living green

state of support

lady slipper in the upper penninsula, MI
lady slipper in the upper penninsula, MI

Something that has crossed my mind more than once in the last 5 months has been moving to California, where they seem to take environmental protections at least a little bit seriously. Realistically, this wouldn’t even be possible for another 3 or 4 years, but the thought has floated through my head.

It seems like every week, on top of the anti-environmental moves being made by the federal government, our governor here in Wisconsin is trying to keep pace. Trying to remove climate change from the rhetoric. Making it against the rules for government employees to work on climate change issues. Trying to take a century old publication away from the DNR. All of the denial is exhausting. Especially when each summer we watch the effects of more severe weather take a toll on the crops. A state with a largely agriculture based economy should be doing everything possible to preserve our natural resources.

But the answer is not really for us to move to a part of the country where more people already think and act like we do when it comes to conservation and care for the earth. Instead it is to plant our feet firmly here and do what we can on this land. Act as an example of how we can not only preserve nature, but we can restore it. We can make the land healthier with each passing season if we act thoughtfully. And we can do it while both enjoying the beauty of the land, and enjoying the benefits of our 21st century life.

We currently live in a town of about 12,000 people. We live in town, just a few blocks from the town square. Our small house sits on about a quarter of an acre, with neighbors on all sides on similar lots. We chose this house because its modest size is enough for us at this stage in our lives and it means we get to have a big backyard. Even knowing that we were only going to be in this place for a few years, we decided to invest in the small bit of land. We began amending the soil with compost, manure, and blood meal. We planted a substantial garden full of herbs, vegetables, and flowers to attract pollinating and beneficial insects. And we dedicated a few hundred square feet of the yard to a prairie garden, full of native grasses and wildflowers. Over the course of two years we’ve seen birds and butterflies flock to our small space. A reprieve amidst the other lawns and driveways. It takes some sweat equity, but we’ve made a little ecosystem here over the last two summers, and we’re hoping to take what we’ve learned and apply it to bigger lands in the future.

Californians, please keep working to protect our beautiful country. The regulations that you enact are important, and your population is big enough, that businesses have to take note, have to make adjustments to be able to keep up with you. Set the path. And we’ll do our best here to hold down the fort in the middle of the country. To act as an example. To vote responsibly when we have the opportunity.

And to hope that someday soon, our government will takes it head out of its ass.

energy house living green

40 Green Actions You Can Start Today

simple green actions to start todayFor the past month I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a climate change discussion group in my community. We’ve been reading EAARTH, and discussing the realities of climate change both world wide and within our own small part of SW Wisconsin. And we’ve been trying to envision what action looks like for us.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by how big this problem is, and how little it seems like our personal actions are. The Tanzanian’s have a saying, “Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.” Which translates to “Little by little the bucket gets filled,” and that’s important for us to keep in mind. Yes, we may have seemingly little say in the policies enacted within our own states and country, let alone in the worldwide cooperation that is needed to tackle our energy, and resource issues and our greenhouse gas emissions. But we can start taking simple, concrete actions now. And as we successfully implement each habit, it will be easier to take the next step. Little by little, we’ll fill the bucket.

So with those thoughts in mind, here’s a list of actions you can start taking right now to increase conservation, decrease energy use, and reduce your carbon footprint.

40 green actions you can start today

1. Switch out your incandescent light bulbs for LED light bulbs.

2. Plug your electronics into a power strip, and turn off the power strip when you’re not using them.

3. Turn your thermostat up a few degrees now (and down a few degrees in the winter).

4. Sign up for your local power companies green energy program, you’ll pay a little extra for your energy, but you’ll get it from renewable supplies and tell your power company how important it is for them to invest in renewables.

