, white papers, books and websites studying the concept of sustainable, ‘green’, safe and healthy homes. I’ve seen the impact unhealthy choices have had on people, families, neighborhoods, communities and our environment through research and stories told. I’ve been appalled at the ‘green washing’ efforts the public is facing from the media which is only adding more confusion to the question of what is true, who can be trusted for a consolidated collection of information of the best path to healthy living.  I am committed to providing an honest introduction to the concepts of living in healthy homes.

Most of us can agree on what makes a home unhealthy. Poor indoor air quality, mold, lead or radon in a home etc. But each definition of what is a healthy home should be self-constructed because each persons efforts and vision may differ, but I believe in order to make educated decisions we must first know what questions to ask in order to define our vision and awareness of what is a healthy homes.

This blog is my effort to share my knowledge, thoughts and resources with homeowners who are unsure about where to begin on making your home (present of future) healthy. It can be so overwhelming.

Many choices were made for you from the previous owners of your home who were stewards of the home. Or they were made by the developers who built your home and who (along with the architect and designer) made so many of the choices of the components that make up the house. They made decisions related to healthy living whether they framed the decision matrix in this light or not. In some cases they did and in others I am sure they did not.

This blog will also focus on current (or future) homeowners who continues to make maintenance decisions or improvements decisions which may unknowingly be having a harmful effect on your health without you knowing it. This is where the awareness factors is brought to light for readers or followers.

To me as an architect who makes material choices for renovated or newly built homes I know the consequences are very real on many levels.  As I continued to watch designers and builders make the choices many of them are making, I became committed to publishing a message that these poor choices have consequences. This hopefully will be a wakeup for someone who will take the message to heart and take small steps (or large) to make their homes and neighborhood healthier and safe places to live.

So, I have started to organized my thoughts of how to start going towards a fully healthy lifestyle by breaking down the healthy home choices into four separate categories we can consider when establishing our own baseline goals for healthy lifestyles.

Each must be taken into account when pursuing the goal of a healthy life. Environment, neighborhood, office environment, commute and so many other factors come into play but in terms of healthy homes lifestyle at the home you must consider all four categories to better understand and define a complete healthy homes lifestyle.

Category 1- Food & Nutrition–  the way I eat – food and nutrition and products I use to maintain and clean my home. The consumables both of my family and me but also products used to clean and routinely maintain the home on a daily basis. If my diet is poor then clearly I cannot live and sustain my life in an active and healthy manner.

Category 2: Furnishings & Finishes – the products and services that I bring into my house. Such as the couches, tables or chairs I sit on or the furnishings I bring into my home.  Also, the  finishes of my home including including the bathroom tiles, the paints and flooring finishes I use in my home. If the finishes or furnishings are made of unhealthy or unsustainable products then we must ask why are they a part of our healthy homes lifestyle.

Category 3: Systems – this category gets more into the  mechanical systems, the type of delivery of the heating and air-conditioning and mechanical and water delivery systems of our home as well as the plumbing systems and ventilation systems; Also it should consider and understand the new sustainable delivery methods such as geothermal energy sources, wind and solar as well as the higher velocity mechanical systems which can deliver warm comfortable well filtered air which will significantly improve the indoor air quality and healthy living environment. If this is sounding too complex I will explain all this in detail later.

Category 4: Building Structure & Shell – this category focuses more on the shell of the building;  the building envelope and the exterior walls – the structure itself. If I am eating my organic apple on a non-fire retardant treated couch with my high-efficiency furnace creating healthy air quality levels but the plywood under my floors is emitting formaldehyde off-gasses or there is an ongoing leak in the basement allowing mold to grow, then I believe three out of four does not constitute a complete healthy home life.

How healthy is my home lifestyle? Well the point is that the goal should be to incorporate all four categories into the healthy homes lifestyle design.

The way I look at it is that if I am eating really healthy and nutritious and getting my exercise and if any of the other three categories are not living up to the healthy way they should be or could be then I am not living a healthy lifestyle. I would then by my definition be living in an unhealthy home.

So where to begin? Because that really is the question  all who think about this stuff are asking. First we each need to individually ask ourselves what kind of life do we want to live and how far do we want to take this? I think the only way to really answer this is to be informed and made aware about the consequences and options available for each of the four categories outlined above.

