Green Deck Solutions

March 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Green Building Materials

A deck on your home can be great for outdoor entertaining or relaxing. If you are committed to living a green lifestyle with minimal environmental impact, however, building a deck might present a challenge. Materials used to build a deck have to be long-lasting and low maintenance, so most of them are treated to resist breakdown and damage from the elements. Those treatments make them a problem for the environment. When building a deck with environmental impact in mind, it is best to look at the positive and negative elements of different materials and make the best decision for your home.

Wood Decking

Wood decks are traditional favorites, as wood is strong, attractive, and easy to work with. Environmental benefits of wood include the fact that it is renewable when used properly. Wood deck materials are created without using a large quantity of fossil fuels. They are also biodegradable and easily recycled.

Disadvantages of wood include its propensity to break down over time. Rather than opt for environmentally damaging treated wood, some people decide on hard woods like cedar or redwood. Though tropical hardwoods make another good option, using and transporting them large distances have a negative effect on the environment in general as well as the rain forest they would be taken from.

Composite Decking

Composite decking is becoming more popular as an option. It looks like wood, but is made from recycled plastic and wood waste with other substances mixed in such as waxes, chemicals, and fiberglass. The greatest benefit of composite decking is that it is long lasting and requires little maintenance, though it does warp and weather over time like wood does. Some manufacturers of composite decking materials are recognized for sustainable products and practices.

Disadvantages of composite decking include the fact that its blended properties make it difficult to dispose of when it’s time to replace it. Recycling is not an option, and it is not biodegradable. Because it hasn’t been around for a long time, long term durability has yet to be established. And if you’re on a tight budget, composite materials may not be viable since they are among the priciest of all decking materials.

Plastic Decking

Plastic lumber appears like composite boarding, but it is actually made of 100% high density polyethylene, which is the same material used to make milk jugs. It is commonly made up of recycled waste plastic. Check manufacturer’s specifications to see post consumer waste composition. Some are composed entirely or mostly of recycled plastic waste, and some are composed of considerably less, but most are at least half composed of post consumer waste. Plastic decking is actually similarly workable to composite decking, and wood tools can be used.

Disadvantages of plastic decking include the fact that it is less strong than wood or composite materials, and not a good option for beams, posts, and joists. With fluctuating temperatures, its tendency is to contract and expand, contributing to warping.

With some planning, green decking is definitely possible. Traditional wood, composite, and plastic decking all have environmental advantages and disadvantages that need to be considered. If none of these options are green enough for you, a paved patio or terrace can make a low cost, eco-friendly and attractive outdoor space.

Environmentally Friendly Paint Options

March 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Green Building Materials

A fresh coat of paint can really brighten or change a room. It’s fun to pick out a paint and plan to update, change or clean up a look. When looking for the right paint, the number of options at the hardware store can be overwhelming. If what you’re looking for is simply the right color, it shouldn’t be too hard to find. But if you also would like to find a durable paint that will not harm the environment or be hazardous for your family’s health, a little more research might be warranted. Before bringing paint home, it would be wise to find out what goes into making it and learn what ingredients could be potentially harmful.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are released in great quantities when paint is applied. They can continue to leach airborne chemicals for years, even when the paint is peeling off the walls. VOCs are a major polluter of indoor air and could be carcinogenic.

To avoid bringing harmful chemicals into your home, you need to look for natural paints composed of oils, waxes, and plant-based dyes which are virtually heavy metal and VOC free. You can find natural paints in all varieties, as primers, finishes, sealers, stains, or waxes, but they can be costly choices. Options can include lime washes, casein or milk paint, or clay paint. Natural paint products will work well indoors, but are not suitable for exterior projects because they can be damaged by outdoor elements. Lower VOC paints, many of which are lime based, can be a better option for outdoor use.

Clay paints, made from minerals, can give an earthy look. Lime washes, made like traditional whitewash, are fine for outdoor use with regular reapplication. Gloves and goggles need to be worn when applying lime due to the corrosive properties before it has cured. Casein paint is derived from cow’s milk protein and comes in powder form. This product provides a durable, even tough indoor finish, but has to be applied quickly after mixing.

If your impression of natural paint is unfavorable because of products that have been available in the past, it might be time to try again. Older eco-friendly paints tended to fade and didn’t rate high for durability. But newer natural paints are used for historical conservation and restoration, and meet high standards due to tighter regulations and consumer demand. Newer low VOC emitting paints are water instead of solvent based, allowing for less than 50% of the VOC content of traditional paint, or 200 or fewer grams per liter.

For paint that is even more environmentally friendly, look for the Green Seal. These paints are costlier, but have 50 grams of VOCs or less per liter, and may even have less than 5 grams per liter. Try to avoid paints with formaldehyde, ammonia, or acetone. Though they aren’t petroleum derived, they can be a safety hazard. And though they might sound appealing, stay away from anti-mildew or antifungal paints. They can leach off toxic gases for years.

Natural or low VOC paints can be invaluable to your next home project. Remember to shop carefully. Non toxic paints are available with the right know-how and research. The result will be complimentary to a green lifestyle and ensure healthier indoor air.