5. Set the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees or lower.

6. Hang dry your laundry.

7. Stop watering your grass.

8. Plant something edible.

9. Shop your local farmers market.

10. Bring reusable bags along for all your shopping trips (not just to the grocery store!)

11. Purchase dry goods like beans, grains, and pasta from the bulk bins.

12. Start a compost pile.

13. Clean with vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap.

14. Walk if your destination is less than a mile away. Work your way up to two miles away.

15. Look for opportunities to carpool or take public transportation.

16. Add meat-free meals to your repertoire.

17. Purchase humanely and ethically raised meat.

18. Unsubscribe from catalogs

19. Unsubscribe from “junk” mailings

20. Refresh yourself on your communities recycling capabilities and look for opportunities to expand your recycled materials.

21. Carry a reusable water bottle or coffee mug.

22. Use reusable bags or glasses for food storage.

23. Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown in your area.

24. Support local small businesses and local trades workers.

25. Shop consignment or second hand stores for clothing, rather than buying new.

26. Share infrequently used appliances and tools with your neighbors, like lawn mowers.

27. Shovel your snow instead of using a snow blower.

28. Set up a clothing swap among your friends and neighbors.

29. Support local conservation by visiting your state parks.

30. Let your grass grow a bit longer between mowings.

31. Purchase “made in America” and recycled materials.

32. Donate your own no longer used items to second hand stores.

33. Cook more meals at home.

34. Make your own coffee.

35. Use mulch on your garden to cut down on watering needs.

36. Wash your clothing on the cold cycle.

37. Switch from paper napkins, towels, and tissue to cloth.

38. Check out books from the library.

39. Sign up for electronic statements.

40. Sign up for electronic bill pay.

Again, these simple actions aren’t going to save the world from climate change, but they will start a habit of mindfulness about consumption and energy use. These small actions can help pave the way for you to start taking bigger actions, and they can start conversations with your neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.

Do you have others to add to this list? Send them my way!

This post contains affiliate links

Have you signed up for the building earth newsletter yet? You can do that here!

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram

living green

Announcing the building earth Newsletter!

While I have been writing blog posts about green building practices, renewable energy, and sustainable living practices since January of 2014, last July was when I moved everything over to the domain and made this blog official. So here we are, almost a year later, and to celebrate making it this far, I’m kicking off the monthly buildingearth Newsletter!

building earth newsletter july 2015

If you would like to get bonus building earth news straight to your email inbox each month, sign up here:

building earth newsletter



Getting started, the building earth newsletter will include recommended articles, podcasts, videos, and books, exclusive content, and behind the scenes info about And I’m looking forward to how the newsletter will grow throughout the upcoming months.

So sign up now, and look for the first building earth newsletter to hit your inbox in July.

Privacy Notice: All names and emails will remain confidential and will never be sold or distributed. knows that your privacy is important.

house living green

Building a Sod Compost Bin

With backyard garden dreams like stars in our eyes, Neil and I began tearing up the sod in the backyard. We’ve torn up probably 500+ square feet of sod so far, making way for kitchen gardens, flower gardens, and a prairie garden. Thinking of getting rid of all that sod gave Neil an idea of building our compost bins out of some of it.

As you may recall, our quick and easy winter compost situation was just to toss it in a steel drum that I found on craigslist. When the weather started to warm, we wanted a compost pile situation that was a bit less “trash fire” or “junk yard” looking. So Neil planned out and built a two-pile compost bin arrangement made of sod. And I want to share how we did it just in case you have plans to tear up a bit of grass for a garden and start a compost pile this spring or summer.

Building a Sod Compost Bin

Building a Sod Compost Bin

  1. Measure out the area that you want for your pile, and include 1 foot for each wall.

We wanted about a square yard for each pile, and we had enough room for two piles. so the are we mapped out was:

length = 1 ft (left edge wall) + 3 ft (pile 1) +1 ft (center wall) + 3 ft (pile 2) +  1 ft (right edge wall) = 9 ft.

depth = 1 ft (front wall) + 3 ft (pile) + 1 ft (back wall) = 5 ft.

  1. Dig out the sod within your measured out area so you are starting out with a blank dirt rectangle.

OK, this step is optional, because the walls and compost pile will kill all that grass anyway, but it does give you some sod to start building your bins out of.

