It’s Easy Being Green: How to Go Green
You don’t have to spend millions, or tear down your house, or pack up your Energy Star fridge and move to San Fran. Greening up your home can be as easy as swapping your Egyptian cotton for bamboo sheets, or as involved as installing solar panels on your new white rubberized roof. “It can be just one thing,” says Todd Ballantyne, owner of the new Environmental Home Store in Lansdale. “If a lot of people did just one thing, it would make the world a lot more environmentally friendly.”
1. RIP OUT YOUR CARPETS. They may feel good, but they’re breeding grounds for mildew and allergens. Instead, install floors made from hardwood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that ensures forests are managed responsibly. Look for wood that’s 70 to 100 percent FSC-certified, a stat your floor vendor should have handy. “If he doesn’t, then it’s probably not FSC wood,” says Ballantyne, who champions California-based EcoTimber, which sells 70 percent FSC-certified oak, maple, chestnut and walnut bought directly from farmers who are uprooting old trees (ecotimber.com; available at the Environmental Home Store, by appointment, 1684 Kriebel Road, Lansdale, 215-368-2589; environmentalhomestore.com). You can also find some green hardwoods, like oak, at Home Depot, the largest single purchaser of FSC-certified wood in the country (homedepot.com). Or install cork, the same soft oak that’s in your wine bottle (and in space shuttle insulation), which is more cushiony than hardwood and a bit less formal. Cork tiles are manufactured nearby, in several wood-looking shades, by Coatesville’s Expanko (expanko.com). Buy them at Bell Floor Covering in Northern Liberties (1050 North 2nd Street, 215-925-3089; bellfloorcovering.com) or Atlas Interior Home Fashions in Cherry Hill (1617 Marlton Pike West, 856-665-4010; atlas-wallpaper.com).
2. BRING BACK LINOLEUM. It seems worse than pulling your leg-warmers out of the attic. But not only is it made in a relatively gentle process from all-natural products — linseed oil, sap, cork flour and jute — it’s also long-lasting. Usually cheaper than tiles or wood, linoleum comes in all sorts of colors and patterns — including several new lines that are actually quite cool. Jenn Rezeli, co-founder of Re:Vision Architecture (133 Grape Street, 215-482-1133; revisionarch.com), a green architecture firm in Manayunk, recommends Marmoleum, by Netherlands-based Forbo (forbolinoleumna.com). Find it at Floors USA in King of Prussia (555 South Henderson Road, 610-757-4000; floorsusa-wholesale.com) or Norman Carpet One in Ardmore (60 Greenfield Avenue, 610-896-9700; normancarpet.com).
3. ONE-STOP SHOP. After years of lagging behind the West Coast, the Delaware Valley finally has its own environmental home stores. Todd Ballantyne uses his own green home as a showroom for his Environmental Home Store, carrying samples of different types of wood flooring and chemical-free wool area rugs; a line of recycled ceramic and stone sinks; paints; and kitchen counters, cabinets and tables. It’s worth the trip just to check out his Tulikivi soapstone fireplace, which is not only stunning, but also warms the entire room with a mild, ambient heat that radiates off the stone (tulikivi.com). At Earth Mart, a 5,000-square-foot environmental and fair-trade department store opening this month in Phoenixville, you can browse for everything from lumber to t-shirts to pet supplies to food that’s prepared by nearby Kimberton Whole Foods (235 Bridge Street, 610-935-0313; earthmartonline.com). And keep an eye out for Greenable, an eco-products store that’s slated to open in a yet-to-be-determined Center City location this fall. For now, find its wares on the Web at greenable.org.
4. EMBRACE BAMBOO. First of all, it’s a grass, not a wood. Second, it’s the closest thing to an environmentalist’s dream plant: It gets big fast, and replenishes in just five years. That’s why you can find it in virtually everything: floors, tables and cabinets, available at the Environmental Home Store and most kitchen stores; plus, t-shirts, sheets and cutting boards, like those at Earth Mart. Or head to Old City’s Scarlett Alley to outfit your bed in 250-thread-count bamboo sheets (241 Race Street, 215-592-7898; scarlettalley.com). But if you get just one thing made from bamboo, let it be the cool Hasegawa bookshelf by West Chester’s family-owned Iola Design, a wall-mounted unit of abstract cubes and shelves (610-836-1635; ioladesign.com).
