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.