Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Environmental Pros and Cons of uPVC Windows

In the UK and Ireland they are known as uPVC windows; in the USA and Canada they are known as vinyl windows or rigid vinyl windows. Both appellations refer to windows whose frames are made from unplasticized polyvinyl chloride. It is a strong plastic. The windows normally have double glazing and are the industry standard in North America, the UK and Ireland because of the superior insulation they provide. But are uPVC windows really environmentally friendly?

Pros of uPVC windows

There are several advantages of using uPVC windows as opposed to other types of windows such as wooden frame windows or aluminum windows.

1) uPVC, rigid vinyl or vinyl windows greatly improve the insulation in a room. In the summer they prevent a room heating up and in the winter they trap heat in a room. This is due mostly to the layer of air between the two panes of glass in double glazing. A small insulation benefit is also found in the plastic which is a poor conductor and tends not to transfer much heat or cold between inside and out.
2) Wooden frame windows need yearly maintenance. The wind and rain damages the wood. Too much humidity and the wood swells and too little and the wood cracks. The paint peels also and needs touching up. In contrast uPVC is impervious to any type of weather. They are virtually maintenance free for their lifespan of 25 years. Aluminum tarnishes but doesn’t rust. The problem with aluminum frames is that the metal provides very little insulation. They also tend to bend out of shape easily.
3) Wooden frame windows obviously involve chopping down trees to make. They could thus be considered to be non-environmentally friendly.
4) uPVC windows usually come with sophisticated locking systems that provide much better security for a home than wooden or aluminum frame windows.
5) Finally, uPVC windows come nowadays in all colors and specifications to fit the look of any home.

Cons of uPVC windows

1) The main problem with uPVC windows is the production and disposal of uPVC. Factories that make uPVC products emit dioxins that have been connected to serious illnesses such as cancer for the people living near these factories. uPVC has been traditionally very hard to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way. They usually end up in land fill sites where they slowly leech chemicals into the soil.
2) uPVC is a petro-chemical product. This means that uPVC production is reliant on gasoline supplies. In other words, uPVC is not a sustainable resource.
3) uPVC windows could give off toxic fumes in the event of a fire.

These are the major objections with uPVC windows. These are serious objections that have led to some municipalities in Germany and elsewhere in Europe banning uPVC from the construction of new public buildings.

The argument has slightly moved in favor of uPVC windows thanks to advances in technology. The Japanese have developed the Vinyloop system and the Europeans have invented a similar Texiloop system to safely recycle unwanted uPVC. These are closed systems that reduce the uPVC to materials that can be disposed of without harming the environment.

The German company Veka has gone one step better. They have built a factory in Thuringia in Eastern Germany that can recycle uPVC products and use the recycled material to make new uPVC windows. They now sell uPVC windows with a promise to collect them at the end of their lifespan for recycling. This is a major breakthrough and is just another example of how Germany leads the world in many ways when it comes to environmental issues.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Guide to Mold

Mold is a green interior design issue

Mold is a problem that affects the indoor air quality of a home and so mold falls within the remit of green interior design. There is a lot that can be done in terms of the design of an interior as well as the maintenance of an interior to stop mold forming. This post is a guide on how to stop mold forming in your home and how to deal with mold once it has formed in an environmentally friendly way.

Health problems caused by mold

Mold is caused by spores in the air. It is impossible to eradicate spores from the air. Mold needs moisture and oxygen to form. Once mold is growing on a natural material such as paper, wood, insulation or carpet it poses a health risk to inhabitants. It can trigger attacks of allergic rhinitis; it can cause respiratory problems; and it can cause asthma attacks.

Dealing with the root cause of mold

The main cause of mold is a leaky water source. Either a pipe is burst or leaking or a wall is letting in the damp. Before you can effectively deal with mold you have to deal with the water problem in a home.

The green way to clean mold

To get rid of mold you have to clean it with water and a detergent. Normal detergents contain chemicals that pollute. Choose an earth friendly detergent or alternatively use vinegar or bamboo vinegar. Both these liquids are acidic and are capable of killing mold.

If mold is growing on a hard surface such as flooring it is possible to clean it off. If the mold is growing on an absorbent surface such as a curtain, ceiling tile or wall paper it is necessary to replace the mold affected material as the mold will grow back no matter how many times you wash it off.

