Making decisions (and compromises) inside a green maze
Even though I've been interested in the environment since the early 70's, I started integrating it into my interior design practice only about 15 years ago. Back then, words like 'sustainable' and phrases like 'carbon off-sets' and 'off-gassing' were just being introduced in the building trade. I had a few good years of growth within this early part of the green movement, and loved speaking to people about what sustainability in design can offer. In those days, it was pretty much about bamboo floors and fluorescent lighting.
We all now know that green design (or just plain DESIGN, as I like to call it) involves so much more than that, and a well built, well designed 'green' home is one that maintains a holistic approach, incorporating both the building science and the interior materials.
Manufacturers began to realize that their product would be a more saleable one if it touted a 'green' label, and they could even save money in production by various means: reducing waste, closed loop manufacture, pre and post consumer recycling, etc. So now there are literally thousands of products out there that are claiming to be green. Some are certified by third party testing, while others simply claim their product to be green by virtue of, well, cuz they say so....
Positioning yourself as a green designer, builder or remodeler can put you ahead of the curve with your competitors, which will translate into more sales for you. But in this economy, it can't cost more than 'regular' design either.
So how do you or I, as a designer, architect, builder or specifier make decisions about what green products to use? Are they really as green as they claim they are? And can I offer them at the same price? For example:
1. Even though it's a 'natural' product, how green is a slab of granite? What green counter top material alternatives are out there?
2. Can I find some gorgeous light fixtures that are energy efficient, low cost, and don't cast a bluish-green light?
3. Can I find kitchen cabinets that are made with no added urea formaldehyde plywood and low VOC finishes that don't cost a premium?
4. What if the homeowner wants something that I don't consider to be 'green'?
5. How can I know what the product manufacturer says about their 'green' product is true?
The list goes on, and you get stuck in the green maze. It's too much work to keep it all straight, and it's so confusing. Let's examine question # 1 - granite. People like it for it's hard, durable surface and upscale look. It's long been the number 1 choice in countertops, and even though it's at the top of the price range, it's still very much in demand by consumers. Here are the green pros and cons of granite tops:
-Rich look with varied patterns and colors
-Hard surface that is very durable resistant to heat
-Sinks can be undermounted
-Surface can handle hot pans
-Can resist most stains when properly sealed
-Must be chemically sealed periodically
-Granite can be scratched and leaves watermarks if not cleaned up immediately
-Marble can stain and chip easily
-Seams are very evident, especially if the surface has a clear pattern
-Marble and granite are mined deep in the earth
-Stones are quarried from around the planet, including China, Brazil, India and Africa. Depending on their location, they may have significant detrimental local impacts, including water and air pollution, waste, and risk worker health.
-Significant embodied energy costs, especially when coming from far distances
Maybe granite isn't the greenest choice for your project, but the homeowner insists on it. Here's where a compromise might come into play. A more sustainable choice might be manufactured quartz, which is just as hard as granite, requires no chemical sealing, and resists staining. It can be slightly more sustainable than granite in that there's one or more manufacturers located inside the USA. Some of the bigger quartz composite companies are located overseas, so trying to select one located in the US would save on long distance fuel costs and carbon emissions. If that still doesn't cut it, and he or she is hell-bent on granite, go for it. But offer a more sustainable item for the cabinetry or flooring, or specify LED lighting or high-tier EnergyStar rated appliances. The point is to give the client what they want, stay within the budget, offer alternatives that are green and affordable, which will involve some compromises and heavy research on your part. Keeping your design as local and low-impact as possible is the solution, and the best way to get as close as possible to a truly green project that you can be proud of. Green design will never be perfect, it's continually evolving, and that's what makes it one of the most exciting fields to be working in today, and I'm grateful to be part of it.
Posted: 4/7/2013 6:07:43 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
Salvaged Chic - Low Impact + High Style. Repurposing old elements to create a fresh design approach.
I just spent a solid hour browsing through Pinterest looking at pictures of gorgeous rooms using salvaged materials. I 'pinned' some of them, and will share some of my favorite images with you. But first, here's a couple photos from Green Builder Media's VISION House Orlando a couple of years ago.