We dug out the sod beneath the bins using a square edge shovel. Tearing up sod is not an easy job, especially at this point in the spring when it’s had a good bit of time to re-establish its root system. When we cleared out the sod beneath the bins, it was the end of March, so the grass hadn’t really come back to life yet, which made this process easier. For the sod removal we did for our garden beds, we rented a manual sod ripper from a local hardware store. It was still tiresome manual labor, but it definitely went faster than working with a shovel. Rumor has it you can also rent gas powered sod rippers from Home Depot and the like, but our nearest Home Depot apparently doesn’t have a rental center.

Building a sod compost bin side view

  1. Build the back, side, and center walls out of sod using an alternating pattern. This means you face dirt side to dirt side and grass side to grass side. This is the pattern you use to stack sod to compost it as well. We also overlapped the sod layers so that the breaks in sod strips didn’t line up from layer to layer – you know, lego style.

We built our walls to be about 2.5 – 3 ft tall.

You may want to enforce your walls by making them a bit wider at the bottom than they are at the top. I did this by taking some piece of sod and leaning them along the bottom inside and outside of the wall.

building a side compost bin inside view

  1. Build a shorter front containment wall. Our front wall is maybe only 9 inches tall. Its purpose is just to keep the compost pile from spilling out the front of the bin. You don’t want too tall of a front wall so that you have easy access to the pile for turning it and for retrieving your finished compost for spreading on the garden.
  2. Finish off your walls with a dirt-side-up layer of sod, and plant flowers or a vining plant on the top of the walls.

This step is obviously also optional, but will potentially make for a prettier compost pile situation in the middle of summer. We planted some old nasturtium seeds we had along the top of our walls.

Sod compost bins are certainly not a permanent compost situation. We’ll probably have to build new bins next spring or certainly by next fall. But they serve as multi-taskers for now: containing our kitchen and yard compost while also composting down some of the sod that we were tearing out of the yard anyway. When the sod walls have composted themselves, we’ll be able to use that as garden food as well as the compost piles the walls are containing.

Interested in more building earth articles on compost? Check out the following:
Starting a Winter Compost Pile
Composting during the Winter
Can I Compost That?
Apartment Composting

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram


living green

Cloth Diapering: 5 months through 1 year

Cloth DiaperingWe still love cloth diapers! We love that we aren’t producing huge amounts of diaper waste that will sit in a landfill forever. We love that we have control over the materials sitting so close to Cheek’s skin. Last time we checked in on how cloth diapering had been going for us, Cheeks was just 5 months old. Now he’s just over a year, and I wanted to share how things have changed with our cloth diapering routine to keep up with a babe transitioning to toddler-hood.


Cheeks is now holding tipping the scales at somewhere in between 22 and 25 pounds. He has been eating solid food basically since we last checked in, and produces 2-3 poopy diapers a day, along with 2-3 wet diapers. His poops are generally pretty solid, and if I see that they’ve gotten a bit more on the soft side, it’s a good reminder to check his diet and make sure he’s eating some extra fruits and veggies, not just crackers and cheese. He also consistently sleeps through the night, so we are not changing him at all over night.

Diapers, Covers, and Wipes

We continue to use unbleached, organic cotton prefolds from Diaper Safari, although, in a diaper emergency, we added a pack of Gerber cotton prefolds to our stash as well. We have a mixture of size infant size and standard regular size, and really, with around 40 prefolds we have way more than we need. We could probably get by easily with 24. The infant size we mostly use as a second layer for nighttime diapering.

Right around 6 months we upgraded to size 2 of the Thirsties. We have 5 wraps, and only occasionally (when I should have done laundry a bit sooner) do I wish we had a 6th wrap. The wraps don’t need to be washed between each diaper change so long as they didn’t get poopy and they don’t smell funky. Ours typically get worn for a full day or two depending on the state of the dirty diapers.   We love these wraps. We almost never have a blowout – in fact I can’t even remember the last time we did. And the only time we have leaks are when a bit of the prefold hasn’t gotten tucked in around the legs correctly, or when we need to adjust our snaps because Cheeks has grown.