5. RECYCLE YOUR OWN TREES. Thinking of ripping out the gnarly old oak in your front yard? New Jersey-based CitiLogs will haul it off for only the cost of mileage, then truck it to Amish logging mills in Central Pennsylvania so it can be turned into useable planks. If you can’t bear to part with it, CitiLogs can help you turn the wood into finely crafted cabinets, doors, tables or floors, all with finishes that contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — the toxic “off gasses” that emanate from many carpets, paints and furniture. The 15-year-old company, which recently replaced the floors at the city’s historic Second National Bank building, can work with any type of tree that’s 10 or more inches wide (877-CITY-LOG; citilogs.com).
6. BUY OLD FURNITURE. “If you can reuse something, that really is the best thing for green living,” says Jenn Rezeli, of Re:Vision Architecture. “The energy to make old furniture was used long ago.” Plus, older sofas and chairs have long ago expended their VOCs. (Just be sure, if you refinish a piece, that you use a non-VOC varnish, like AFM’s Safecoat, available at the Environmental Home Store.) For architectural salvage turned into doors, tables and light fixtures, try ReStore in Port Richmond (3016 East Thompson Street, 215-634-3474; re-store-online.com), or Found Matter in Kensington, which also sells new furniture handmade from salvaged wood (by appointment, 1320 North 5th Street, 215-701-3949; foundmatter.com).
7. BUY NEW FURNITURE. European furniture makers, from discount Ikea — which describes each object’s environmental impact on its website (ikea.com) — to high-end Ligne Roset (4131 Main Street, Manayunk, 215-487-2800; ligne-roset-usa.com), tend to be greener than American manufacturers, because environmental standards are higher across the pond. Also check out Northern Liberties’ Flotsam + Jetsam, which carries a line of sleekly modern but still cozy furniture made from all-natural water hyacinth and rattan (1100 Shackamaxon Street, 215-351-9914; flotjet.com). As a general rule, Lili Wright, a Rittenhouse Square design consultant specializing in green living at Wright Design (301 South 19th Street, 4B, 215-546-2563; wright-design.net), says to avoid pressed-wood pieces, because they’re made with formaldehyde, and to give the new sofa you have your eye on the “sniff test.” “If it has that new-car smell, which comes from ‘off gasses,’ it probably isn’t green,” she says.
8. STORE GREEN. Stop by Iannone Design, local designer Michael Iannone’s Northern Liberties eco-furniture studio, and try — just try — to leave without his signature cabinet. A white glossy storage unit faced with inlaid, wood-colored dandelions, it’s made from FSC-certified plywood, low-VOC finish, and reclaimed stalks of sorghum, an easily replenished grass (by appointment, 162 West Lehigh Avenue, 856-889-7307; i-sdesign.com).
9. CLEAN CLEANER. You scrub your tub to get rid of muck and germs, right? So why would you want to replace them with ammonia and chlorine and bleach? Instead, use cleaners like those from Norristown-based Sun & Earth, which produces a line of detergents for the kitchen, bath and laundry that are biodegradable; gentle to skin, air and earth; and readily available at Acme and Genuardi’s (sunandearth.com; acmemarkets.com; genuardis.com). Design consultant Lili Wright recommends environmentalist-fave Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, made primarily of corn, sugar cane and other extracts, in geranium, lavender and lemon verbena scents (mrsmeyers.com). Find Mrs. Meyer’s at Whole Foods (wholefoods.com), Open House (107 South 13th Street; 215-922-1415) and Foster’s Urban Homeware (124 North 3rd Street; 267-671-0588).
10. DON’T CLEAN AT ALL. South Jersey’s Organic Home cleaning service does just what its name says: Cleans your home organically (856-337-0091; organichomedesign.com). Longtime environmental activist K.L. Hassen founded the company last year as a way to introduce green living into people’s lives, one dust mite at a time. For $75 an hour, Hassen will scrub with Sun & Earth products and aromatherapy oils, leaving behind a bouquet of fresh flowers from Williamstown’s organic Muth Family Farm (1639 Pitman Downer Road; 856-582-0363). For $20 more, she’ll leave a starter kit of cleaners, soaps and detergents for you to use.
