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Living Room & Office

Although most people think first of the kitchen and other areas of the home as go-to places for greening, your living room, den, dining room, and office areas also offer many opportunities for saving energy and creating a greener, healthier environment. In this section, we first discuss components of living areas that have environmental attributes, including electronics and office equipment, furnishings, and flooring. Then, we discuss changes to everyday activities that you can make in living areas, including easy changes to cleaning, purchases, and habits.

Living Room/Home Office Components

Home Electronics

Choose energy efficient ENERGY STARŪ labeled products when purchasing electronics and office equipment for your living room and home office, including your:

  • TV
  • Computer
  • DVD Player
  • Monitor
  • Stereo
  • Printer
  • Cordless telephone
  • Fax/photocopier

ENERGY STARŪ products meet strict efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

For more information on ENERGY STAR labeled electronics, go to:
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=find_a_product.showProductCategory&pcw_code=HEF

Green Furnishings

When choosing home furnishings for your living room and home office, from the furniture to decorations, consider environmentally preferable products. Environmentally preferable products are those that are considered to be "greener" overall than their conventional counterparts.

Recycled content is one factor in determining an environmentally preferable product. Consider furniture made from recycled content or reclaimed materials, and pieces made from sustainably harvested materials such as certified hardwood. Other environmental attributes to consider include: reduced energy use during the products production and use; conservation of resources; and reduced impacts to air, water, and land. Furthermore, environmentally preferable products contain fewer or no toxics or hazardous constituents, including those that can result in indoor air quality issues such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products including upholstery, paints and lacquers, adhesives, and solvents. Some VOCs contribute to outdoor smog, as well as indoor air pollution. Formaldehyde is an example of a common VOC that is used in the manufacture of furniture and materials, including most types of particleboard (used as shelving, in cabinetry, and furniture); hardwood plywood paneling (decorative wall covering, cabinets, and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Other types of VOCs include benzene, xylene, toluene, to name just a few. Look for products that contain low-VOC finishes and adhesives.

EPA launched the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program to help the federal government "buy green," and to stimulate demand for green products and services. Environmentally preferable purchasing means including environmental considerations into buying decisions, along with traditional factors such as performance and price. EPA's EPP Program has summarized information about popular environmentally preferable products and services, including environmental attributes to look for, procurement guidance, tools, case studies, and other useful resources. Although geared towards the federal government (and its own institutional, mainly non-residential, buildings), this program can also help consumers identify EPP products and places to buy them.

For a database of environmental information on EPP products, including furnishings, go to:
http://yosemite1.epa.gov/oppt/eppstand2.nsf/Pages/VendorLists.html?Open

PLEASE NOTE: Linking to this database does not constitute "endorsement" of these products or companies on the part of the EPA.

Flooring

When choosing the type of flooring for your living room or home office, you should consider environmentally preferable products, whether it be carpeting, wood floors, tile, or another alternative.

Carpeting

Many people are aware of the health and environmental concerns associated with carpet, including indoor air quality, chemical emissions from manufacturing and disposal operations, and solid waste impacts. A variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be emitted from carpet itself or from accompanying materials (e.g., adhesives used during installation), particularly if installed improperly (although VOC emissions from new carpet typically fall to very low levels within 48 to 72 hours after installation when accompanied by good ventilation). In addition, over four billion pounds of carpet enter the solid waste stream in the U.S. every year, and the bulky nature of carpet creates collection and handling problems for solid waste operations. The variety of materials present in carpet makes it difficult to recycle, although several carpet manufacturers have instituted take-back and recycling programs. When choosing a carpet, some environmental attributes to look for include:

  • Low or no volatile organic compounds(VOCs)
  • No toxic dyes
  • Recyclable
  • Recycled-content
  • Sustainably grown/harvested material (i.e. wool carpeting)

Find out if the product has met the Carpet and Rug Institute's (CRI) Green Label/Green Label Plus (GLP) requirements. Exit EPA DisclaimerThe Green Label program specifies emission limits for certain chemicals from carpet, cushion, and adhesives, and provides a list of manufacturers who have met the standard. The Carpet America Recovery Effort Exit EPA Disclaimercan provide information and advice on recycling and other options for your old carpet.

For more information on using environmentally preferable carpets in your home, go to:
http://epa.gov/epp/pubs/products/carpets.htm

PLEASE NOTE: Linking to this database does not constitute "endorsement" of these products or companies on the part of the EPA.

Other Flooring Alternatives:

Should you decide to have a non-carpeted floor, consider floors made of sustainably grown or harvested materials, such as cork or certified hardwoods. In addition, consider using reclaimed lumber as a wood flooring option. Hundreds of building material reuse stores sell high-quality flooring salvaged from construction and renovation projects. Most stores are open to the public. The Building Materials Reuse Association's Web site Exit EPA Disclaimercontains a directory of member reuse stores.Exit EPA Disclaimer Habitat for Humanity operates many reuse stores around the country and their reuse store directoryExit EPA Disclaimer can also be found on their Web site. Online marketplaces for these materials are also in operation, such as PlanetReuse.comExit EPA Disclaimer and AmericanBuilderSurplus.comExit EPA Disclaimer , provide listings for reused and recycled materials. If you decide to tile your floor, remember to used low-VOC adhesives and sealants, and consider using tiles made of recycled content.

It is increasingly common for manufacturers to make green claims about flooring. However, you should do a bit of research to determine if flooring alternatives advertized as green really are. Some things to look for include:

  • Certification - Wood that is labeled as sustainably harvested should carry a well-known certification. Exit EPA Disclaimer

  • Sealing and coating chemicals - Avoid flooring coated or sealed with a formaldehyde-based chemicals, which emit VOCs, or polyurethane, which contains a class of chemicals that cause or aggravate asthma (diisocyanates). And ask the retailer or supplier how they assess the validity of formaldehyde-free claims.