We continue to use our old cotton t-shirt rag wipes with just water. Neil got a bit over ambitious when he cut the tees into rags, so we have tons of these. Which is no problem because we use them for everything.

Diaper Rash

We’ve been pretty lucky on the diaper rash front. It doesn’t rear its ugly head around here often, mostly just when teething is happening. When it does, we apply a generous coating of Butt Paste, and make sure we are changing diapers frequently so any wetness isn’t near Cheeks’ skin for very long. With this routine, any rash is generally cleared up in about 2 days.

Night Diapering

Since we put Cheeks in a clean diaper after his nightly bath around 6:30 pm, and don’t change him until he wakes up in the morning around 6am, we double diaper over night. We use a combination of one standard size diaper and one infant size diaper, and we have no trouble with leaks or diaper rash.

Washing and Drying

We can still go 2-3 days before we run out of diapers or covers and need to do laundry.  Our laundry routine is still very similar to what it was for the first 5 months. When we change Cheeks, the diaper, any wipes we use, and the cover (if necessary) go into a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. Conveniently, after about 2-3 days it is also full, so that’s the signal that we need to do laundry. Poopy diapers get scraped (or sometimes rinsed) into the toilet before going into the bucket.

We still wash the diapers, wipes, and covers, mixed in with our regular laundry. The diapers, etc. don’t make a full load, so we just fill up the washer with whatever else needs to be washed. We haven’t had any trouble with staining or stinking. We set the washer to cool water and a regular cycle.

We made the switch to homemade powdered laundry soap last summer, and use that for all our laundry – diapers included. For each load we use 2 tablespoons of the laundry powder. I’ve recently started adding a tablespoon of oxygen bleach to our laundry as well to help with boosting whiteness. This works great at getting our laundry clean, fragrance free, and doesn’t include any additives that could build up on the diapers and cause diaper rash or problems with absorbency.

We line dry everything. Over the winter we line dried in the basement, and it took about a day for the diapers to dry. They didn’t get the added bonus of sun bleaching, but it’s a diaper, nobody is going to see it but us. In the summer our diapers (even the thickest ones) are dry in a few hours of sun, and the sun naturally bleaches any stains that may not have come out in the wash. Before we moved and had access to an outdoor clothes line, we hung our diapers on a drying rack indoors, and it took about 18-20 hours for them to dry out.

So, that’s where we currently stand on the cloth diapering a one year old front. I’m hoping it continues to keep working so well for us, and I’ll keep you posted if we make any changes to our routine.

This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting building earth!

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram

living green

5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

5 ways to celebrate earth day

Earth Day is next Wednesday, April 22. We certainly try to treat every day as earth day, but it’s always nice to have a reason to celebrate. So here are 5 ways to celebrate Earth Day, especially if you’re just getting into living a more green lifestyle.

1. Start a Compost Pile

Have you been putting off starting a compost pile? Well, what better day to start than Earth Day? Composting can keep hundreds of pounds of kitchen waste (and more) out of landfills, and can be used to increase the health of the soil in your garden or potted plants.  And it’s very simple to get started.

  1. Dedicate a space for your compost to go – a plastic or metal bin can be good enough to get started.
  2. Start saving your kitchen scraps from the trash and put them in the compost bin
  3. Add some sort of “brown” material such as dried leaves, torn up newspapers or paper bags, or torn up egg cartons (not the Styrofoam kind!)

2. Don’t Use Your Car

Can you go an entire day without using your car? Give it a try. Maybe you can use public transportation or a car pool to get to and from work. Ride a bike. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live close to where you work, head out a bit earlier and walk! And you might be surprised to find out how many restaurants and shops are within walking or biking distance of your home or work place. You’ve got a whole week to work out the logistics, so I’m challenging you to figure out how to give up your car for the whole day.