Precautions to stop mold forming in the home

To prevent mold forming in a home you should take the following precautions:

1) Make sure the home is properly ventilated. Either open the windows regularly or use the fan on your programmable thermostat to move the air around the house.

2) Use extractor fans in places where lots of moisture is generated in a home. These areas are normally the kitchen and bathroom.

3) Keep an eye on humidity levels in the home. Ideally the humidity should be between 30% and 60%. To reduce humidity levels you can give a room a blast of cold air from an air-con unit. You can also place bamboo charcoal around the home to absorb excess humidity from the air. If you live in an area with a hot and humid summer than it is recommended that you install a programmable thermostat that can deal with de-humidification. Two good models for this are the Honeywell RTH8321 VisionPro 8000 that uses the air-con unit to control humidity and the Honeywell Prestige HD that can control a separate de-humidifier unit.

4) Bamboo is naturally anti-fungal and so is highly resistant to mold forming. Using bamboo blinds instead of curtains and bamboo flooring instead of carpet are both good precautions for preventing mold forming in the home.

If you follow these guidelines you shouldn’t have a problem with mold. Whatever you do don’t let mold spread through your house. It will affect your health and severely reduce the worth of your home.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Showers, Baths, Faucets, Toilets – How to Reduce Water Consumption

There is no doubt that people both in the developed world and the developing world who have a home tend to be very inefficient in their water use. They may think it is no problem because it seems to rain all the time anyway. This is not looking at the bigger picture.

The Bigger picture

Only 2% of the water in the world is fresh water, and of that 2% about half is locked up in glaciers and polar caps. It is expensive and resources draining to desalinate water.

1 in 8 people in the world have no access to safe drinking water. As a result water born disease claims millions of lives a year, especially the lives of children.

Countries around the world have areas that are suffering unprecedented droughts. Over 60% of available fresh water is used on irrigation; much of it is irrigation for non-food crops such as coffee and cotton.

1 pint of beer takes 130 pints of water to produce. This is called the embedded water value of a product. Outrageously, a liter bottle of water has an embedded water value of over 1 liter. So many of the consumer items we take for granted require huge water inputs to make.

How much water do you need?

The WHO calculates that a person needs 13 gallons of water a day for drinking, cooking, washing and sanitation. It is a figure that is put into shocking contrast with the average American who uses 150 gallons a day at home.

Water Solutions

There are many ways to reduce water consumption at home. This post will just look at the water used by toilets, showers, baths and faucets. These 4 uses of water make up about 35% of an entire home’s water consumption – and none of this water is drunk!


Nowadays you can buy toilets with various flush settings. Different waste in the toilet needs different volumes of flushing. However, the embedded water value of buying a new toilet means that the world will not see any net benefit from you using a low flush toilet for several years. To make a positive impact now simply put a rubber brick in your toilet cistern to reduce flush volumes. You could fill a PET bottle with a few pebbles and fill with water and put in the cistern to do the same job. Care must be taken that the brick or PET bottle does not interfere with the flushing mechanism.

With toilets it is important to remember that it is not a garbage disposal unit or an ashtray. Flushing trash and cigarette butts down the toilet are very bad for the environment and a waste of water.


The average bath uses 40 gallons of water. That is enough water for 1 person for 3 days! Baths are a luxury and should be regarded as such. The media is too full of images of women luxuriating in a bath. There is nothing wrong with beautiful skin but do you want it at the cost of a bad conscience? If a bath is a ‘must’ for you then why not practice some grey water recycling and using the used bath water for flushing the toilet or washing the car? Sharing baths and using less water in the bath are also obvious compromise strategies.


The average shower uses 5 gallons of water per minute (GPM). An 8 minute shower uses as much water as a bath. There are a number of simple things you can do to use less water for showering.

  • Turn the water off while you are soaping your body and then turn the water back on to rinse off.
  • Put lagging around the water pipes so that the water in the shower warms up quicker.
  • Install a low flow shower. The typical low flow shower reduces GPM from 5 to 2.5 or even less. This is achieved by holes in the shower wand that draw in air and mix it with the water. The aerated water from a low flow shower system can have a beneficial spa effect on the body. No spray strength is lost with a good low flow shower.
And finally, as with bath water there is the possibility of installing a grey water recycling system to re-use the shower water in a constructive way.