11. CLEAR OUT YOUR GARAGE. Literally. Toss the car and join PhillyCarShare, the nearly five-year-old auto co-op that has taken an estimated 2,100 cars off city streets — including 330 government vehicles. It’s cheap — former car owners say they save around $4,000 a year. And it’s easy — simply pick up a car at one of 60-some “pods” in Philly and at Bryn Mawr College. On the Advantage Plan, it costs $5.90 an hour and nine cents a mile, which includes insurance. The eco benefits are huge: Around 60 percent of the PCS fleet is hybrid; members say they walk and take public transit more than they used to; and the nonprofit estimates that 440,000 gallons of gas have been saved since its inception (215-730-0988; phillycarshare.org).
12. USE A LITTLE LESS ENERGY. First, swap out your incandescents for compact fluorescent light bulbs, which cost a little more (Home Depot sells them for around $8 each, homedepot.com) but last more than 10 times longer and use 75 percent less electricity. Next, call for a free energy evaluation from the Energy Coordinating Agency, a Center City nonprofit with a mission to lower the area’s energy use through simple cost-saving measures (215-988-0929; ecasavesenergy.org). Among the ECA’s suggestions: Plug up drafty doors and windows; switch to programmable thermostats that automatically lower the temp at night; replace your old heater with a newer model that uses energy more efficiently, which can slice your electric bill by as much as 30 percent; and add white rubber-like coating to your roof, which can reduce your air-conditioning use by 22 percent for just $3 per square foot.
13. USE A LOT LESS ENERGY. The dream: Solar panels on every roof in America, harvesting the sun’s energy to power homes, instead of coal, oil, or other resources that are disappearing faster than you can say “photovoltaic.” The problem: At upwards of $40,000 per house, not everyone can afford them, even if they eventually could lead to teeny utility bills — or none at all. Also, since the end of 2005, funding for the juicy rebates that gave Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents as much as $25,000 to $30,000 back on solar investments has dried up — at least for now. But Governor Rendell this year announced an $850 million fund for producing alternative energies in Pennsylvania, including around $200 million for solar energy, and the federal government may pass a bill this year with a 30 to 50 percent rebate on installation. “Think of it as the difference between renting and buying your home,” says Ron Celentano, of Celentano Energy Services (7821 Flourtown Avenue, Wyndmoor; 215-836-9958). “You invest in this technology, and every year you’ll save more than the year before.” Check phillysolar.org for an update on rebates and a list of qualified solar panel contractors in the area, including Mesa Energy LLC (429 East King Street, Malvern, 610-647-3809, or 5 Greentree Centre, suite 104, 877-488-1400, Marlton; mesasolar.com), and Finley Shapiro (2021 Rodman Street; 215-545-4364). Go to dsireusa.org for a state-by-state listing of other energy-related incentives, including low-interest loans for eco-friendly home improvements. In the meantime, use solar power to heat your water. In summer, the system should generate enough heat to supply all your hot water, alleviating the need for gas or electricity; in winter, you could get half of what you need. At around $8,500 to install — and with a $2,000 tax rebate from the government — you could recoup the expense within 10 years. Recommended installers, also listed at phillysolar.org, include Energy Alternatives (6342 North 6th Street, 215-224-4546; thermomax.com).
14. INSULATE, INSULATE, INSULATE. But don’t use fiberglass, which, aside from being toxic to the air and earth, gaps and sags over time, unlike greener solutions. Instead, look for recycled denim insulation, like Bonded Logic (bondedlogic.com), available at Earth Mart and Marjam Supply Company, in Northeast Philly (6951 New State Road, 215-338-9900; marjam.com), or cellulose, made from recycled paper, like Cocoon Insulation, available at area hardware stores (cocooninsulation.com).
