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Going green in your home doesn't have to mean boring design. Check out these 15 ways to transform your home into a stylish, eco-friendly abode. They range from basic lifestyle changes to traditional and trendy decorative upgrades. Follow this to-do list (even just the ones that work for you) to minimize the harm your household causes to the environment. And don't worry -- though we love the color Kermit made famous, none of the items on this list requires incorporating shades of green into your decor.
1. Kick off your shoes.
Tom Cruise had it right in Risky Business. Walking around the house sans shoes can improve the overall air quality of your home, not to mention how much better it is for the babies who crawl around down there.
2. Chill out with laundry.
Washing in cold water saves 90 percent of the energy used when you wash with hot water. Procter and Gamble's Tide Coldwater is specially formulated to give you a good wash on the cold cycle. Sadly, you'll still use the equivalent amount of physical energy that it takes to wash, dry and fold.
3. Clean it green.
Ever considered whether you're living quarters might be more polluted than your backyard? Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a class of toxic air pollutants, are normally found in greater concentration indoors than out. Reduce your risk of chronic exposure by using nontoxic cleaning products. Finish off what you've got left of your regular supplies, then switch to a brand like Seventh Generation, available at Ellwood Thompson's, or Mrs. Meyers, carried at Ukrop's.
4. Let someone else do the dirty work.
If you use an independent house-cleaning service, it's a good idea to request that they use nontoxic products, even if you have to stock up on supplies yourself. Or take it one step further and use a company that already does. Kara's Green Home (714-6494, firstname.lastname@example.org)specializes in eco-friendly cleaning. "My twist is that I personalize things, like for people with allergies where I'll use non-scented products," says Kara, who makes some of her cleaning products and buys others in bulk.
5. Get fizzy with it.
Bottled water and soda may taste great, but unless you recycle responsibly, those bottles really add up. Put a little fun in your drinking habits by making your own soft drinks. Soda-Club's home carbonation machine is coming to Macy's in November, and can add some much needed pop to your kitchen counter.
6. Dig these grounds for improvement.
Love your lawn and your home by landscaping with the environment in mind. Try using plants that need less water and adding more trees and bushes around your home to insulate it. More shade means heat and cooling retention, which means less energy is used to keep your family comfy. "If you go beyond the typical one tree and five shrubs, you can get protection," says Sylvia Wright (www.thewrightscoop.com), a local landscape gardener and consultant. Choose permeated materials for decks and patio for water retention and use native plants or ones that adapt well without chemicals.
7. Capture the sun.
Light your eco-friendly landscaping with lights that don't cancel out your efforts. Lowe's and Home Depot carry solar-powered lights that give off all the glow you need. Try the Malibu Sunseeker Solar Kit for beds near the house and the Intermatic Solar Flood Light Kit to line the driveway and any hazardous steps.
8. Paint it pretty.
It's no secret that a few coats of paint can transform a space, but what's the use if it contaminates your new favorite space with VOCs? A trend toward green products has led major paint companies Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams to launch low-VOC lines. A designer favorite is the boutique brand Yolo Color House, available through ECO Supply Center (www.ecosupplycenter.com).
9. Cover your walls with grass
No, this isn't a low-budget HGTV-esque recommendation. We're talking upscale wallpapers made from natural fibers. Peter Jeffries collections, available to the trade, are made from renewable plant fibers like bamboo, rushcloth, arrowroot, palm and banana trees, and flax. To top it off, they are backed with post-consumer recycled paper. Some even use a nontoxic stain repellent finish. Check out their designs at www.phillipjeffries.com.
10. Tile with style.
There's no need to sacrifice good looks for an eco-friendly backsplash or kitchen floor. These days, gorgeous tile is available in a variety of materials that use nontoxic finishes and are manufactured without damaging the earth. Look for recycled glass, recycled brass, bamboo and tinted cement. Do-it-yourselfers will want to check out www.ecofriendlyflooring.com to order their own. Locally, several varieties can be found in specialty tile shops, like Best Tile (7490 W. Broad St., 672-6316) and The Tile Shop (9699 W. Broad St., 965-9191) or through interior designers.
11. Stick with sustainables.
The next time you make a wood purchase (be it furniture or flooring), stop to find out whether it is certified as sustainable. Locally, Anthony Brozna has launched a line of furniture, Ecoline, which uses sustainables. If you work with an interior designer, be sure to emphasize your desire for sustainable woods, and mention Q Collection, a simply exquisite line of eco-friendly furniture with a showroom in D.C.
12. Put a cork in it.
Cork falls in the sustainable category because it is made from tree bark, so its use does minimal damage to a tree, and the same tree can be used over and over. In addition to flooring, this flashback to the 1970s has some cool new looks, including furniture upholstery. Ask for Baker's latest cork creations at Leo Burke and The Kellogg Collection.
13. Be a softie.
When it comes to fabric, organic is the way to go -- in both fashion and in home textiles. In the rug department, turn to Odegard (www.odegardinc.com), a company known for luxurious, hand-knotted carpets that are environmentally conscious. For fun, funky upholstery fabric, there's Mod Green Pod (www.modgreenpod.com), another company committed to using organic cotton.
14. Sleep on it.
With organic bedding, you'll sleep knowing you're making a difference. Look for tags letting you know you're buying organic, or try Viva Terra (www.vivaterra.com) or the ultra-lush Coyuchi (www.blueridgeecoshop.com).
15. Give it back.
Some companies have take-back programs for when you've worn out their product. Instead of dumping it in the trash and sending it to a landfill, they'll make sure it's properly recycled. This extends from tech brands such as Dell and Apple to FLOR (www.flor.com), a modular carpet tile company with a new line by Martha Stewart.