As with showers, normal faucets have an unnecessary high gallon per minute flow rate. People are also often in the habit of running faucets for too long or just plain wasting water. Improving faucet habits will make a big difference.

  • Check all faucets for leaks. A leaky faucet can use 20 gallons of water a day.
  • Install faucet aerators. These work on the same principle as low flow showers – namely, they mix air with water to reduce GPM flows. You can buy faucet aerators that use as little as 0.5 gallons a minute.
  • Don’t leave the water running while you brush your teeth. Fill a glass and use this water to rinse your mouth and clean the tooth brush.
  • Don’t leave the faucet running when you wash dishes. Fill up a bowl and use this water to rinse dishes, cups, cutlery etc.; after you can use the water in the garden.


It is worth your time looking at ways to reduce water consumption in the home. Water conservation in the home is vital. It reduces bills and helps to ensure future generations have a decent standard of living. One area that must be tackled is toilets, baths, showers and faucets. The future demands it; as do the 1 in 8 who are not fortunate enough to have a home with clean running water.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Negative Ions and Green Interior Design

The Triple Bottom Line

The triple bottom line states that we should assess a project according to ‘people, planet and profit’. In other words something is good if it helps the environment, helps people and if it makes a profit.

Recently, scientists have realized the importance of negative ions to human mental and physical health. If people spend a long time in an interior with a low negative ion count they are liable to feel depressed, lethargic and generally out of sorts. Often increasing the negative ion count in a room can do more for a person’s well being than prescribing medication. The situation is made worse by the fact that electrical appliances give off positive ions that make people feel bad.

This is the reason why people only need to open a window and take in a breath of fresh air to feel better, to feel energized.

Negative Ions and Green Interior Design

Negative ions are produced by moving water and air that breaks down molecules into negative ions. Places such as beaches and waterfalls have lots of negative ions. It is perhaps no wonder that people feel more relaxed on a beach than in a city.

The challenge for a green interior designer is to increase negative ions in a building in a cost effective manner. The Japanese who tend to live in very similar houses seek a technological fix to the problem – they buy negative ion producing air-con units. This is not very green because the machines require a big input of resources to make and they use electricity that is probably made by burning fossil fuels. After the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 the imperative for Japan is to save electricity. One low priority is surely negative ion machines, especially when negative ions can be generated without wasting electricity.

Since negative ions are produced by movement of air, having good ventilation in a home will naturally increase the negative ion count. Open windows and fans in the summer will improve the negative ion count of a room and make people feel more comfortable.

Another great sustainable interior idea is to use bamboo charcoal. Bamboo is a renewable resource that can grow in virtually any climatic conditions. Bamboo uses less water than trees and produces more oxygen than trees.

Bamboo charcoal emits negative ions

When bamboo is heated in a kiln bamboo charcoal is made. It is a substance with a great many uses for the home and garden. The property of relevance to this post is that bamboo charcoal emits negative ions.

By leaving a few sticks of bamboo charcoal around the house the negative ion count is increased. It is a simple and elegant solution to environmentally unfriendly ion machines. Bamboo grows everywhere in Japan. They should grow up and put consumerism aside for a second and use bamboo charcoal in their homes to make them happier. The money they save will also make them richer.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sustainable Flooring Guide

Sustainable flooring is flooring for the home or office that is made from a renewable or recycled resource. The main purpose of sustainable flooring is to reduce the amount of new trees that are chopped down in order to making flooring planks. There are many reasons for deforestation around the world, but one of the major causes is the economic value of certain timbers. Rare trees are often prized for their timber to make such things as furniture and flooring. Below is a guide to a few different types of sustainable flooring that is available for purchase in the West. Using sustainable flooring in the home is an important way to make an interior sustainable.

Cork Flooring

The cork oak grows mostly in the Mediterranean area. Portugal is the biggest producer of cork in the world. The cork oak trees takes about 40 years to mature. Once matured it can be harvested for its bark. It is the bark from which cork is made. Removing the bark from the cork oak does not damage the tree. It takes 9 years for the cork oak tree to grow another bark. The cork oak can live for 150 years. If the bark is removed correctly then natural habitat is maintained.

Advantages of Cork Oak Flooring

The great advantage of cork as a renewable resource is that the tree is not chopped down to harvest the resource.

