How to achieve stylish comfort that is healthy and sustainable
Trudy Dujardin, ASID, is nationally known for her passion for eco-elegance, as well as for her award-winning interiors that combine sophistication, elegant use of color, and an intuitive understanding of her clients’ lifestyles. Trudy’s graceful approach to gently green design reflects a deep respect for historic preservation, the surrounding landscape, and abundant comfort. Fittingly, she is a LEED Accredited Professional with a specialty in Interior Design and Construction, recognizing her thorough understanding of green building practices and principles.
Trudy’s philosophy (as well as that of her firm, Dujardin Design Associates) is that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury. Use the Connecticut-based designer’s tips to help you create interiors and exteriors that are both beautiful and eco-friendly.
Start in the Bedroom
During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins you were exposed to during the day, and to restore energy and health for both body and mind. More than any other room in the house, your bedroom should be a pristine environment.
- Choose no-VOC paints for walls and wood trim. Paints can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) over a long period of time, so just airing out the room may not be sufficient.
- Choose hardwood, tile, or stone floors. Finish them with a water-based sealant, and cover them with organic wool or cotton area rugs that can be easily cleaned.
- Select an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool, or organic cotton. Be sure your pillows are all natural as well. Non-organic cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals like chromium, copper and zinc. You can request “no fire-retardant chemicals” be used on your mattress. This request requires a prescription from a doctor.
- Choose eco-friendly wood furniture that is FSC-certified, a designation from the Forest Stewardship Council ensuring that the wood was grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term.
Invest in a Good Air Filtration System
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America rates indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks. So I recommend doing more than just opening the windows from time to time. Clear the air by adding a room air-purifier, or go one step further and install a central filtration system. Today’s models can remove particulates that can’t be seen by the naked eye, such as dust, pet dander, molds, spores, pollen, and chemical gases such as sulfuric acid, ammonia, and formaldehyde.
Antiques are the Ultimate in “Green”
There is an added beauty to the natural grace of aged furniture. These pieces are the ultimate in “green.”
- Antique wooden furniture was created from old-growth forests long ago. No new resources are used in its construction, making its restoration and re-use a loving part of caring for the earth.
- Off-gassing is the process of releasing the vapors that are the residue of many fine finishes. Antiques were crafted with fewer toxic products, and any off-gassing has long been complete.
- Manufacturing plants, even the very greenest, distribute impurities into our air, waste systems, and water. New furniture requires the production of finishes, dyes, and sealants; they arrive in retail stores via large fossil-fuel burning vehicles. Carefully chosen antiques save wear and tear on the planet.
- Even in a contemporary home, the gentle lines of antique furniture can add eye-catching details. Rather than being mass-produced, an antique you bring into your home was likely created in a small workshop by a craftsman who made good use of few resources—thus making your home truly unique.
Consider Organic Fabrics for Upholstery and Window Treatments
When you curl up on your sofa with a good book, chances are you didn’t intend to invite a long list of toxic chemicals to join you. But you may be sitting down with substances such as formaldehyde, polyurethane, brominated flame retardants (PBDE’s), and dioxin. All of these toxins infiltrate your home through “off-gassing,” the release of chemicals into the air through evaporation.
Fortunately, today we have the option of choosing soy-based cushions versus foam ones, recycled filling for pillows, and organic upholstery fabric. Some of these organic materials are among the world’s most luxurious, including organic cotton, hemp, linen, and wool. For our best health, textiles should be colored with low-impact dyes without formaldehyde.
The good news is with a little research and guidance, your home can be healthier than ever before, and as exquisitely decorated as you dreamed it would be.
Reduce or Eliminate VOCs with Water-Based Paints
Paints with high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been used for years. That just-painted smell is actually the off-gassing of chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and zylene. The VOCs last far longer than the odor, however, as can vapors from floor stains, finishes, sealants, and caulks.
Consumer demand has led to the development of many new, healthier products, including Low Odor or Low VOC paint, Zero VOC paint, and non-toxic or natural paints. Low VOC products use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, reducing the levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde. Look for paints with the Green Seal Standard, which certifies that they meet certain industry standards for VOCs.
Even low VOC paints can contain fungicides and biocides, used to prevent mildew growth and extend shelf life. I recommend and use EnviroSafe Paints, which use no fungicides or biocides. Since municipal tap water has been found to contain VOCs in just about every major metropolitan area throughout the United States, even the water EnviroSafe uses is pure, filtered water pumped from a private well. Amazing!
Keeping the air clean is more important than ever in today’s airtight, energy-efficient homes!
