29 January 2012

Why the Most Environmental Building is the Building We've Already Built

From: The Atlantic Cities, Place Matters by Emily Badger

“Reusing an old building pretty much always has less of an impact on the environment than tearing it down, trashing the debris, clearing the site, crafting new materials and putting up a replacement from scratch. This makes some basic sense, even without looking at the numbers.”

“Retrofit an existing building to make it 30 percent more efficient, the study found, and it will essentially always remain a better bet for the environment than a new building built tomorrow with the same efficiencies. Take that new, more efficient building, though, and compare its life cycle to an average existing structure with no retrofitting, and it could still take up to 80 years for the new one to make up for the environmental impact of its initial construction.” Click here for link to article

What many people never realize is re-using an existing building is virtually always the most environmentally healthy thing we can do. Consider if the building was a warehouse or a school and we are re-using it as offices and residential it will still be “Greener” than a new building.
The existing building may or may not be a designated historic building. The reason for saving the building may not be for historical purposes. There may be other reasons including Zoning, economics or sentimentality. When a new building is built, a lot of natural resources are depleted to provide the construction materials and manufacture and ship everything. When an existing building is renovated there is environmental saving in a steel, wood or masonry structure that already exists. The exterior brick or siding is already there. There may even be interior walls that can be re-used. Also there may be a combination of thousand of smaller items that can be saved and re-used – hardware for example.
It is much easier for Architects, Engineers and Contractors to say “always build a new building”. Of course for them it is easier because they are starting with clean piece of paper. It is less complicated than trying to measure and evaluate an existing building and adapt it to a new user. But these professionals don’t have to pay for the total cost of construction and pay for the utility and maintenance expenses over its lifetime. On rare occasions it does make sense to start new, but this is acceptable when, for example, Target wants to build a store where an ice cream stand or gas station is.

16 January 2012

15 Ways Your Home Can Make You Infertile

By: Eric Hagerman, This Old House online

Making a Healthy Home

“Getting pregnant isn't always as easy as it looks on TV. Some 7.3-million American women have trouble becoming pregnant or staying pregnant. Doctors can't explain what's wrong for about 10 percent of the couples who can't conceive, and some experts suspect the culprit is all around us: environmental contaminants, particularly in the home.

That may help explain why male sperm counts are dropping, and it's a fact that the male contributes to infertility about 40 percent of the time. Toxins in your couch, vinyl floor, and other spots where you may have made attempts to expand your family could be throwing a wrench in your reproductive works. As much as we like to see home as a benevolent vessel of our dreams, the materials and chemicals they're made of and furnished with—from flame-retardant cushions to Teflon pans—can quash those dreams. Here's what to look for, and what you can do about it.”

Click here for the article 

A lot of good mini subjects about household items to avoid. We have known most of their bad effects for other reasons. Now there are more reasons people wanting to have children should avoid them.

“Soy: Doesn’t Bring Joy” – This one that surprised me, worth reading.

Natural mattresses are not as hard to find as it may seem. They might not be readily available from your semi-local big box or discount furniture store. Our daughter has a natural mattress made from cotton, wool and latex. We bought it from USA Baby and didn’t need to look forever to find it. The mattress was in stock, the crib was ordered out.

10 Ways Your House Can Kill You

By: Keith Pandolfi, This Old House online

Danger on the Homefront

"We love our homes. They provide us with warmth, shelter and, best of all, security. That's why it's so darn shocking when they turn against us. Like it or not, a house can be a virtual arsenal of lethal weapons. Whether its poisonous gasses, fiery flames, rabid bats or electrocuting appliances, even the sweetest Colonial Revival can be as armed and dangerous as Rambo on a bad day. Here are 11 ways our home sweet homes can take us down. “

Click here for the article 

The most important but not obvious ones are:

“Mold” A lot of people don’t realixe how easy it is to get mold in your house. Even a very minor roof leak, say a few drops every time it rains, can cause mold to grow on the backside of drywall. Normal drywall is surfaced front and back with paper. Paper is the favorite food for mold. The unfortunate thing is it usually starts on the backside where you can’t see it. It virtually never disappears on its own. The drywall must be removed by professional mold abatement specialists. Not removing it could result in chronic illness.

“Chemically Packed Paint Fumes” Painting a home’s interior with just any paint that you buy off the shelf will be dangerous to your health If you pick the wrong one. That new paint smell*, which may make people notice that something was recently completely, could be causing health problems. When buying paint for your home make sure it is “Zero VOC” – Sherwin Williams uses the label “Harmony” to identify it. If “Zero VOC is not available either avoid that brand or supplier of interior paint or opt for “Low VOC”. I would still avoid “Low VOC” whenever possible due to the fact that “Low” essentially means it will only irritate you a little bit. Also improperly storing non-“Zero VOC” paint can lead to health problems too. In one situation several years ago I looked at a house for sale that was newly painted inside. The realtor was proud to point out that the seller just completed painting all the rooms. Unfortunately the smell from the off-gassing was so bad that my sinuses were swelling up and burning. I would never consider buying that house.

*This new paint smell applies to other things. The new car smell is usually not healthy as it is off gassing of dangerous chemicals. For instance Volkswagen’s interiors are made from Zero and Low VOC materials. That is the reason that their cars have almost no new car smell. Some other competitors do not take the step to care about the issue but fortunately more are catching up.

Golden Rule to VOC’s: If it has, or is made from, petroleum based chemicals, it is dangerous to your health at some level.