Another advantage of cork is that it is composed of a honeycomb structure that is 85% air. This makes cork flooring soft and 'elastic' - it can take heavy weights and then springs back when the weight is removed. The structure of cork flooring makes it a great thermal and acoustic insulator. In a home cork flooring will help to reduce heating bills in the winter and it helps to muffle the noise of people walking on the floor.

Cork flooring naturally contains suberin. It is a compound used by the tree to conserve water. The suberin in cork flooring makes it water resistant and also fire retardant. Suberin also has antimicrobial properties and so is great for making a home more hygienic.

If you live in Europe and especially if you live in Southern Europe then the transport costs for cork flooring are greatly reduced. This further adds to the green credentials of cork flooring.

Bamboo Flooring

There is horizontal, vertical and strand woven bamboo flooring types. Horizontal and vertical refers to whether the bamboo is laid on edge (vertical) or flat (horizontal). Strand woven bamboo flooring is made by cutting bamboo into strands and compressing the strands under heat with a bonding agent.

Advantages of Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet. Thus bamboo is the best renewable resource. Bamboo can grow without pesticide or fertilizer inputs and so it is often organic. Bamboo needs less water than trees and produces more oxygen than trees. Bamboo is a very hard material that looks like hardwood.

Bamboo flooring is hypo-allergenic because it does not allow dust mites to live. Bamboo also contains 'kun' that makes it antimicrobial. This makes bamboo flooring ideal for those people who suffer from allergies.

Bamboo flooring is easy to clean (just use a dry dust mop) and easy to maintain. The color of bamboo flooring is throughout the flooring plank and so can easily be sanded and a new finish applied.

Advantages of Strand Woven Bamboo Flooring


Of all the types of bamboo flooring the hardest is strand woven bamboo flooring. With a hard finish strand woven bamboo flooring can have a Janka Hardness Rating of about 2,500 pounds force. This makes strand woven bamboo flooring the most suitable for high traffic situations and for heavy furniture.

Disadvantages of Strand Woven Bamboo Flooring

Most strand woven bamboo flooring is made from moso bamboo grown in Southern China. This is the main problem with strand woven bamboo flooring - it is very hard to get Chinese companies to take environmental regulations seriously; it is almost impossible to get Chinese companies to participate in fair trade schemes. It is worth checking environmental certification before you buy strand woven bamboo flooring

Also strand woven bamboo flooring is made with a bonding agent that contains a small amount of VOCs. For this reason new strand woven bamboo flooring should be allowed to acclimatize and off-gas for a week or more before installation. VOCs are one of the main chemical pollutants in the average home in a developed country.

Reclaimed Hardwood Flooring


Reclaimed hardwood flooring is made from wood that has been discarded. The hardwood comes from numerous sources including house renovations, demolitions, building waste, park waste, salvaged wood from mine shafts, old fencing, barns and wine barrels. Such is man's love affair with hardwood that there is plenty of unwanted hardwood available to reuse. To make reclaimed hardwood flooring the salvaged wood is kiln dried and then sent to a mill to be cut into flooring planks.

Advantages of Reclaimed Hardwood Flooring

Reclaimed hardwood flooring looks beautiful. For those people who love the look of wood, the best eco-solution is to buy reclaimed hardwood flooring. The flooring often has a rich patina that is not found on new hardwood flooring. Also reclaimed hardwood flooring tends to be more dimensionally stable than normal hardwood flooring because it has had many years to acclimatize.

Another advantage of reclaimed hardwood flooring is that it stops dust mites breeding and causing allergic attacks for people.

Reclaimed hardwood flooring is great example of upcycling because it is taking something of little value and giving it much greater value. The fact that reclaimed hardwood flooring can be sourced, made and installed locally also cuts down on carbon emissions due to transportation.

Coconut Flooring


The coconut like the bamboo is often mistaken for a type of wood because it is hard and looks like wood. Also like bamboo the coconut matures very quickly - in just a year. Coconut palms produce coconuts for about 75 years and then become known as 'senile palms'. These coconut palms need to be cut down and be replaced with new coconuts. Coconut timber is thus a resource that is renewable and virtually free.

Coconut flooring is hard like hardwood flooring. It can take heavy traffic and heavy furniture. It is also easy to maintain and clean. As with the other types of sustainable flooring in this post it is also anti allergenic because it gives no place for dust mites to live and breed. For those people living in or near the tropics coconut flooring makes good ecological sense.


