Decorating with a Green State of Mind

Make eco-friendly choices when sprucing up your home

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when it was difficult to for homeowners to decorate without greatly increasing their carbon footprints—but this is no longer the case. Today, it’s possible to design a beautiful space and remain an environmental steward by decorating with a green state of mind.

  1. Purchase low- or zero-VOC paints. Coatings are more environmentally friendly than ever. This is due in large part to advances in waterborne technologies and the proliferation of coatings that are low in volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Some coatings are friendlier than others, though. Look for “low-VOC” or “zero-VOC” on the label. VOCs are known contributors to smog and adversely affect indoor air quality. To keep your carbon footprint smaller still, look for paint systems that offer low- or zero-VOC colorants. When in doubt, ask your local paint store.
  2. Choose safe wallpaper and paint removers. Stripping paint and wallpaper is much easier—and safer—with new technologies. One example: strippable wallpaper, which in many cases can be removed with no chemicals. For older wallpapers, commercial wallpaper strippers are a good option. For the most environmentally friendly products, look for those that are non-toxic and contain no VOCs. Strippers made from clay, starch, wheat, and other natural ingredients are also low in odor. For some paint-removal projects, a good scraper and a free afternoon are all you need to get down to the bare surface. But for quicker removal, or projects involving multiple paint layers, a commercial remover might be the best solution. Consider removers that are labeled “safe to use” and are free of carcinogenic methylene chloride and caustic chemicals. Citrus- and soy-based removers are good options, but there are other safe formulations, and many clean up with soap and water. Check with your local paint store for the safest formula.
  3. Use “re-” products. Whenever possible, use reclaimed, recycled, repurposed, and recyclable products in your decorating projects. This is easier to do than you might think, because there are so many products on the market, from flooring made of reclaimed wood to paint trays made of recycled soda bottles. Do your research before tackling any decorating project: What companies offer reclaimed or recycled products? Is there a way to repurpose an object rather than buying new? Looking down the road to your next remodel project, which products will be easiest to recycle?
  4. Buy only what you need. When it comes to environmental stewardship, less is definitely more. Buy only what you need by carefully measuring (and measuring again) beforehand. That being said, it’s sometimes difficult to avoid having leftover paint. If you won’t be using it for touch-ups, then consider taking leftover paint to a designated paint recycling center or donating it to a charity or worthwhile cause. It might take a little time to find the right recipient, but the environment will thank you for it.