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Whether you’re setting up a snug refuge to welcome a new baby into the world or planning a bedroom update for a growing child, following a few simple principles to reduce resource waste and protect your health in the choice of materials and finishes can help make your renovation project more eco-responsible.
Likewise, to renovate a home office, choosing long-lasting materials to reduce the flow of waste to landfills and effective energy-saving appliances is a good way to reduce the impact on the environment and on your health.
The market now offers lighting fixtures that are more efficient than those that use incandescent bulbs and a single switch. These new fixtures save energy, reduce resource use and decrease the amount of waste going into landfills. Rooms often need functional lighting to provide more specific light in particular areas and general ambient lighting to diffuse light to the entire room. You can make choices to meet these different needs in the most eco-responsible way possible.
ENERGY STAR® rated light fixtures consume 66% less energy on average and minimize heat release, which cuts down on air-conditioning needs in summer.
Compact fluorescent bulbs last about 10 times longer than ordinary incandescents and consume 4 or 5 times less energy. Some compact fluorescents can be installed with a dimmer, for greater control over ambient lighting. Because these bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, they cannot be simply thrown away but must be taken to dedicated recovery sites. In the event of breakage, use a piece of cardboard to collect the pieces, place them in a sealed container and dispose of at a recovery centre.
LEDs (light emitting diodes) are becoming more and more affordable, they’re well suited to residential lighting needs (better colour rendering), and they have the potential to consume less energy than compact fluorescent bulbs. LEDs have a very long lifespan as well – 5 to 10 times longer than compact fluorescents, which means 50 to 100 times longer than incandescent bulbs. They can also be adapted to different configurations – bulbs, strips and panels – to provide ambient or functional lighting. LEDs are not very heat resistant, however, which reduces their efficiency. Unlike compact fluorescents, LEDs contain no mercury or noxious gases.
Dimmer switches adjust the intensity of the light, which increases eye comfort and decreases energy consumption: depending on the decrease in intensity, a zero-resistance dimmer can save from 5% to 50% in energy costs.
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The most effective way to reduce energy consumption in the house is not to heat when you don’t need to. Replacing your mechanical thermostats with electronic thermostats allows you to manage your heat demands by programming in a lower temperature at times when you don’t need the heat.
Electronic thermostats produce a steadier temperature: a variation of 2°C is needed to activate an ordinary thermostat, but just 0.5°C is enough for an electronic model. This rapid reaction to temperature fluctuations can generate up to 9% in energy savings (Office of Energy Efficiency).
Programming options allow you to adjust the temperature to the family’s needs and avoid raising and lowering the temperature too often. For example, reducing the temperature by 3°C at night or during an 8-hour absence can lead to energy savings of 10% (Office of Energy Efficiency).
Models equipped with occupant presence detectors don’t require any programming. The heating is activated and deactivated based on the presence of people in the rooms, leading to significant energy savings.
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In most houses in Canada, from 5% to 10% of the energy consumed is used to keep appliances in “stand-by” mode (Office of Energy Efficiency). It’s easy to save energy and reduce GHG emissions by simply turning these devices off completely.
The stand-by mode on computers, printers and other electronics consumes energy. A power bar can be used to quickly and easily cut power to these devices, saving energy.
Some power bars also have a surge protection feature, which can help prolong the lifespan of your electronics and reduce electronic waste.
When it comes to furniture, like any other purchase, the best thing for the environment is to choose a product that supports sustainable forestry, reduces resource waste, sends less garbage to landfills and protects your health.
Wooden furniture from certified forests lasts a long time and transcends style trends. Ultimately, this reduces resource waste and protects ecosystems.
“Self-assembled” furniture made of wood, laminate or presswood panels are another good choice. Besides creating unique pieces, these products reduce GHGs related to transportation. Choose materials that are VOC- and urea-formaldehyde-free for the sake of your health.
Presswood or melamine furniture should not contain urea formaldehyde. This volatile carcinogen can spread through the air of your home and cause health problems, especially for those sensitive to their living environments like asthmatics, young children, the elderly and people with allergies.
Modular or adaptable furniture is a great choice to reduce resource waste by eliminating the need for replacement purchases. For example, some cribs can be converted to twin beds, and some storage pieces can be used as room dividers. Extension tables are another very practical application of modularity.
Make sure the stains, varnishes, oils and waxes used to manufacture and maintain your furniture are VOC-free or low emissions.
Rather than buying everything new, why not draw on your creativity to give old furniture a facelift and add a personal touch to your interior design. This economical strategy also reduces resource waste and sends less garbage to landfill.
Refinishing and updating old furniture and other household items is an eco-responsible choice. For example, specialty papers, stencils and paint can transform an old dresser into a trendy, personalized piece.
Some floor coverings are more wear and moisture resistant than others. Installing a durable product will help you steer clear of premature replacement, reducing resource use and waste production. Flooring should meet the low emissions standards for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxic substances, in order to reduce the impact on your health. They should also be mildew resistant, since mould and mildew are among the highest risks to indoor air quality.
Wood floors from certified forests are one of the most eco-responsible floor covering choices. Certification ensures that the wood comes from a forest that is managed to protect the ecosystem.
Linoleum flooring is another good choice, because it’s produced using renewable materials. It’s also recyclable and biodegradable, as well as stain, wear and moisture resistant. Linoleum is modular and comes in a wide variety of colours.
Cork is made from the bark of cork-oak trees and is harvested every 9 to 11 years. The floor covering is made from by-products of the production of cork stoppers. For a healthier, more environmentally friendly choice, make sure the cork and the backing materials are made with low-VOC adhesives.
Bamboo is a rapidly renewable plant (it matures in less than 10 years), but in some countries intensive cultivation may lead to deforestation. It’s important to ensure that the product you choose comes from an FSC certified source. Bamboo boards are manufactured using binders, so make sure you select a low-VOC product.
Although carpets are comfortable, they are hard to maintain and they retain dust. If you prefer this option, choose a carpet made of products that are recycled or rapidly renewable, such as jute or hemp. Green Label and EcoLogo® products are guaranteed to emit fewer volatile organic compounds. The EcoLogo ones also feature a minimum of 40% recycled or renewable content. Another good option is to use small rugs, which can be easily cleaned or shaken outdoors to get rid of dust.
Use wood finish, tile adhesive and ceramic grout that contain few or no volatile organic compounds. The market now offers many highly effective ecological products that are better for human health.
Unless you follow certain recommendations, the air quality inside your home may be worse than the air outside. Now that homes are becoming increasingly airtight, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other noxious substances can build up in the air and pose a health risk for the occupants. Some paints and finishing products contain a range of different volatile chemicals that you should avoid for the sake of your health.
Use paints and primers labelled “VOC-free” or “low emissions” to protect your health. Although alkyd paints (oil-based) last longer and create a shinier finish, they contain a solvent thinner and are not usually as good a choice as latex (water-based) paint in terms of health. Read labels carefully or select products with an EcoLogo™ or Green Seal™ label.
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