The flooring in a room makes a big impact on the beholder. In many ways the flooring can define the look and feel of a room. Hardwood flooring has a classic timeless look - but so does strand woven bamboo flooring, coconut flooring and reclaimed hardwood flooring. 

Cork is slightly different because it is a 'soft' type of flooring. It is easily stained and so can be made to suit most interior designs.

Carpets often have VOCs in their backings. They also are breeding grounds for dust mites. It is the excrement from dust mites that triggers many attacks of allergic rhinitis. One of the best ways to make an interior more sustainable is to use sustainable flooring.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Environmental Benefits of Programmable Thermostats

The environmental benefits of digital programmable thermostats are undisputed. Having greater control of the indoor climate control of a home and office greatly improves energy efficiency.

This means that programmable thermostats also save money. According to Energy Star figures the typical home in America can save $150 a year by installing a programmable thermostat. The reduction in electricity consumption also means a reduction in carbon emissions because most electricity in the world is still generated by burning fossil fuels.

Programmable thermostats are not simply for lazy people. Rather they allow you to fit your schedule in with the heating and cooling so that money and power is not wasted heating or cooling an empty house. Good programmable thermostats will offer 4 periods to set up a day. Thus the thermostat turns the heating/cooling up for when the house occupants wake up in the morning. When the occupants go to work or school the thermostat sets back the settings; and then it makes the home comfortable for the evening when people return home. Finally, the thermostat reduces heating/cooling for the night when people are in bed.

It is important to remember not only to match your schedule with the thermostat settings but also to use realistic set points. These are the recommended programmable thermostat settings:

Recommended Thermostat Settings


Morning – 78 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius)
At work – 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius)
Evening – same as morning
Night – 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius)


Morning – 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius)
At work – 62 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius)
Evening – same as morning
Night – 62 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius)

If you insist on wearing sweaters in the summer and shorts in the winter inside then frankly you won’t save money and you are contributing to a blighted planet for future generations (including your own).

Types of Programmable Thermostat

There are 4 main types of programmable thermostat. They are as follows:

1) 1 week thermostat – offering just 1 program slot.
2) 5+2 thermostat – offering 1 program for week days and 1 for the weekend
3) 5-1-1 thermostat – offering 3 programs – one for weekdays, one for Saturday and one for Sunday
4) 7 Day thermostat – offering a program slot for each day of the week.

Naturally, 7 day thermostats are the most expensive and 1 week thermostats are the cheapest. Your choice will depend on your budget and your schedule. Most people with a regular ‘9 to 5’ job can manage with a 5-1-1 or 5+2 thermostat.

Energy Star and Buying Tips

It is important to do your homework before buying a programmable thermostat. There are lots of programmable thermostats on the market. The best have the Energy Star certificate. This is a guarantee that the device will save you energy and thus money. There are also a variety of different functions on programmable thermostats some of which you will find useful and others less useful. It is a good idea to read reviews of programmable thermostats to find what functions are offered and how accurate and reliable the thermostats you are considering are.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Bamboo for the Home

One great way to make your interiors more sustainable is to use renewable resources. Renewable resources are those things that grow quickly enough to keep up with consumer demand. Hardwood trees take over 100 years to reach maturity and so don’t fall in this category. There are over 1,400 species of bamboo, the quickest take just 3 months to reach full height. The average time is about 5 years to be ready for harvest.

Not only is bamboo fast growing, it is also a hardy plant that can withstand nearly any climate. There are native types of bamboo in every continent excepting Europe and Antarctica. Bamboo can be grown organically because it is naturally resistant to bugs and pests. Moreover, it doesn’t drain the soil of nutrients. Bamboo has successfully be used to reclaimed land damaged by agriculture. Finally, bamboo doesn’t need to be planted since it propagates through a root system.

The great thing about bamboo from the perspective of utility for the home is that it is a very hard material that can be used in the same way as hardwood. Bamboo can be carved, pressed together and thus can be used to make furniture, flooring, kitchen utensils, mats, roofing, blinds and a hundred other items for the home and garden. It is also possible to make clothes from bamboo.

Bamboo Flooring

There is now a wide range of bamboo flooring styles commonly available. The most popular are horizontal, vertical and strand woven bamboo flooring. Of these three types of bamboo flooring, strand woven bamboo is the hardest and is suitable for high traffic situations and heavy furniture. It looks great – just like hardwood flooring – and is easy to maintain and clean. Bamboo is antimicrobial and also antiallergenic and so bamboo flooring is great for people with dust mite allergies.