15. BREATHE EASIER. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be five times more polluted than outside air — and that can trigger asthma or allergy attacks. Call Glenside’s Healthy Spaces for a $375 moisture assessment to determine your risk of allergy-causing mold, or ask for a complete evaluation of the chemicals in the air and on the surfaces of your house to ensure you’re not breathing in unhealthy levels of those toxic “off gases.” The full report, for around $600 plus the cost of lab results, includes suggestions for how to fix your problems, ranked by importance (215-233-1852; healthyspaces.com).
16. READ THE LABEL. If you don’t see an Energy Star logo on the fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, air conditioner or even cordless phone, don’t buy it. Period. Energy Star appliances are more efficient even than government standards. But that doesn’t mean your appliances have to be humdrum. Sub-Zero’s sleek 650G stainless-steel-and-glass-door refrigerator has an alarm that beeps when the door is open and uses less energy than a 100-watt bulb (subzero.com). It sells for around $7,000 at area Sub-Zero dealers, like Airs Appliances in Center City (1119 Chestnut Street; 215-568-1010) and Moorestown’s Cornerstone USA (123 East Main Street, 856-234-0066; cornerstoneusaltd.com). For a list of Energy Star appliances by brand and model number, go to energystar.gov.
17. FORGET GRANITE. THINK PAPER. Or, more precisely, think 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper that’s fashioned — through a low-energy process — into heat- and stain-resistant countertops by Washington-based PaperStone Products (paperstoneproducts.com), available at the Environmental Home Store. Less dramatic and gleaming than conventional high-end countertops, PaperStone counters come in earthy colors like chocolate and obsidian. At around $50 a square foot, they’re also less expensive — and keep paper out of landfills.
18. FORGET PAPER. THINK GLASS. IceStone counters, made from recycled glass and concrete, are so hard — harder than marble, in fact — that the Brooklyn-based manufacturer warns you to use a cutting board while chopping up those onions — to save your knife (icestone.biz). IceStone looks a lot like granite, comes in a rainbow of colors, and can also be turned into bath tiles, tabletops and floors. Find it at Souli Tile & Stone in Chestnut Hill (8113 Germantown Avenue, 215-753-1904; souli.net) or Michael Addesso Marble & Granite World in Norristown (252 East Main Street, 610-272-3372; addessomarbleandgraniteworld.com).
19. SIT PRETTY. Buy a Knoll “Life” chair for your home office from the legendary area furniture maker — famous for the 1969 Eero Saarinen Tulip chair, not to mention the Barcelona chair. The environmental-award-winning $850-and-up Life chair is modern, cool, ergonomically precise — and it’s made from recycled and recyclable materials, has no-VOC finishes, and is manufactured in factories that are noted for their environmental standards (Knoll, 2300 Chestnut Street, suite 410, 215-988-1788; knoll.com).
20. PAINT FUME-FREE. Most paints are so toxic, they’re considered “hazardous waste.” But you can find paints with no VOCs that are just as durable and high-quality as the ones you’re used to, though in far fewer colors. Delaware County-based M.A.B. has an Enviro-Pure line that’s zero-VOC (check mabpaints.com for locations); so is the entire collection of paints from San Diego-based AFM Safecoat (safecoatpaint.com), available at the Environmental Home Store. For a bigger selection that’s slightly less green, New Jersey-based Benjamin Moore’s new, almost VOC-free Aura line is available in 3,300 colors by special order. Get it at Old City Paint and Decorating (210 West Girard Avenue; 215-625-8300) or Conroy’s Corner in Westmont (126 Haddon Avenue; 856-854-1980).
21. DON’T PAINT AT ALL. Instead, create wall art with 3D wallpaper tiles, made from bamboo pulp by Indianapolis-based Inhabit (inhabitliving.com), or recycled paper by Philly’s eco-design firm MIO (340 North 12th Street, 215-925-9359; mioculture.com). Inhabit’s off-white tiles come in a variety of textures and patterns that can be painted in vibrant shades and applied, with adhesive strips, in whatever combination you choose. Find them at Open House, or at AIA Bookstore (117 South 17th Street, 215-569-3188; aiabookstore.com). MIO’s patterned tiles come already tinted — the vibrant orange is pop-fabulous — and can be applied either just for a while with double-sided tape or permanently with wallpaper paste. Find a recipe for organic paste at care2.com.
