Use Eco-Friendly Materials in these 5 DIY Projects for a Greener Home

By Jeff Seehorsch

Going green can help protect the health of you, your family and the environment at the same time. One of the best ways to go green is to by looking closely at the materials in the things we buy. From our cars to our meals to our homes, it’s important to do a little research so we can make eco-friendly decisions.

When it comes to your home, we did some of the research for you. Below are five green projects ideas (and the materials you can use) to make your home greener and safer than ever in 2019.

1.    Switch to Energy-Efficient Windows

Reducing energy usage is a huge plus for the planet. Power plants often burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, so by shrinking your cooling and heating bills, you’re also easing the strain put on the environment. Win-win!

Check to see if drafty windows are causing your AC unit and furnace to work overtime. If so, you can go green to save some green. And by replacing your windows with energy efficient models that use renewable materials, your eco-friendliness will prove twice as nice. This goes for both the frame and the window panes themselves.

Look for these green materials:

Sustainably-harvested wood. For the window frames, look for wood approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC sets high standards for responsible forest management and accredits suppliers that measure up, so you be sure you’re buying green building materials.

Double- or triple-pane fiberglass. Fiberglass is always a solid choice – it’s strong, reliable and made of sand, making it a top-notch renewable material. Going with double- or triple-pane windows will cost more upfront but insulate your home much more efficiently, saving you big bucks in the long run.

Low-e glass or window film. Low-e glass traps heat inside during the winter and reflects ultraviolet light and unwanted warmth in the summer. If you choose not to buy low-e glass, you can still buy window film to coat your glass and achieve the same effect.

2.    Install Eco-Friendly Flooring

All you need to do is look down to find a major source of indoor air pollutants. Flooring – and especially carpeting – is often treated with toxic chemicals and commonly traps volatile organic compounds (VOCs) tracked in from the outdoors.

Fortunately, you have several options to minimize indoor pollution stirred up underneath our feet. There are many affordable and sustainable materials to choose from – just make sure they are FSC approved to ensure they’re harvested in an eco-friendly manner.

Look for these green materials:

The trees that provide cork don’t need to be cut down during the harvest, making it a highly renewable material. Once it’s in your home, cork offers many beneficial properties. It’s fire and insect-repellant, easy to maintain and anti-microbial so it reduces allergens.

Real linoleum – unlike synthetic or vinyl – is made of linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour and other recycled materials. It’s highly durable, biodegradable, and there are over 120 colors and designs to choose from.

You can’t go wrong with hardwood flooring so long as it bears the FSC seal of approval. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can go with reclaimed or salvaged wood. This option requires more labor to produce (thus the higher price) but do some digging and you can find gorgeous planks for a warm, rustic look that’s eco-friendly.

3.    Paint with Non-Toxic Products

We all want fresh, clean air in our homes. That’s why it’s important to make sure surfaces are free of VOCs, biocides and other toxic chemicals. Since walls, moldings, trims and furniture all have surfaces you can paint or refinish, you have a wide range of green DIY projects to choose from.

Whatever you plan to paint or refinish, look a little deeper into the products you decide to use. You’ll probably see several “low-VOC” labels on paint, but this only means that the paint meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s minimum requirements. To make the healthiest choices, look for paint removers, paints and finishes that that have 0-100 grams of VOCs per liter.

Look for these green materials:

Soy-based paint remover. Most chemical strippers are loaded with methylene chloride, an especially harmful VOC that comes with a harsh odor. Soy gel removers, on the other hand, contain no methylene chloride and spare you the chemical smell. You can use it to remove several layers of paint with one application and prevent lead particles from releasing into the air at the same time.

Milk paint. Made from ingredients like milk protein, clay and lime, milk paint is a much healthier option than most latex and alkyd paints. You’ll find many milk paint options completely free of VOCs and can even dispose of it in your garden with no harmful environmental effects. 

Non-solvent-based finish. Conventional finishes like nitrocellulose lacquer and varnish produce VOCs and other air pollutants during application and clean-up. Look for non-solvent-based or water-based finishes instead. These are typically made from plant oils, waxes and other natural ingredients.

4.    Insulate Wisely

Insulating might not be flashy, but – like switching to energy efficient windows – it’s one of the eco-friendly projects you can tackle. You’ll reduce emissions by scaling back how much energy you use, then see the fruits of your labor every month when you get your heating and cooling bills.

Nowadays, you can go one step further to help the environment when you insulate your home. There are several natural, formaldehyde-free options you can use that are safe to handle, cause no irritation and are made of recycled materials that would otherwise be sent to a landfill.

Look for these green materials:

Despite being made of recycled newsprint, cellulose is fire resistant and will help repel insects as well. Compared to other insulation products, it also uses the least amount of energy to produce. Want one more bonus? Cellulose is up to 25 percent cheaper than fiberglass, the most common insulation material. Just be sure to use a breathing mask when installing it, as it tends to stir up a good deal of dust.

Sheep’s wool. Why are wool coats so cozy? One reason is that wool absorbs and releases moisture without losing it’s insulating effect. Wool insulation is no different, and it also absorbs air pollutants and breaks them down for improved air quality. This insulation is 100 percent natural, renewable and biodegradable.

Aerogel is one of the world’s lowest density solid materials, derived from a gel in which the liquid component has been replaced with gas. The result is a puffy sand substance that is as fire resistant and eco-friendly as cellulose. Even though it’s easier to install, it will probably cost you a bit more per square foot.

5.    Update Countertops with Recycled Materials

Most of us love granite countertops, but it isn’t exactly the greenest option out there. It’s non-renewable and typically requires extensive shipping, meaning that fuel is burning to get it into your kitchen.

So what are your options? Surprisingly, you have many unique and eco-friendly materials to choose from. Not only are they stunning to look at, they also provide non-porous surfaces that won’t trap bacteria.

Look for these green materials:

Paper composite. It might sound weird to buy a countertop made of paper, but the benefits are many. Paper composite is primarily made of recycled paper from FSC-certified forests, along with natural pigments and non-petroleum-based resins. It looks like stone but is much lighter, easier to cut and install. It’s also harder than wood and impervious to water, bacteria and stains.

Recycled glass. Fairly new in the countertop market, recycled glass countertops are made of things like beer and pop bottles, automobile glass and stop lights. Blended together in a mosaic look, you can find dazzling designs of brown, blue, green and red glass. No two countertops are the same, and the material is acrylic and non-porous, making it easy to clean and maintain.

Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing and sustainable building materials in the world. It can be harvested without removing the stalks and grows back within a few years. It’s also one of the least expensive eco-friendly materials you can buy, costing as little at $1,500 for 50 square feet. Durable and stylish, bamboo is an attractive choice but does require some maintenance. You may need to coat the surface with beeswax every few months to maintain a glowing sheen.

Feel Even Better About Your Projects

Few moments are more gratifying than when you take a step back from a completed home improvement project and admire your work. When you use eco-friendly materials that protect you, your family and the environment, that feeling is even more satisfying. Look into green alternatives when you buy supplies for your next project and you can enjoy their health benefits for years to come.

For more on how to go green at home, check out our Tips for Saving Energy and Money.