  • Shipping distance - A long shipping distance reduces the environmental attributes of flooring due to transportation energy use and GHG emissions, especially for heavy materials such as flooring.

  • Maintenance - Consider maintenance issues when selecting your flooring materials, and avoid options that require frequent maintenance or harsh chemicals for cleaning or waxing.

A special note about bamboo: Bamboo is currently very popular because of its aesthetics and its green reputation, which is based on the fact that bamboo is fast-growing and bamboo harvesting does not destroy the bamboo root system. However, much bamboo is imported and has a long shipping distance. Due to the popularity of bamboo, it is increasingly displacing forested areas. In addition, bamboo strips are commonly sealed with formaldehyde-based chemicals. Finally, bamboo lacks the certification systems established for wood flooring. Thus, although some bamboo may be truly "green," homeowners need to investigate the source of bamboo and make their own assessment about the bamboo's attributes relative to alternatives.

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Living Room/Home Office Green Practices

Using Environmentally Preferable Cleaners

Cleaning products are necessary for maintaining healthful conditions in the home. But many cleaning products can present health and environmental concerns, including eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or more serious issues.

When purchasing cleaners, look for signal words on product labels. Try to avoid most products labeled Danger/Poison (indicating that they can be lethal when ingested in very small quantities), as well as products labeled as Corrosive, Severely Irritating, Highly Flammable, Highly Combustible, or Strong Sensitizer. Also, when possible, try to select cleaning products that are labeled as low-VOC, readily biodegradable, bio-based (such as citrus- or pine-based products), and solvent-free. Some products' environmental claims have been verified and certified by a third-party group (such as Green Seal or Scientific Certification Systems).

Several simple, non-toxic, and inexpensive household substances can also be very effective for most types of household cleaning jobs; these substances include white vinegar, baking soda, mild liquid (e.g., castile) soap, lemon juice, and borax. (Note that vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, so they are useful for removing mineral deposits and wax or grease build-up, but they should not be used on all surfaces.) Recipes for making natural, non-toxic cleaning formulas are available on the Internet, at Web sites such as thegreenguide.com Exit EPA Disclaimer and care2.com.Exit EPA Disclaimer

Check out EPA's environmentally preferable cleaners Web site for information to help you choose household cleaners with reduced health risks. For information on specific green household cleaning products, go to:

EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services
EPA Design for Environment Program partners and products list
National Institutes of Health Household Products Database

PLEASE NOTE: Linking to this database does not constitute "endorsement" of these products or companies on the part of the EPA.

Reducing Energy Use

Powerstrips

By plugging household appliances and electronics into powerstrips, and then turning the powerstrip on and off, phantom electrical loads can be avoided. Phantom loads are electricity that is still consumed even when an appliance or piece of electronic equipment is switched off.

There are several things you can do to save energy in living and office areas:

  • Electronics and office equipment draw power even when they are turned off. Plug electronics and office equipment into a power strip and turn off the power strip when not in use.

  • Set computers and monitors to enter sleep mode during idle periods; remember that screen savers do not save energy!

  • Use fresh air cooling strategies before air conditioning, including ceiling fans and window fans. If you install a room air conditioner, choose one that carries the EnergyStar label.

  • Replace bulbs with EnergyStar labeled bulbs

  • Turn out the lights when you are not in the room.

Other Green Practices


Cleaning

  • Regular cleaning - Dust mites, pollens, animal dander, and other allergy-causing agents can be reduced through regular cleaning. For instance, vacuum your carpet and fabric-covered furniture regularly to reduce dust buildup, preferably using a vacuum that has a HEPA (High efficiency Particulate Air) filter.

  • Professional carpet cleaning - When having carpets professionally cleaned, find a service that uses a non-chemical and low-water process, and run fans afterwards to make sure that the carpeting dries quickly.
Shopping

  • Choose durable products and materials - Choose durable items (including clothing, furniture, luggage, appliances, and electronics) that are less likely to wear out or break prematurely. Although durable products may cost more initially, their extended life span often offsets the higher cost, and saves money over the product's life.

  • Maximize product and material life - - Keep building materials maintained and repair broken goods whenever possible, to maximize their useful life.

  • Fix it first - Try to repair before you consider replacing items, including vacuum cleaners and TVs. Donate items you can't repair to vocational schools or repair shops.

  • Buy locally or regionally produced products - Using locally produced products reduces the demand to ship materials typically sourced and manufactured long distances from their ultimate use. This helps support the local economy as well as reduce air emissions.

  • Choose sustainably grown/harvested materials - Choose sustainably harvested wood and materials made of a rapidly renewable resource (e.g., wool bedding, fiber clothing) or organically grown materials (e.g., organic cotton bedding).

  • Buy used or repurposed goods - You can find good furniture and other used items at your local thrift store, antiques store, and online.

  • Donate or sell used items - Consider donating any used furniture or equipment you no longer want to a charity, or selling them to a consignment or thrift store or at a garage sale or on a internet-based community resources, such as the Freecycle Network, Craigslist, and eBay. For instance, if you have healthy plants that you want to replace, donate them to community gardens or schools, or offer them to neighbors.

For additional information on green products and materials, go to:
EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP)
EPA Sustainability Program: Materials links

Link to Whole House for information on windows and doors, heating and cooling, air sealing, insulation, hot water heating, and lighting.

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