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Green home renovations

Fast-growing floors
Besides reclaimed wood, renewable sources such as bamboo and cork are the next best green product for your floor.

As the fastest growing plant in the world, bamboo can grow as much as a metre a day. That's because it's a grass, not a tree. To ensure you're lessening the environmental impact of the product, buy local when possible. A bamboo hardwood floor ranges between $4 and $7 a square foot.

Another option is cork, which comes from the bark of a cork oak tree, mostly grown in warm European climates. Instead of felling the entire tree, the bark is peeled off, leaving the tree to renew its bark. As a floor, the material is hypoallergenic and the spongy material is good for sound reduction and shock absorption. Many homeowners also use it as a wall covering.

Counterculture counter tops
Instead of using stone, which is a non-renewable resource, try a countertop made from recycled materials such as glass or even toilets. IceStone sells several varieties of countertops made from renewable or reclaimed materials.

For the ultimate in eco countertops, PaperStone is made of layers of post-consumer recycled paper held together with resins, which include chestnut shell liquid. The counter is as hard as stone and just as durable. The price is also comparable to low-grade granite, starting at $190 a linear foot.

Non-toxic wool carpets
"Carpet is one of the worst culprits in terms of emitting toxins into your home," says Loreen Graw, a design consultant with Eco Green Interiors based on Vancouver Island.

The glues and adhesives that create that new-carpet smell release a variety of toxic chemicals, notably formaldehyde, says Graw.

An alternative is carpet made from wool. One such brand in available in Canada is called Nature's Carpet. Not only is wool a highly renewable resource, but the backing is made from jute, a natural fibre, and the adhesive is a rubber latex. Wool carpet costs $5 and $9 a square foot, so it's on the high end of traditional carpet prices.

Instead of the traditional plastic linoleum floors that emit VOCs, maroleum's ingredients read like a cake recipe: linseed oil, rosins and wood flour. Running at about $4.50 a square foot, it's almost double the price of linoleum, but many homeowners say the price is worth it to avoid the toxic ingredients found in its plastic counterpart.

Clay a paint alternative
Using clay on walls is reminiscent of homes from New Mexico or warmer climates, but inside a Canadian home, clay is a natural alternative to paints filled with VOCs and wallpaper with toxic glues.

American Clay is made from various clays, recycled and reclaimed aggregates and natural pigments. It's also temperature controlling: "It brings in moisture in the summer and keeps the air cooler and in the winter it takes out moisture," says Gourlay.

Costing between $75 and $125 per bag, one bag can cover 180 square feet of wall. And as demand grows for these products, the prices will inevitably get lower, say experts.

Melanie Chambers is a freelance writer based in London, Ont.

-- Posted: April 2, 2008
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