I can say with certainty that we all want to live a healthy life. No one would disagree with that statement. However, I  know for sure that most people are not aware of what it means to make healthy choices in each of these four categories. You might be eating well but if you buy a couch that unknowingly has fire retardants on its surface that you absorb each time you sit down that can cause cancer would you do so? Or when you buy a home and you’re told the furnace works are you also told how well it performs? How much better it would perform if the air it filters went from filtering dust to filtering dander and even viruses. Do you think most homeowner’s know to ask their mechanical contractors how to improve their indoor air quality? Not most because it is not really a hot sexy topic.Wanna talk energy audits? Won’t see that on television. Wanna talk organic natural pure life improving green products? The airwaves are full of it.

Most believe the choices they’re making are healthy and some may be. But I know in my own experience many choices I make or have made I did without knowing they were compromising my health or the health of my children.

Yikes. That is not good.

It’s not so much redefining what it means to live a healthy but becoming aware of the choices available to live a healthy life and on this blog specifically about how to make our homes from the interior walls and woodwork, to flooring and foundation and structure and roofing and siding and finishes and appliances and mechanical systems and new energy methods. The complete package mostly related to categories 3 and 4 above. I will be focusing on how to do this primarily in existing homes but also in new construction since I am a designer and architect I want to understand not only how to improve our existing housing stock (reuse) but also I want to improve the standards by which we build our new housing and establish much much higher healthier standards which take into account the materials and methods used and the sustainable path to making sure the resources are renewable and available for the next generations to come.

Enough about this – let’s start moving forward. Let’s get our entire lifestyle from food and nutrition to the furnishing we fill our homes with to the systems within our homes to our actual built structures and the shells of our homes.

Becoming aware is the first step. Let’s take a look together and begin the first step to a healthier, happier, more comfortable and sustainable place we call home.

Next post: the First Steps

Jim Gramata

GREEN Real Estate Broker

The Gramata Realty Group – @properties

2214 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL 60614

How to Go Green: Back To Basics : TreeHugger

http://www.treehugger.com/htgg/how-to-go-green-back-to-basics.html

How to Go Green: Back To Basics

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The future is green, and you just found it. These days you probably feel flooded by dire-sounding environmental news (“the Earth is set to deflate by 2011”) and endless suggestions for greener living (“algae cold-fusion reactors for your shoes”). But fret not. We’re here to help sort things out and get your eco show on the road. Here, we bring it back to basics and break it down into bite sized chunks of simple, everyday ways to live a greener, healthier, more ethical (and ultimately more fun) life. So read on. And remember, if you have a friend, relative, or colleague who needs a little help on the green front, send them this way.

Top Back to Basics Tips Further Reading on Getting Back to Basics
Back to Basics: By the Numbers Back to Basics: Getting Techie
Where to Get the Basics for Green How to Go Green: Index
Back to Basics: From the Archives