3. Plant Something

Celebrate Earth Day by planting something

Chances are your local grocery store or hardware store has a display rack of seeds right now, because ’tis the season for planting. Why not pick up a pack of seeds for you favorite veggie or flower and start growing something this Earth Day.

Not much of a green thumb? You’ll only make it greener through practice. Start with something that sprouts quickly – like peas! The quick reward will help keep you motivated to keep it growing, plus they have pretty, sweet smelling blossoms.

Don’t have much outdoor space? Tomatoes grow well in containers – but do need to be outside when they flower in order to be pollinated. Lettuce grows well in containers, and you can grow it inside in a sunny window.

4. Participate in a Park Clean-Up

Many communities host park clean-ups to celebrate Earth Day. Participating in a park clean up can be a great way to meet your neighbors, get some fresh air, and help make your local park a bit more beautiful. If you’re in Madison you can check out this Earth Day Challenge for more information on park clean-ups. Or check out your local park board website and see if they are hosting a similar clean up.

5. Be Inspired by an Episode of Earth: A New Wild

PBS recently aired this documentary mini-series that is focused on how humans and nature can interact for the good of both. And it’s truly inspiring to learn about the situations where mankind and nature are thriving together. The show is a great reminder that we are not separate from nature, but a part of it. And we need to work with it for the good of all. You can find the first episode on youtube.

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram

living green

reuse: A Twice Review

Clothing is a prickly subject.

We need it as protection from the elements.  We use it to convey a lot about ourselves.

But fast fashion – cheap, low quality, clothing sold at the majority of retailers – is resource heavy, often produced under poor working conditions outside of the US, and its production generally not environmentally friendly. Cotton crops in the US account for nearly 25% of the pesticide use in this country. And many synthetic clothing materials are made from petrochemicals or through harsh chemical processes, and are not biodegradable.

Husby and I have the goal of purchasing the majority of our clothing from US manufactured, high quality brands. However, financially, it’s not feasible at the moment to source all of our clothing this way. So in the meantime we are purchasing second hand clothing whenever possible. These choices, combined with choosing sustainable clothing materials and practicing minimalism in our wardrobes, are how we are lessening the environmental impact of our clothing.

So when I found myself needing to replace some of my wardrobe this spring, I decided to look into a couple online consignment shops for second hand clothing. The first of which is Twice.

clothing from Twice

About Twice

Twice describes itself as a “hybrid between traditional online retailers like Amazon and peer-to-peer marketplaces like eBay.” Basically, people send in their gently worn, high quality, brand name clothing and Twice pay them for it, they then list it and sell in on their website, along with thousands of other pieces of clothing that they have purchased.

The Twice Buying Experience

Twice allows you to filter their selection by type of clothing, size, brand, and style. They also provide the garment’s care instructions, materials, and measurements. They also provide free shipping on orders over $49.

For my first order I purchased a pair of pants and a t-shirt. They were shipped quickly, and arrived in the mail within a week. Each piece of clothing was individually wrapped, clean and pressed, and in excellent condition. Unfortunately neither fit perfectly, and in order to successfully maintain a minimalist wardrobe, I need to really love an article of clothing to keep it in my closet.

Twice provides free shipping for returns, and accepts clothing returns proved the tags are still attached. I printed out the return slip, put the clothing in a shipping envelope, and our mail carrier picked it up from our apartment. The return was processed within about a week of my shipping the package, and I had the option to either receive store credit for the total purchase price, or receive a refund minus a processing fee. I chose the store credit.

For my second purchase I paid more attention to those measurements provided for each article of clothing, rather than just the size. This definitely made my selection more successful. This time around I bought a pair of pants and three shirts. Again, everything arrived very quickly and in excellent condition, and this time fitting well.

My only criticism of Twice is that each article of clothing is individually packaged in a sealed plastic bag, which seems like a lot of unnecessary packaging and trash.

