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Green home renovations

As a hardwood-floor installer years ago, Jeremy Gourlay often felt sick for days after finishing a floor with lacquer sealant. Years later, he still gets short of breath occasionally. "I thought: if it's doing this to me, then what is it doing to my clients?"

So, along with his wife, he created a store full of home renovation and building supplies that won't make people, or the environment, sick. EcoInhabit, near Meaford, Ont., is one of many green home renovation and building supply stores cropping up across Canada that can help home owners and builders find truly green products.

Many products purport to be green, but that isn't the case. And considering that many of these products are shipped here from countries as far away as China, emitting tons of harmful emissions into the air the whole way, it's a high environmental price to pay to make your home beautiful.

So, before you buy that new countertop, install new plastic flooring or throw down fresh carpet, here's are a few alternatives to consider.

How do you know it's green?
To ensure you're getting a true green product, there are two major considerations you need to keep in mind. First, what is its environmental impact? Homeowners should ask if the product is made from recycled or renewable materials such as wool, bamboo or cork.

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You should also think about transportation: how far did it have to travel to get to your door? If it was made locally, it had a much smaller environmental impact than if it came from overseas.

Secondly, and most important for your health: Does it release toxins? Household products including paints, carpets and linoleum leak volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into our homes, contributing to poor air quality and illnesses such as respiratory problems.

To determine whether a product meets green criteria, find a reliable local eco home products store. Gourlay researched products for years to ensure they were green from conception to garbage before deciding to sell them in his store.

You can also peruse sites such as the Canadian Green Building Council or Light House Sustainable Building Centre, a government-funded site for green product information and local product dealers.

You can also check the product's label for third-party certification. Organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council of Canada, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and Green Seal all get a green thumbs up.

Go local
The floors inside the EcoInhabit store are actually planks from an old barn. Reclaimed wood -- available in a mix of shapes and sizes -- is often leftover from a renovation or found in landfills or even riverbeds.

"Local reclaimed materials are by far the best eco option," says Pete McGee, who works for SIP Distribution Inc. in Vancouver.

This option is as green as you can get, not just because it didn't require any manufacturing, but because reclaimed wood doesn't have to travel long distances. "As long as it's finished with nontoxic, healthy finishes, it's your best bet," says McGee, noting that common finishes include a non-toxic hard wax oil or hemp oil.

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-- Posted: April 2, 2008
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