Early in my design career, I thought I would ride off into the sunset as a ‘green architect’. At the time the term sustainability was not even a thing. Inspired by an internship in the tropical island of Hawaii, I returned home and googled ‘ecological architecture’. The top result was in Australia where I headed next for my internship and it changed the course of my career.
There I worked for an architect, Paul Downton of Ecopolis Architects, who had an uncompromising commitment to an absolutely non-toxic design approach. Even plastic was not allowed in his construction, so the industry standards of PVC would not be allowed. In some cases, he had to create products to fill the need.
My job at his office was to call vendors and ask if their products were toxic and he taught me well. Bamboo floor vendors would vehemently lie about the ingredients in their bindings and at the end of the day, it was hard to source anything that was truly non-toxic at that time. While there are many more offerings twenty years after that fact, my diligent training taught me this - marketing of green products is usually a sham.
If you truly and dearly want a non-toxic home, here are a few low hanging fruit areas to improve.
Cleaning products: labels usually reveal what toxins are in your products and there usually are several. If you’re not sure how to pronounce it or can’t tell what it is, it’s probably a chemical. An invaluable resource for what products are toxic, and how toxic are they are the ewg.org website.
However, if it isn’t something you could potentially eat like lemon, vinegar, or baking soda, it’s probably chemically inclined. Even the products that are promoted as safer or green at the big box stores are capturing your hearts and minds with marketing genius. These products are selling an idea more than the truth. Trust your gut and start exploring the essential oils craze and stick to ingredients you can pronounce.
If you decide to go down the essential oil rabbit hole (as have I) for everything from cleaning to scents to personal care, I recommend the DoTerra and Young Living brands, as most others are inferior by far.
Fabrics: There are so many chemicals in the clothing and fabrics we allow to touch our skin I will say, start improvements with your sheets. Get some organic hemp or cotton sheets.
If you suffer from being hypersensitive, there are still very little absolutely non-toxic solutions in terms of upholstery (think couches and chairs) and drapery due to the flame retardant requirements by law. Be smart about anything new you purchase and avoid items that seem to have an odor, which means they could be off-gassing in your home.
Flooring and wall coverings: Paint, wallpaper, and flooring have made the most headway in the time I started hunting. The main culprit behind what could be toxic in a floor or wall covering is usually the glue that binds it together or to a surface.
Paint should be a no brainer - get the non-toxic stuff as each major brand now has a non-toxic line. For other solvents and such, call the manufacturer and ask. In some cities, there are reps who actually know what chemicals are in their products, like Greener Stock for example. You may be speaking to an uninformed person if you do make some calls, so keep that in mind.
This mini primer should get you started as to what to start with making non-toxic changes in your home. I got rid of all the chemicals in my home years ago so I don’t even think about them anymore. What you’ll notice as you weed these items out is mainly the marketing messages have prepared us to like extreme results. For example, most chemicals of laundry detergents are prepared to give you extremely bright white clothing. You can choose how important that is to you, and how sensitive you are to having the more stringent chemicals on your skin.
As a landscape design-build company, we are always thinking about the sustainability of what we create and how it will affect our clients' homes. We enjoy being experts in a kinder way to live beautifully and we are happy to share. If you have any specific questions please email me at [email protected]