June 14, 2012

Green Renovating 101

I seriously never thought I would be renovating a house. I mean, I'm the kid who hammers not just their thumb but their whole hand and manages to slice open their leg while removing a staple. (Don't worry, it's healed). But over the last two weeks, renovating is exactly what I've been doing. I've moved into an old family home with a couple of friends, and when we first arrived it wasn't in a particularily liveable state.

Here's the before picture of the kitchen:

Part of our concern with this renovation was making the house liveable as quickly as possible, because two of us needed to be able to live in it ASAP in order to work in the area. But we're all also concerned about the state of the environment and the effects the production and use of toxic chemicals has on people, so when we were told to use stick-on vinyl tiles in the kitchen, up went a little red flag of concern.

As you can kind of tell from the picture above, most of the kitchen is in good shape. The walls were a little beat up and needed some paint, but the floor was what needed the most work. It was covered in a sort of thin blue green carpet that had gotten pretty ratty, smelly, and stained.

The easy part of the job was tearing the carpet out: it was glued down to the old vinyl tiles underneath, so it came up without too much trouble. Painting was also easy (and fun). We chose low VOC paint, which you can find at almost any hardware store. The hard part was deciding what kind of new flooring to use.

I called the Amicus Green Building Center to figure out what kind of flooring might be best, and we ended up taking a trip to Home Depot (for about the seven bazillionth time) to look at what similar materials they might have there. (Amicus was a little too out of the way for us). Whily vinyl tile is about 99 cents a square foot, vinyl is an incredibly toxic material. In fact, a Greenpeace investigation concluded that it was the "worst plastic for the environment." It's bad during production, and it's bad once you install it, because it offgases carcinogenic chemicals into your home.

Tile runs about $1.50, but ends up being a lot more expensive once you buy all of the materials to put it down. (Side note: why doesn't the price of vinyl include the costs of its negative effects? Dreaming). Still, the kitchen was small, so it wasn't a huge cost difference. It took three people working hard all weekend to lay it down, but as you can see in the picture below, the effort was well worth it. (Shout out to the friends who put in so much work. You know who you are).

The end result? If there's one thing I've learned from renovating, it's that the more health and eco-friendly options are usually prohibitively expensive when you're working with a tight budget, and when it comes to flooring, they're also more labor intensive. Is it worth it in the long run? Definitely. But it helps if you have the time and money to spend researching the products and installing them. The greenest option is usually to leave things as they are, but in this case the carpet was so old and dirty it had practically deteriorated onto the floor.