Use Eco-Friendly Wood for Cabinetry and Trim
The environment we live in either supports us or stresses us. We’ve long thought of the environment as being something outside our homes—acid rain, air pollution, and a diminishing ozone layer. As important, though, is our indoor environment.
Chemicals such as formaldehyde and polyisocyanurate can be emitted from plywood and manufactured wood used for cabinets, stairs, banisters and trimwork. Hardwoods are the best choice (although many homes today are built using softwoods) as it can be produced more cheaply. Woods are classified as either hardwood, such as maple, oak, or birch, or as softwood, such as pine. The natural resins in softwood lumber, however, can outgas terpenes and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Eco-friendly wood products are FSC-certified, a designation from the Forest Stewardship Council ensuring that the wood was grown and harvested in a way that protects forests for the long term. If you are planning to build a new home, or intend to renovate an existing one, I urge you to consider these materials. Not only is it better for you and your family, but more and more often, prospective buyers will be in the market for sustainable construction and design.
Keep Your Home Free of Mold
You may not see mold spores, but even when invisible to the eye, they can be present in the air you breathe. Asthma, coughing, sneezing, and rashes may be a clue that something unhealthy has permeated your home.
Toxic mold has become a growing problem. As insulation improved and homes became more air-tight, exchange with fresh air from outside has slowed, creating perfect conditions for toxic mold to flourish. So an air filtration system, running a dehumidifier, and eliminating water leaks will go a long way toward eradicating it. For small amounts of mold, clean with bleach and water while wearing a face mask and goggles.
Homeowners with heavy mold or water damage should call a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), and get their homes thoroughly investigated for microbial growth. A CIH is qualified to enhance the health and safety of people at work and in their homes by identifying hazards, and taking corrective action where necessary.
Choose Hardwood, Tile, or Stone Floors
As luxurious as it seems, carpet can harbor mold, dander, and allergens. Chemicals used in the manufacturing process, as well as stain retardants and fireproofing materials, can be hazardous to both humans and pets. Instead, choose the beauty of hardwood, tile, or stone. Organic cotton or wool rugs can be placed where softness under foot is desired; either can be easily taken up to be cleaned.
We can’t make toxins vanish into thin air, but we can do a lot to improve the air we breathe when we’re home with family and friends.
Be Clean and Green with Non-Toxic Cleaners
Many conventional cleaning products, rather than clean your home, actually pollute it with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals. Synthetic fragrances are added to mask the odor of chemical vapors implicated in headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, and respiratory problems.
You can make your own cleaning products from items you have in your pantry, such as baking soda, kosher salt, lemons, and olive oil. As an alternative, good commercial products are made by Seventh Generation in Burlington, Vermont, which has been making non-toxic cleaning products for twenty years.
Remember to open the windows and let the fresh breezes flow through the house. Add a good air filtration system, and you’ve made a great start on living in a healthier home!
Get more green-cleaning instructions on Trudy’s blog Holistic House .
Plant an Organic Lawn
Once your home is a haven for health and clean living, you won’t want to surround your living space with harsh fertilizers and pesticides. Lawn and garden chemicals can poison living things, including humans and pets. These chemicals pollute our water, harm wildlife, and interrupt the delicate balance of our eco-system. They’re easily tracked into the house, polluting your pristine space.
A study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage. You can enjoy both a lovely lawn and good health. See the next slide for my suggestions on how to make it happen.
Cultivate a Healthy Landscape.
Healthy soil promotes healthy plants. Good soil is “alive,” teeming with bacteria and organic content that naturally resists pests and disease. Boost your soil’s health by spreading organic compost or alfa meal.
- Corn gluten is increasingly used as a high-nitrogen, organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers feed your lawn slowly. Quick release chemical fertilizers, on the other hand, encourage rapid growth that weakens the grass.
- Tolerate a few weeds. You can dig them out by hand if they bother you, or you can adopt the philosophy of “live and let live.” A few weeds in the garden can also provide a home for beneficial insects, which keep the overall landscape in good health.
- De-thatch and aerate your soil by raking and aerating compacted lawns. By removing plugs of soil, the air, water, and nutrients can reach the roots of your grass. When your lawn is healthy, birds and worms will continue to aerate it for you!
- For the first and last mowing of the season, mow down to 2 inches high, which prevents fungus growth. For the rest of the year, keep your grass 3 inches high to shade out weeds and foster deep roots. Short grass promotes weeds, shallow roots and thatch.
Believe in the Power of One
I believe in the “power of one,” the power each of us has to make an impact, create change, and help heal the earth. Creating a “green” house respects the health and well-being of everyone involved in its creation, and everyone who calls it home. And that’s the very best place to start.