As a 'green' designer, I love using anything I can to create the look I want that's also low impact. Using salvaged materials isn't just for us 'greenies'; it also creates a one-of-a-kind custom look that will always please your customers. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to use stuff that's already in my client's home, and try to find new and different ways to display it. For example, I had these shelves made from the shipping pallets that were used to ship ceramic tile to the house I was working on. The mantle on the left was made from a scrap of left over micro-lam lying around the jobsite.
Photos (left and below) by Andy Frame Photography
The dining room table top was made from salvaged bleacher seats!
Here's some awesome images from Pinterest from various sources showcasing salvaged design at it's best:
When this homeowner discovered 100 years worth of linoleum and sailcloth under the kitchen floor, he salvaged enough to cover one stair with each layer.
Italian marble tops the kitchen’s custom cabinetry, while salvaged Victorian corbels serve as distinctive brackets for the stove’s hood.
Adding character to a kitchen with a salvaged sink.
Island corbels from salvaged Victorian porch.
Salvaged headboard turned chalkboard.
Posted: 1/6/2013 12:28:03 AM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
Bell Telephone Pavillion - 1964 World's Fair
I just got an I-phone. I know that isn't earth-shattering news to anyone, and as a previous Blackberry user, the jury's still out on whether or not I even like it as much. I'm giving myself some time to get used to all the new features, and I tried out my 'FACETIME' feature this morning with my sister who lives in Rhode Island. Aside from the fact that we both looked astonishingly bad on camera, it was great to chat face to face with her.
I was reminded of a day in 1964 when we were young teenagers, spent at the Worlds Fair in Queens, NY. For those of you who are old enough to remember (and those of you who weren't even born yet) that particular fair was the talk of the time, and people from all over the world gathered to see the latest and greatest in modern technology. I remember waiting in line for what seemed a very long time to do a PICTUREPHONE chat with my sister at the BELL TELEPHONE exhibit. I think we waited at least an hour in line, and were then escorted into two separate booths. There was a table with a phone and a conical, modern looking module right next to it. We were prompted to pick up our separate phones, and low and behold, we were seeing each other on the module like we were on TV ! It was a futuristic experience, and we both marveled at the thought of one day when we were all wearing stretchy space suits chatting with each other in our Jetson-like houses.
What amazes me more than anything is that we now take this type of technology for granted. I guess it's because I was around before all of this was even invented, and that I come from an era where technology that was more like this:
I love the idea that we can now operate systems in our home remotely- open doors, turn on lights, etc. And that we can be notified when our appliances, which are interfaced with our phones, need service. Certain 'apps' can read labels, tell us what paint color is on the wall, and get information about a product instantly. I can video chat with my clients in my office, rather than burn gas or hop a plane for a long distance meeting. And that saves on energy costs and carbon offsets, which is wonderful, and satisfies my ongoing quest for sustainable solutions in the home. So I don't want to take any of this for granted, and every day could bring us closer to a smarter, greener planet. I hope we continue to use this amazing resource wisely, and remember that it's a GIFT, just like a face to face, one-on-one conversation with a REAL person, which can never replace a smart phone, appliance, or car. There's no 'app' for that.
Sending you all the very best of the holiday season, and hope 2013 is a happy, healthy and prosperous year for you and your loved ones.
Posted: 12/27/2012 2:40:32 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
I've been mulling over what to report in about these past few days. I live in northern New Jersey, and we didn't get hit as hard as the shoreline. I never lost power, but most of my neighbors and surrounding areas are without it. There are a few large branches in my yard, and no damage at all to my sturdy little house. Others aren't so lucky. I have extension cords from my house going to two neighbor’s houses so they can at least plug in their refrigerators and maybe a light or two. It's starting to get cold out, so heat is going to be an issue.
The first long gas lines appeared the day before yesterday. My husband and I were out running errands, and saw this long line on the shoulder of the highway. We really had no idea what was going on, and finally figured it out as we rode by the gas station. It's gone downhill ever since, and it's starting to get ugly out there, with fights breaking out and police monitoring the distribution.
I'm sticking close to home and trying to conserve the half a tank of gas I have left, hoping to ride out the current situation which will hopefully be remedied by next week, God willing. So here's my thoughts, all of which you've heard before. Our reliance on fossil fuels is astounding and quite honestly, stupid. Are we ever going to learn that this isn't exactly the way it should be, and that it's way past time to at least supplement our voracious appetite for energy with something renewable, or at the very least, think about conserving the non-renewable fuels?