If you’re interested in trying Twice to buy second hand clothing online, you can get $10 off your first order by using my referral link!


energy house living green

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 2

energy efficiency project month 2
Nothing like relaxing by the fire on a cold day by Counselman Collection // CC BY

January 13th – February 12th, 30 days

This month we mostly spent our time picking paint colors, getting started with the painting, figuring out where our stuff should go, and getting our compost started. As far as energy efficiency initiatives went we:

  • Replaced a dead CFL light bulb with an LED bulb
  • Turned the thermostat down from 68° F to 66° F
  • Checked the air filter on our furnace to make sure it was new/didn’t need to be replaced. It was still clean, so we didn’t replace it.

This month’s upgrade cost: $8.82

Total upgrade cost to date: $8.82

So, we didn’t expect too much of a difference in our energy usage this month. Now let’s look at the numbers!

Over 30 days we used 427 KWH. Which comes out to an average of 14.2 KWH/day. This is actually slightly higher than the 14.0 KWH/day we used during our last billing period. Womp womp.

I’m guessing this is due to putting up some post-Christmas holiday lights which are not LEDs. I know, I know, but here’s the thing. We still have these strings of working fine holiday lights, and I can’t bring myself to replace them until they no longer work. Use what you have, right? We also started some citrus tree seedlings, and had them germinating on a heating pad 24/7.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $55.90.

We also used 80 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 2.7 Therms/day. Definitely less than the 3.1 Therms/day we used during the previous month! Dropping the temperature on our thermostat made a difference, and really the only way it affected our lifestyle is we that we wore slippers around the house more often. Also, looking at degree days this month compared to last month: 1286 vs. 1211. Even though this months number is a bit larger than last month’s, this month’s bill was for 30 day and last month’s was for 27 days. This means that our furnace didn’t have to work quite so hard to heat our house this month, which also helped out with reducing our gas use.

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $65.99 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 744 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 97 Therms. Average temperature this month: 22° F. This month last year: 10° F. So last year was quite a bit colder than this year.

Degree Days this month: 1286 vs this month last year: 1652. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 30 days of the billing period.

Want to previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1.

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping to support building earth!

living green

Melting Ice

As another wave of sub-zero temperatures weaves its way through the northern parts of the country, I thought it might be a good time to write about ice. And in particular how we deal with melting ice on roads and sidewalks.

melting ice

Salting the Roads

If you live in an area that experiences cold winter months, you probably are familiar with the go to method of dealing with ice on the roads and sidewalks: salt. Salt is an effective method of dealing with the ice for a number of reasons. It’s cheap, it provides traction on the ice, and it helps the ice melt.

Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water to about 15° F. So for us here in Wisconsin, where the average winter temperatures are in the teens and twenties, salting the ice on the roads and sidewalks gets them to melt, providing safe walking, running, biking, and driving surfaces for many months of the year.

However, salt is quite harsh on the environment, both man made and natural. It contributes to car rust and damages footwear (my poor boots!) and has a habit of getting everywhere. As the ice and snow melt and the water runs into the street drains, that salt is carried into our waterways. Increased salt levels in lakes, rivers and streams affect fish and aquatic plant life. Increased salt levels in the watershed affect drinking water quality, having both taste and health effects.

As you’ve probably experienced, too much salt makes you dehydrated. Well, it’s the same for plants. The salt that doesn’t wash down the drain after melting ice (or get tracked into your house) stays on the soil and dehydrates the grass, trees and shrubs living there. In addition to making the plants thirstier, salt can also cause root growth damage, making it more difficult for plants to get the water they need in the first place.

You can learn more about the environmental effects of salting the roads here.

Use Salt Smarter

Based on the amount of salt my apartment management uses to salt our sidewalks, one would think that you need enough salt on the ground to completely cover the ice. However, a little bit goes a long way. A handful of salt is enough to melt a square meter of ice coverage. And using more than that doesn’t speed up the melting process.

Sprinkling salt on your walkway before the snow falls can help the ice melt faster (or not form) while using less salt in the process.

Mixing the salt with water and spreading the slurry on the ice will help keep the salt where you want it, and also allow you to use less salt to melt the ice.