Bamboo in the Kitchen

There are many ways to use bamboo in the kitchen. Bamboo is odor proof and water resistant and so bamboo mats are a good addition to the kitchen. Bamboo kitchen utensils such as bowls, tongs, steamer, knife block, drawer organizer, chopsticks and placemats are all cheap and good earth friendly products for the kitchen.

Bamboo shoots can be used for cooking. Bamboo charcoal can also be used to keep oil used for deep fat frying clean. The Japanese use ground up bamboo charcoal to improve the taste of noodle soup dishes.

Bamboo charcoal also makes a great water filter to remove excess chlorine from faucet water.

To replace dangerous and toxic surface cleaners in the kitchen it is possible to dilute bamboo vinegar 1 part to 20 and use it in a spray bottle to clean and sterilize surfaces. Bamboo vinegar can also be used to clean windows. Bamboo vinegar for cleaning is much better both for the inhabitants of a home and for the environment.

Bamboo Charcoal

Bamboo charcoal can be used in any room in the house. Instead of using air fresheners that contain VOCs that cause respiratory problems bamboo charcoal can be placed in a room to suck out the unpleasant smells. To replenish bamboo charcoal and its ability to absorb unwanted odors it just needs to be left in sunlight for a few hours.

Another property of bamboo charcoal is that it can regulate humidity in a home. It also emits far infrared rays that are called the ‘rays of life’ and promote cell growth. Furthermore, bamboo charcoal also emits negative ions that help to neutralize the positive ions given off by electrical appliances that cause nausea in some people

Bamboo Charcoal Soap

Bamboo charcoal is exceptionally porous and when it is made into soap it cleans to the bottom of the pores. Also it doesn’t leave a layer of residue on the skin like normal soaps. This means that after washing with bamboo charcoal soap the body’s natural oils can moisturize the skin properly. Bamboo charcoal soap is a great treatment for eczema and acne.

Bamboo in the Office

The office at both home and work is a room that is used a lot. It is thus a good idea to make it more people and environment friendly with bamboo. It is possible to buy bamboo desks, coffee tables and chairs. A bamboo mat under an office chair protects flooring. Various types of bamboo office equipment is easily found online or in good shops such as bamboo space savers, bamboo file holders, bamboo pen holders, bamboo laptop holders. Bamboo shades are anti-allergenic, easy to clean and can add a stylish look to an office. Asus make a bamboo laptop computer with high specs that reduces the use of plastic on the computer by 15%.

Bamboo Shades and Blinds

Curtains are difficult to install. They are also a pain to clean. The chemicals used for dry cleaning are bad both for the environment and for people’s health. The most eco-friendly window treatment is bamboo blinds and shades. They are made from a renewable resource that biodegrades. They are easy to install and easy to clean.

There are a variety of bamboo shades and blinds available – roman blinds, vertical blinds, big slats and matchstick bamboo blinds. A style of bamboo shade or blind can be found to suit any d├ęcor style.

Outdoor matchstick bamboo blinds add privacy to a veranda, patio or balcony. They also filter out dangerous UVA and UVB rays. Often outdoor bamboo blinds are what are needed to make an outdoor space more inviting.

Bamboo in the Garden

Bamboo can be grown from seeds or from small plants. It is easy to grow. Bamboo clumpers add a striking adornment to a garden and also help to fertilize the soil. Running bamboo can be used to mark a boundary and to create privacy and shade in a garden.

Bamboo makes an ideal material for stakes for the garden and for fencing. The Japanese use bamboo charcoal as a fertilizer for green tea.

Bamboo Conclusion

The limits of bamboo in the home and garden seem to be only limited by our imagination. Bamboo can be used for furniture, flooring, window treatments and for a wide range of every day products. Bamboo can also be used to make a home cleaner and healthier. It can even be used to make us more beautiful. Bamboo truly is wonderful and should be at the heart of attempts to make a home or office more sustainable.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Benefits of CFLs

CFLs are not New Technology

Compact fluorescent light bulb technology has been around for over 100 years, but it has only recently been made available to the general public. For a long time the technology was held in check by light bulb manufacturers who thought it too costly to switch over their machines to make this new kind of light bulb.