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Top Back to Basics Tips

  1. Educate yourselfHow can you solve the problem if you don’t know what the problem is? Luckily, fun, accessible information on green thinking, environmentalism and sustainable living is everywhere these days. Why not start with online sources like our very own guide for How to Go Green. Other websites like Grist, Ideal Bite or Worldchanging also offer great advice and different perspectives. If you prefer the print media, check out magazines like Plenty, Good, or UTNE http://www.utne.com/. And if you’re not much of a reader, documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth, Who Killed the Electric Car?, or the BBC’s Planet Earth are also a good place to start.
  2. TransportHaving got a little reading under your belt, you’re probably itching to get started. One of the biggest impacts we have on the planet is a direct result of the way we move ourselves around. Fortunately, for many of us, this is also easy to do something about. You might consider walking, biking or using mass transit, at least a few days a week. Maybe you can convince your boss to let you work from home? Maybe you can carpool with a friend? If nothing else, you should certainly consider fuel consumption as a major factor in your choice of next vehicle. And when it comes to longer trips, flying is notoriously carbon intensive – so let the train take the strain wherever possible. Find a greener route from A to B with How to Green Your Car, and our Cars and Transportation section.
  3. EnergyWith all the talk of solar panels, fuel cells, building-integrated wind turbines, and flux capacitors, it can be easy to think you need a million bucks to go green at home. Not so. Many of the most effective ways to cut carbon emissions are also the cheapest. Turn lights off when you go out, install energy efficient bulbs and appliances, insulate your home, and keep an eye on consumption. Once you’ve done all that, why not investigate if you can buy green energy from your local utility? Check out our guides on How to Green Your Heating and How to Green Your Electricity for a more detailed plunge.
  4. WaterThis is where the folks in Seattle or the UK start switching off, but stay with us, please! Even if you live in areas of abundant rainfall, water is still a major ecological issue. Clean, drinkable water is precious and needs to be used most efficiently. Every drop of tap water we use also requires energy to filter, purify and transport, and that means fossil fuel emissions. And for those of you in dryer areas, you know only too well that water is becoming an ever-scarcer resource. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to do something about–install water-saving shower heads and aerators, turn the tap off when you’re brushing your teeth, switch to more efficient appliances, or collect rainwater for use in the garden. All this and more can be found in our guide, How to Green Your Water. For those wanting to go a little more hardcore, the Navy Shower, or the “selective flush” are worth a try–if the comments on these posts are anything to go by, you’ll be in good company!
  5. FoodWe’ve all got to eat, and most of us do it every day. It stands to reason that our collective food choices have a huge impact on the planet, and with the global food industry shipping products further and further around the world, and with farming becoming ever more intensive, this impact is only getting bigger. Fortunately, there is a resistance underway. More and more people are getting interested in sustainable food systems. To bring it back to basics, there are four principles that can help guide you to greener meals: eat local, eat seasonal, eat organic, and finally, eat less meat. For a comprehensive guide to a more sustainable diet, check out How to Green Your Meals and the Food and Health category.
  6. WasteNot so many years ago, waste was THE environmental issue. If you recycled, you were green. If you didn’t, you weren’t. With so many topics on the environmental agenda these days, things aren’t so simple. But waste is still a big deal. Every item thrown away has taken energy and resources to manufacture and transport, and it will take even more energy and resources to process and dispose of, whether through landfill or recycling. So the old adage still rings true: reduce, reuse, recycle. And don’t forget to compost! Of course we have a guide on How to Green Your Recycling, and you can find it here. Online resources like Freecycle or Ebay can also help you find a happy home your unwanted goods.
  7. ThreadsMost folks understand that food, energy, water, and transport are major environmental factors, but what about clothing? Even consumers who always eat organic may happily be wearing garments that were liberally sprayed with noxious chemicals. Cotton is, in fact, one of the most heavily sprayed crops on the planet, so it stands to reason that our choice of clothing can have a major ecological impact. Fortunately, solutions are out there. Organic cotton, and other alternative fabrics like hemp, flax or bamboo are becoming increasingly common, as are high-end fashion items from recycled materials. And then, of course, there are the trusty vintage and thrift stores so beloved by students everywhere–style never goes out of fashion. More digging through the racks can be found in our Fashion and Beauty and How to Green Your Wardrobe.
  8. Personal careEver since The Body Shop first hit the high street in the Eighties, there’s been an increased awareness about the impacts of personal care products on both the environment and on our health. Fortunately, there has also been a huge increase in the number of companies providing more sustainable alternatives. Check out our guide to women’s personal care and the Fashion and Beauty section, and stay tuned for a guide for the fellas. But remember, less is almost always more when it comes to green living–that hemp-based, yak’s milk lip blusher may be the greenest product of its kind on the market, but going ‘au natural’ takes you one step further!
  9. Furniture & décorMany of us spend staggering amounts of money on furniture during our lifetime. Now most TreeHugger’s will be aware that buying tropical hardwoods from Amazonian clear-cuts is a poor way to look after our natural heritage, but what are the alternatives? Fortunately, the industry is responding to concerns about its sourcing practices, and stylish furniture from certified, sustainably harvested and/or recycled and salvaged materials is becoming increasingly common. More details can be found in our furniture guide and in the Design and Architecture category.
  10. Keep it cleanNow you’ve spent all this time putting your house in order with organic clothing and chemical-free furniture, why douse it in chemicals to keep it clean? Many everyday cleaning products are made up of pretty nasty constituents, yet there are natural alternatives that work just as well. Take a look at our How to Green Your Cleaning.

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Back to Basics: By the Numbers

  • Five: Number of planets we would need if everyone lived like the average North American. If everyone lived like the average European, we’d need three. Unfortunately, we only have one.
  • 500 billion to 1 trillion: Plastic bags used by shoppers each year. This translates to about 150 bags a year for every person on earth. Remember to bring your own!
  • 83 percent: Percentage of Americans who now say global warming is a “serious” problem. This is up from 70 percent in 2004.
  • 941 and 1,023: Pounds of greenhouse gases added each year from one person eating three burgers per week.
  • 2.5 to 1:The ecological footprint of the average American, compared to that of the average Italian.