22. LIGHT BRIGHT. The recycled powder-coated-steel $165 Bendant Lamp from MIO arrives at your doorstep in a flat box — it’s up to you to bend and pull the leaf-like shades into whatever shape you want. If you’re brave, order it in chartreuse; it also comes in white and silver. Or find a use for your all-but-obsolete, earth-unfriendly CD cases by commissioning a hanging lamp from Philly designer Josh Owen. A cylindrical hub with slots for you to install your CD cases, the shimmery lamp has been featured in a couple different design shows for sustainable works (joshowen.com).
23. SLEEP EASIER. Trade your mite-infested, earth-destroying synthetic mattress for an all-natural one made from rubber, organic cotton and wool; converts say they’re more comfortable than their old Sealys. Try one at the huge Organic Mattress Store in Hellertown (410 Main Street, 484-851-3636; theorganicmattressstore.com), which carries all different firmnesses, but at a premium: $400 for a lower-end crib to more than $4,000 (the highest-end king). The store also stocks everything you need to bed down for the night — box springs, mattress pads, beds, linens — all made from natural and organic materials.
24. RAISE THE CURTAINS. Dress your windows in all-natural treatments from Satya, a gorgeous Bella Vista clothing-plus boutique where everything is made from sustainable materials like hemp and bamboo, in factories that don’t use sweatshop labor. The curtains, in earthy browns, are also hemp, but blended with silk for a soft sheen. While you’re there, pick up the shop’s signature princess-cut Ramona coat — organic wool with a bamboo lining — for $425 (701 South 9th Street, 215-627-3440; satyaboutique.com).
25. BABY YOUR BABY. Register for a DucDuc crib from Piccolini kids’ store in Bryn Mawr. Better yet, put in your order for DucDuc’s $6,000 Dylan Crib System (ducducnyc.com), which starts as a crib, changing table and bench that you can eventually transform into a daybed, bar and ottoman for the den. New York-based DucDuc makes all its ultra-modern children’s furniture with sustainable-harvested hardwoods and no-VOC lacquers, and it gives 10 percent of its profits to kids’ charities — as does Piccolini, which last year donated proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand (932 West Lancaster Avenue, 610-527-4505; piccolinionline.com). While you’re there, pick up all-natural sheets and bumpers from Cotton Monkey, made from cotton grown without pesticides, and dyed — in green, pink, blue or white patterns — with water-based pigments (cottonmonkey.com). Then head down the road to Narberth’s Character Development, with its huge selection of eco-friendly wooden toys, including Maple Landmark name trains — each car a different letter — manufactured in Vermont from diligently harvested wood, with waste recycled as kindling (209 Haverford Avenue, 610-668-1545, characterdevelopment.net; also available at family-owned Pun’s in Bryn Mawr, 839½ Lancaster Avenue; 610-525-9789).
26. MAKE IT A BUD. Vase, that is. Esque vases — molded out of recycled beer bottles — are more art than function (esque-studio.com). They come in a variety of funky shapes, mainly, of course, in beer-bottle green, for $90 each at Bruges Home (323A Race Street, 215-922-6041; brugeshome.com).
27. FLUSH RESPONSIBLY. There are two reasons to swap your ordinary throne for Kohler’s Purist Hatbox. As a low-flow toilet, it can halve your annual water usage. And it’s lovely. In fact, it doesn’t even look like a toilet, with no tank, a super-quiet flush, and a cover that drops silently with just a tap. At $3,000-plus, it may be the best seat in the house (us.kohler.com). Find it, and other water-efficient Kohler’s bath products, at Ferguson Bath & Kitchen Gallery (2020 Springdale Road, Cherry Hill, 856-489-5620, and 302 Hansen Access Road, King of Prussia, 610-337-8856; ferguson.com). Or special-order the most outrageously beautiful bathroom item ever invented: the $20,000 low-flow Duravit Starck toilet, designed by Philippe Starck, which looks like an oversized porcelain teacup and is really too cool for your tuchus (duravit.us). Fill your medicine cabinet with products that guarantee no pesticides, no cruelty to animals and no chemical additives, like those at Juju Salon & Organics in Queen Village, which sells John Masters shampoos, Wood Sprite soaps and Mama Rose’s Naturals lotions (716 South 4th Street, 215-238-6080; jujusalon.com), or the herbal lotions and soaps from the Farm at Coventry, a Pottstown family-owned farm (1333 Ridge Road, 610-469-9591; farmatcoventry.com). Dry off with Origins’ organic cotton hand towels from the Shops at the Bellevue (Broad and Walnut streets, 215-772-9441; bellevuephiladelphia.com).