Alternative Options for Melting Ice

So what can be used instead of salt that will have less negative effects on the environment?

Sand  is good for traction on the roads, and sidewalks. It also absorbs sunlight, which can aid in faster ice melting.

Clay granule kitty litter can also be good for adding traction to icy surfaces. Be aware that clay is frequently strip mined, and that carries a whole other set of environmental consequences.

There is also a product called EcoTraction made from volcanic material that is supposed to be extremely effective at providing traction on the ice and is eco-friendly enough that it can be swept right into your lawn after the ice has melted.

This post contains affiliate links

building house living green

Choosing an Environmentally Friendly Paint

Probably one of the easiest and most affordable ways to refresh your space is to slap a coat or two of paint on the walls. However, walking into your local hardware store or big box home improvement store and coming to aisles full of paint cans can be overwhelming. I’m certainly no expert on all the types of paint and what exactly you should choose for your particular application, but I can tell you how to choose an environmentally friendly paint.

choosing an environmentally friendly paint

Oil Based vs. Latex (Water Based)

The first question to address when choosing and environmentally friendly paint is whether to go with an oil based paint or a latex paint.

Oil based paints are slower drying which can provide a smoother finish, as any pools or ridges will have a chance to settle before the paint is completely dry. Oil based paints also can have better coverage, which means fewer coats, and can hold up better over time. However, oil based paints require more harsh chemicals to keep the colors suspended in the paint. Not only do oil based paints require special disposal at a hazardous material collection center because of these harsh chemicals, but they also give off a lot of fumes. These fumes are dangerous to breathe in. Oil paints also require harsh chemical solvents for clean up.

Latex, or water based paint, dries faster, can be fairly easily cleaned with water, and resists yellowing over time (another common issue with oil based paints). Latex paint contains fewer hazardous chemicals than oil based paint, but still contains some and can release harmful fumes. Latex paint should not be dumped down the drain, or just put in the trash in its liquid state, but if it needs to be disposed of, it can be dried up by soaking it up with kitty litter, newspaper, or sawdust.

When given the option between oil or latex paint, the more environmentally friendly paint is latex paint.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

The harmful fumes given off by paint are due to volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are emitted gases that can cause a variety of health problems when breathed in. VOCs can be found in paints, household cleaners, adhesives, pesticides, and building materials among other things. In paint, the chemicals that make up VOCs are used to hold the dyes suspended in the paint. After the paint is spread, the VOCs evaporate out, and the color stays in the dried paint. The US government has created a standard of 250 grams per liter of VOCs for flat paints and 380 g/l for other finishes. However, California, a state that frequently enacts stricter environmental regulations, has capped VOCs at 50 g/l for all finishes. Paints that adhere to the California regulations typically label themselves as Low-VOC. (It’s important to note that in order for a paint to be labeled low VOC, it only has to contain less than the government standards. You should read the label carefully to see the reported number of VOCs each brand and finish of paint contains.)

More recently some paint brands have advertised certain paint lines as being no VOC. In order to do so, they must contain less than 5 g/l of VOCs. Some paint brands have also opted to get evaluated by third party certification programs such as Greenguard or Green Seal to set themselves apart as environmentally friendly paint choices. These certifications evaluate the paint on more than just VOC levels as well and award their labels to paints that meet their environmental standards.

To choose a more environmentally friendly paint, look for low- or no VOC paint options, or paints that have received Greenguard or Green Seal certification.

 Natural Paints

There are some paint options that do not contain the harsh solvents used in oil or latex paints. These paints are instead pigmented with naturally occurring materials such as clay, lime, linseed oil, or chalk. Natural paints do not contain VOCs, but they do come with drawbacks. The color choices are limited, drying time can be long, coverage can be not great, and they are typically significantly more expensive than latex paint. You can find information on making your own natural paint and a list of natural paints here.

If you want to make the most environmentally friendly paint choice, and your needs can be met by the limitations above, look for natural paints.


Related: Tell Me More About Greenguard Certification