How much will it take before we realize that something's gotta give? Whether or not you believe that such super storms like Sandy, Katrina or Irene may or may not be caused by climate change isn't the issue. We can argue that point forever.
I don't have an answer. I know that change doesn't come easily, and the resolution, if any, is a complicated one. What I do know is what I see. That Americans are addicted to their comfort. Any variation from the 'norm' has them running around like Chicken Little. I'm saddened to witness the long lines of people waiting for gas, people in New York City dumpster diving for food because they have nothing to eat. People devastated by their homes being swept away, and loss of human life. I pray for them and hope they can get the help they desperately need.
For those of us like me who are fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads, food, light and heat, take note. We get up every day and flip switches, turn on ignitions, and never give it another thought. If we need something, we go get it. It's taken less than 3 days to witness what happens when these conveniences are removed. It's time to start thinking how fortunate we are to have all these things, and figure out ways to conserve the non-renewable resources we do have, and make renewable energy a priority.
Posted: 11/2/2012 7:30:24 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments
I was recently a speaker at Coverings, the annual tile and stone trade show in Orlando, Florida. As a green interior designer, I've been asked to speak at several shows around the country about ways to design interiors with sustainable, healthy materials. Finding 'green' or sustainable products is somewhat easier now than it used to be even 5 years ago, but it's still confusing to many people. I mention ways to save energy, water, and promote good indoor air quality, and there's still a lot of questions about what exactly makes a particular product 'green'.
The real answer is that there is no exact answer. Green products mean different things to different people. And not all products are completely 'green'...for example, you may find a beautiful glass tile that you've been told is made from recycled material, and is supposedly 'green', but how much of it is actually made from recycled glass? And if it's made in China - who's factoring in all the fuel burned, and carbon expelled to get to the USA? So there's a ton of things to consider, all of which is very confusing, and makes some people want to throw up their hands and just buy the first thing they see that fits the bill. Being constantly vigilant about sustainable products is pretty exhausting to the average person. One of the important points I try to get across to people is that it is very frustrating and confusing, and trying to create a 'perfectly green' room or home just isn't easily attainable. Trying to be as green a you can within the confines of your budget and style is really commendable.
I've always been concerned about the tons and tons of waste generated during the demolition process of a home renovation, and the fact that it languishes in landfills for eternity. I've been on a constant search to find products that can be recycled once their usefulness is over, and it hasn't been easy. Until now, post-consumer tile has been considered non-recyclable. While many tile manufacturers have successfully reused scrap powders and unfired tile, hundreds of millions of pounds of damaged or otherwise unsellable fired tile (tile in its finished state), have gone to landfills each year. Additionally, there has been no environmentally friendly manner to dispose of previously installed tile- until now. I was recently informed about Crossville, a nationally known manufacturer of beautiful ceramic and porcelain tile located in Tennessee, that has several really innovative and amazing programs in place that handle the problem of pre and post consumer waste beautifully and efficiently.
With its Tile Take-Back Program, Crossville®, the tile industry’s leader in sustainable initiatives, has solved the major environmental problem facing the tile industry today: recycling fired tile. Crossville has developed a proprietary system of processing ceramic and porcelain tile back into powder used in manufacturing new tile. The resulting new products have a verifiable recycled content, and more than 4 million pounds of tile that Crossville would have previously sent to local landfills has been recycled to date. Not only does the process allow Crossville to repurpose its own scrap tile, but it allows the company to take back samples and previously installed tile, always a concern for environmentally-minded designers and building owners.
Crossville made history with the first cradle-to-cradle installation project in Chicago’s 43-story Federal Building. They harvested all 200,000+ pounds of porcelain tile and sanitary ware from the building and recycled it to create 65,000 sq. ft. of porcelain tile to install back into the project.
Toilets into Tile: Crossville received thousands of pounds of unusable, fired porcelain fixtures from TOTO, and transforms them into beautiful, responsibly made tile products.
It's companies like Crossville that give me hope that 'green' design isn't just for a select few, and that we are beginning to realize the value of using our resources wisely and well. And beautifully too!
Posted: 5/31/2012 2:47:27 PM by
Heather Wallace | with 0 comments