28. TURN SOMETHING OLD INTO SOMETHING GREEN … Rather than build on precious open land, green up an existing home. “It’s the most viable way for green buyers to live in a green space,” says Lisa Hough, a Prudential Fox & Roach realtor in Delaware County who’s the first in the area to specialize in marketing green and easily greenable homes for clients (601 East Baltimore Pike, Media, 610-892-5756; phillygreenrealtor.com). Look for an environmentally responsible contractor, like Philadelphia-based Buckminster Green, which uses renewable woods and energy-efficient windows and doors (862 North Lawrence Street, 484-432-2692; buckminstergreen.com). Or invest in new eco-properties, like Rag Flats, in an old Fishtown factory — the area’s first “zero energy” residences that generate all their electricity through solar panels — or the Robert Venturi-designed townhouse complex Pembroke North in Wayne, slated to open next February with geothermal heating and air-conditioning (Iron Works Way, 610-687-3872; pembrokenorth.com).
29. … OR BUILD NEW, BUT HIRE GREEN Start by checking out the Green Building Council (GBC) database of local green architects (usgbc.org). Look for someone who is LEED-accredited, meaning the GBC, which sets national standards for environmentally responsible and healthy building, qualifies the architect for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Essentially, these people are trained in finding ways to save energy, conserve water and reuse materials while still designing houses you’ll want to live in (and can afford). Most roads lead to Manayunk’s Re:Vision, designer of the area’s first LEED gold-certified home, which generates all its own electricity or the husband-and-wife team at BluPath Design, whose eco-friendly South Philly rowhome includes radiant-heat floors that are FSC-certified hardwood and warm their home more efficiently than central heat (215-467-0885; blupath.us). Then check out the local branch of the GBC, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (dvgbc.org), for a database of other environmentally astute contractors, designers and retailers. Finally, give Philadelphia University professors Chris Pastore or Rob Fleming a call. They run the Sustainable Design Resource Center in Manayunk and can help you assess a contractor’s green credentials, offer lots of advice about how to greenify your new home, or put a model of your to-be-built home in their super-cool heliodon, which analyzes the best way to situate the house for optimal sun, shade and breeze (4145 Station Street, 215-951-2745; philau.edu/edi).
30. … OR DECONSTRUCT When Los Angeles transplant Ari Barkan decided to tear down an abandoned Spring Garden Street office building to build his new green home, he didn’t just fire up a bulldozer. He called Construction Waste Management, which hauled off the rubble — including drywall, wood and metal — to be recycled (215-333-5077; cwmanagement.net). He also brought in Baltimore-based Second Chance, which salvages fixtures and doors to sell in its Baltimore showrooms (1645 Warner Street, 410-385-1101; secondchanceinc.org), and got a tax write-off, since Second Chance is a charity that trains low-income local residents to do the work. (Second Chance is opening a Philadelphia showroom in the fall.) Local deconstruction company American Soil has lately been pulling apart the Divine Lorraine Hotel on Broad Street, and sells its found treasures at its shop, Provenance (1610 Fairmount Avenue, 215-236-6677; americansoil.net).
31. … OR MOVE TO MOUNT AIRY. In December, this hamlet was named one of the 10 best eco-neighborhoods in the country by Natural Home magazine because of its proximity to the Morris Arboretum, access to the R7 line into Center City, active environmental groups like the Mt. Airy Greening Network (mtairygreening.net), and the ever-popular Weavers Way Co-Op, so successful that it actually returned $100,000 last year to its members (559 Carpenter Lane, 215-843-2350; weaversway.coop).