Sources: World Wildlife Fund, Algalita, WebWire, Footprint NetworkBack To Top Λ

Back to Basics: Getting Techie

What is “sustainability”?Sustainability has many definitions, but it is most commonly described as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” according to Wikipedia.

LOHASis an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, a term used to describe the market segment interested in green and natural living products, organics, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and socially responsible investing. According to Wikipedia, it is a market worth $227 billion in the United States alone.

Emerging TechnologiesFor those wanting more in-depth reading on environmentalism and/or the emerging technologies and industries that are taking us towards sustainability, check out the works of eco-icons like William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawken, to name but a few. The Worldchanging book: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century is also an excellent source of inspiration.

Climate Science

If the “hot glacier on glacier action” in An Inconvenient whet your appetite for the complicated, often confusing world of climate science, there can be no better place to start than Real Climate–it’s much more stimulating than you might think.

Techie WizardryEqually, if you want to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in thin-film solar, hydrogen fuel cells, wind energy, heat pumps, or any other techie wizardry, look no further than our friends at Renewable Energy Access.

Where to Get the Basics for Green

Green Publishers

Magazines

Bikes

Solar Chargers

Energy Efficient Bulbs

Local Food

Eco Clothing

Green Furniture

Personal Care

Cleaning and Household Products

Feminine Hygiene

Back to Basics: From the Archives

Dig deeper into these articles on getting back to basics from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

TreeHugger’s Green Basics series breaks it down, including topics like local food, carbon footprints and much more.

Learn all you want to know (and more) about going green from the guides for How to Go Green.

If you’re thinking of eating more locally, you could do a lot worse than checking out our picks of local food resources, or green restaurants and the best in green drinks.

For those not ready or able to install solar in their homes, we help pick out some solar chargers that can help you get at least a little juice from the sun.

Getting married? What better time to cement your eco-convictions? Check out our top five picks on green weddings, or the comprehensive How to Green Your Wedding.

TreeHugger reveals why swapping is the new shopping.

And as you reading this screen, you should probably start thinking of ways to reduce your computer’s energy use. We’ll help. While you’re at it, take a look at our advice on energy efficient televisions too.

Not sure you can free yourself from car culture? If these folks can do it in LA, we can all take steps in the right direction at least. Even if you don’t feel you can go cold turkey, take a look at our guide on how to green your car for easy steps in the right direction.

Wanting to grown your own food? Why not explore the concept of permaculture? Check out our posts here, here, and here.

And for those who still think eco is all about nuts and berries,take a look at our legendary and very naughty guide to greening your sex life.

And when you reach the end of your long, green life, TreeHugger helps you go out as you lived-in green style. Check out our top tips for eco-friendly burials.

Further Reading on Getting Back to Basics

Get even more info on getting back to basics from these other worthwhile sources.How to Go Green offers accessible daily posts, hints and advice on how to green your life. You’d also do well to check out the drilldown in TreeHugger Picks.

Similarly, Ideal Bite is known for good, green info that’s easy to assimilate.

For a more philosophical angle, check out Tao of Change. [Full disclosure: This TreeHugger also works with, and occasionally posts on, the Tao of Change].

Worsted Witch and Green La Girl are always excellent sources of information on all things fab and green, especially relating to Fair Trade.

National Geographic’s Green Guide offers useful hints and advice for simple eco-actions – particularly family oriented stuff.

Health.com offers a list of resources for starting out on the road to green living–no mention of TreeHugger though! Oh well, we can’t be everywhere…

The Solar Living Institute offers practical environmental education on all aspects of sustainability.

Check out the spread of energy efficient light bulbs in your area via 18seconds.org

For those interested in permaculture, Permaculture Magazine and Permaculture Activist are fertile resources.

Green Car Congress provides up-to-date information on moves towards a more sustainable automotive industry, and for more consumer oriented reports, check out ACEEE’s GreenerCars.comNatural Resources Defense Council offers up a selection of articles on green living, from cloth diapers, through fighting global warming, to greening your business.

Jim Gramata
The Gramata Realty Group
2214 N Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60614
www.GramataRealtyGroup.com