Living in New York means making do with small living spaces—which is a good thing when it comes to eco-friendly living.
Less space not only means an opportunity to reduce your energy use, but makes it easier to ensure that the materials you’re incorporating into your home are green. The first step of any “greening” project, however, is to do your research. We asked a group of “eco-experts” for easy tips on how to make apartments more environmentally-friendly, and, ultimately, healthier for kids. What follows is a room-byroom guide.
The first tip: Take off your shoes! “So many toxins come through the house just from people’s shoes,” says Alexandra Zissu, co-author of “The Complete Organic Pregnancy,” and an expert in “green proofing” homes. Encourage family members, especially kids, to make it a habit to take off their shoes when entering the home. This is an especially important point if you have a baby in the house who is crawling and spends a lot of time on the floor. Also, shoe racks and shoe wheels are a good way to store shoes off the floor and reduce toxins even more. Another great idea for greening the whole apartment is to let in fresh air. Indoor air is actually more polluted than outdoor air, so be sure to open your windows every once in a while, especially now that the weather is warming up. Finally, LED light bulbs are good for use all around the house: They can last three to five years and use a fraction of the power used by standard bulbs.
There are many ways to make this room more sustainable. One idea is to incorporate antiques. In addition to being earth-friendly, antiques are durable and often contain fewer harmful materials (like plastics, paints and varnishes) than contemporary furniture. Cheryl Terrace, owner of the New York-based interior design firm, Vital Design Ltd., recommends making multipurpose items out of found or already owned pieces, like painting an old sideboard to make it an entertainment consol. You can also buy new furniture that comes from a responsibly managed forest.
“Recognizing where wood comes from%uFFFDshould be part of
mindful shopping,” Amy Chender, director of Social Responsibility for
ABC Carpet & Home, says. Paints and varnishes used on walls and
furniture should have no or low VOCs (volatile organic compounds).%uFFFD
make sure to give a freshly-paintroom a few days to air out before
moving back in. Finally, houseplants are great to incorporate throughout
your home. They act as a filtration system, taking a surprising amount
of toxins out of the air—while also sprucing up your decor.
The kitchen is a great
place to make big changes. Energy Star-qualified appliances save money
while decreasing the amount of energy a family uses. Kitchen floors can
be made from earth-friendly materials that don’t create toxins.
“Linoleum, good, vinyl, bad!” Terrace chants. Zissu agrees: “Vinyl is
one of the most harmful materials you can have in your home.” Also,
remodeling countertops with sustainable materials like bamboo make
kitchen stylish but also eco-friendly, and kitchen tiles can now be made
from all kinds of recycled materials, like glass, paper and concrete.
Consider creating a recycling center in the kitchen, too. New York City
is one of the easiest places to sort recycling—you just need one bin for
metal, glass, and plastic, and one for paper products.
Albanese, president of The Albanese Organization, the developer of The
Visionaire, a new eco-friendly residential building in Battery Park
City, says they encourage residents to buy recycled products for the
home, as well products with minimal packaging.
He also says that
purchasing electricgenerated from renewable energy sources is a good
idea. “You pay a little extra, not a lot, but you’re helping to promote
[green values],” he says.
Cleaning products were once a major source of toxins
in the home, but now many green cleaning products are available, some
from major companies, like Clorox. “I’m not one those people who says
you have to egar,” says Terrace. “The ready-made products are easy and
work well.” The bathroom is a great place to conserve water by replacing
old showerheads with new water-conserving fixtures.
It’s also a
good opportunity to start teaching children about the basics of caring
for the earth. “You should tell your kids to turn off the water when
they’re not using it and reduce their number of toilet flushes to what’s
necessary,” suggests Suzanne Corso, author of the children’s book,
“Sammy & Sue Go Green Too” (see sidebar). “Baby steps make a big
proofing your nursery and child’s room is important, says Zissu,
because “pound for pound, children are exposed to higher levels of
Chender says an “essential first step” in greening a
bedroom is an organic mattress, with sheets made of natural (not
synthetic) materials. Look for window blinds made out of green material,
not plastic or vinyl. Parents should also consider alternatives to
disposable diapers—either by washing cloth diapers themselves or sending
them out to a service, or buying environmentally friendly disposables.
Toys And Clothes
Greening your home can
also be an opportunity to de-clutter, especially when it comes to your
child’s toys. Donating toys that your child doesn’t play with, or has
outgrown, is a great way to teach kids about charity and stay true to
eco-friendly values. And if you’re going to get rid of some of your
child’s toys, you might as well get rid of your own stuff too. Reducing
the amount of “things” in your home and donating them to a place like
Housing Works, according to Terrace, decreases the stress level in the
home, supports a good cause, and gives you a tax break to boot. Zissu
adds that clothing, especially infant clothing, is smart second-hand
buy, since children usually grow out of clothes before they become too
worn. If you’re looking for something creative to do in your playroom,
Corso suggests using recycled materials for craft projects.