CFLs are now made so they don’t flicker. They are made to fit nearly any light fixture and are made in a variety of watt strengths to suit any lighting mood (remember that CFLs are a lot more powerful than regular incandescent light bulbs and need about a third of the wattage. Moreover the spectrum given off by CFLs is virtually the same to the naked eye as the spectrum from incandescent light bulbs.

Why Buy CFLs?

The great advantage of CFLs is that they save you money. They do this by using far less electricity and by lasting longer. Earthmate CFLs use 75% less electricity and last 13 times longer than standard incandescent light bulbs. That is an incredible saving. Energy Star calculates by switching 5 incandescent bulbs over to CFLs you save $100 a year. Although CFLs cost a bit more to buy than incandescent light bulbs they more than make up for the added cost. Whole regions in America and Europe are moving over to CFLs for public buildings and communal lighted areas.

Mercury and CFLs

The only environmental concern with CFLs is that they all contain mercury. Mercury is a heavy metal and rated in the top 5 pollutants by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It is most important that used and broken CFLs are not thrown out in the regular trash. They must be suitably disposed of. Home Stores plc. in the USA now has free CFL disposal at most branches.

The CFLs with the lowest amount of mercury are made by Earthmate. Earthmate CFLs typically have 75% less mercury than other CFLs.

CFLs can lower Mercury Levels

The US Department for Environmental Protection has done tests to show that in areas where coal is burned in power plants to generate electricity, using CFLs actually lowers mercury levels. This is because burning coal is the main cause of mercury in water supplies. By using CFLs electricity consumption is reduced and so less coal is burned.


LEDs are the future. They use a fraction of the electricity of incandescent light bulbs and last longer than both incandescent and CF light bulbs. They also don’t contain any mercury. Compare:

  • Incandescent light bulb life span: 1,000 hours
  • CFLs life span: 8,000 hours
  • LED life span: 25,000 to 100,000 hours

LEDs are great in some places in the house, but they tend to be a bit weak. CFLs are the best eco-friendly bulbs at the moment, especially where brighter light is needed. If LED technology continues to improve (as no doubt it will) then they will replace CFLs as the greenest form of lighting.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Principles of Sustainable Interiors

Making a Building more Environmentally Friendly

Sustainable Interior Design is also known as Green Interior Design. It is the process of making a building more environmentally friendly. This is a big task that can be divided into a number of different categories. The US Green Building Council (USBC) set up Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to set up metrics by which the building industry could evaluate how green and sustainable a house, office or building was. The metrics are divided into 5 main categories:

1) Reduction of carbon emissions
2) Conservation of water
3) Energy Saving
4) Indoor environmental safety
5) Careful use of resources

I believe it is beneficial to look at these metrics one by one to gain a better idea of what sustainable interior design is all about.

Reduction of Carbon Emissions

Despite those on the fringes of science and politics who claim climate change is caused by alterations in the sun's intensity or by a long cycle of weather patterns, or who just deny climate change altogether, the overwhelming majority now accept the evidence. This evidence that the levels of carbon dioxide in the air is increasing and that this trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing average temperatures to raise every year. It is undeniable that the polar caps are melting and that sea levels are also raising.

Much of the blame for this is down to mankind's economic activities. Burning fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution has made a profound impact on the atmosphere. As economies increase so does the amount of carbon emissions. With the recent rise to prominence of such economies as China, Russia, Turkey and Brazil more carbon is being put into the atmosphere than ever before. At the same time photosynthesis by plant life that turns carbon into oxygen has decreased as more nature is cleared and more trees are chopped down. As the seas are being polluted plankton(also known as phytoplankton) is being lost that also absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emissions given off for any given project. The aim of sustainable design is to reduce the carbon footprint of a house to a minimum. This is done in a number of ways.

  • Reducing transport carbon costs (trucks etc. usually burn petrol) by sourcing materials directly.
  • Looking at the carbon throughput of each item used for the building - quantifying how much fossil fuel was needed to make each item eg. mining for resources, transport, assembly etc.
  • Reducing the amount of energy that is not from a renewable energy supply that is needed to construct the building and to keep it running. Such factors to consider are heating and cooling and the use of photovoltaic panels.
  • The carbon emissions of those who construct the building  - ie. their transport costs and the carbon emissions  of the machines used for construction.
Every aspect of a building's interior and exterior can be assigned a carbon value.

Conservation of Water

Already many parts of the USA are classified as in a 'moderate to severe drought'. The fossil water supplies of India is approaching zero. 1 in 8 people already lack access to safe water supplies ( 70% of the world's fresh water is used on agriculture. As the world population grows more food will be needed and fresh water supplies will shrink even further. The UN estimates that by 2025, forty-eight nations, with combined population of 2.8 billion, will face freshwater “stress” or “scarcity”. (ibid). Make no mistake about it - water will be as important a commodity in the future as oil is now. Wars will be fought over fresh water supplies.

Against this backdrop it is very easy to understand why we should conserve water supplies in the home. An important part of green interior or sustainable interior design is about designing homes that need less water to make and use less water to run.

Energy Saving

Saving electricity is very important to green interior design or sustainable design. The aim of the Passive House is to keep an interior at a comfortable temperature without the use of heating or cooling devices. This is done by superinsulation that traps heat or cool air in a home. Only when it gets really hot or cold will a Passive House need inputs of heating/cooling. This can be powered by photovoltaic panels on the roof.

Most electricity is generated by burning coal, oil or natural gas. These are not only limited resources but the burning of these resources also increases carbon emissions. Burning coal also releases the heavy metal mercury that poisons ground water supplies. By using less electricity a home produces less carbon and uses less natural resources. The environment benefits with less pollution and less carbon in the atmosphere; and people benefit from less harmful pollution and money savings.

The metric of energy saving as laid down by LEED is a perfect example of the Triple Bottom Line - 'people, planet, profits'. It is the profit motive that drives a lot of sustainable design refits to a building. Saving energy saves money that can be used to pay for the changes and to eventually record profits.

Examples of energy saving methods include:

  • The use of solar panels and wind turbines to create clean, green energy
  • The use of a heat pump. It is 3 or 4 times more efficient than a regular electrical resistance heating system.
  • Switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Using a programmable thermostat to avoid over heating or over cooling an empty building
  • Using a smart strip to override stand by on electrical appliances
  • Changing washing machines, air-con units, TVs and other electrical equipment to Energy Star recommended products.

Indoor Environmental Safety

Part of the role of a green interior designer is to make spaces that are healthy for people to live. People in the developed world spend 90% of their lives in doors. Due to lack of ventilation levels of polluting and unhealthy substances in the air can be 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. To make people healthier in their homes and offices it is essential to keep indoor air as free as possible of such things as volatile organic compounds, radon and dust mite excrement. This can be done by:

  • Replacing VOC containing products such as thinners, varnishes, paints, air fresheners, furniture glue with non VOC alternatives.
  • Sourcing antique furniture and other items for the home that has off-gassed all health threatening VOCs
  • Testing a home for radon levels
  • Installing bamboo, reclaimed hardwood or cork flooring
  • Using bamboo blinds and shades instead of curtains
Another big worry for indoor health are all the toxic and dangerous chemicals used in the home for cleaning. Green cleaning alternatives include using lemon, vinegar and baking soda.

Careful Use of Resources

Hardwood, coal, oil, natural gas, iron ore, aluminum and many other resources commonly used in the home and office are fast running out. If we are going to make homes that are sustainable we have to learn how to stop our reliance on these limited resources and instead find new and creative ways to use renewable resources that grow quickly enough to keep up with demand. Such renewable resources include bamboo, rattan, water hyacinth and cork. Other strategies are to use recycled resources or to take unwanted resources and turn them into something of higher value (upcycling) such as reclaimed hardwood flooring.

Where possible resources should be taken locally and with minimum impact to the local surroundings. If hardwood is needed then it is better that it is taken from a forest that practices sustainable forestry.

Furthermore, the impact of building in an area must be assessed and the damage to the environment limited as possible. Building interiors must also be designed as to reduce pollution to the surrounding area.


This is just a bare outline and a summary manifesto of how sustainable design is ideally practiced. The idea is that the methods, tests and systems for sustainable design should always be modified and improved; and should always respond to the needs of the local people and environment.

Our only hope for a secure future and a decent living standard for future generations lies in improving our ways of designing and building homes. They have a fundamental impact on us, the environment and the future. This places sustainable interior design at the heart of what the environmental movement is trying to achieve.