Green Interior Design

By Rachel Hulan, IIDA, CID

You've likely seen "green design" mentioned in magazines and heard it talked about in the news. But do you know what it is, really?

Green interior design is just like traditional interior design in its emphasis on aesthetics and functionality. It distinguishes itself by accounting for the impact the design has on people's physical health and on the environment. Beyond that, green design can be as sleek as the set of a futuristic sci-fi movie or as provincial as a grandmother's living room. When it comes right down to it, green interior design is simply good interior design.

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Five Great Reasons to Go Green in Your Home

Breathe Easier. According to the EPA, the air inside the average American home is two to five times more polluted than the air outside. A major contributing factor is the large amount of urea formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gassed from the standard paint and adhesives used in interior finishes, furnishings, and cabinetry. Another is poor venting of cooktops and gas heaters.

"Venting out odors, moisture, heat, smoke and other toxins is critical to a healthy home," says New York-based Certified Kitchen Designer Susan Serra. By using only low- or no-VOC paint and adhesives, and paying attention to air circulation and venting, you can significantly improve your indoor air quality (IAQ).

Weathered Coal
Serena & Lily

Stay Warm in Winter. Did you know that by installing a stone, ceramic, or concrete floor in a south facing room you can significantly improve your heating bill? It's part of a design strategy known as passive solar. During the winter, the hard flooring acts as a "thermal mass," trapping the sun's heat during the day and releasing it at night. This green trick can keep you feeling cozy, while reducing your heating bills by as much as 30 percent.

Save Money. Believe it or not, incandescent light bulbs are the most expensive lighting out there. While it's true that incandescents have a low upfront cost, they have to be replaced almost 10 times as often as a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and about 50 times more often than an LED. That really adds up!

Do you remember the classic Easy-Bake ovens? They used incandescent bulbs for baking because these bulbs give off a whopping 90 percent of their energy as heat and only 10 percent as light. An LED bulb gives off almost no heat at all, so there's no need to run the air conditioner just because you turned the lights on. Energy efficient lighting saves money all the way around.

Improve Your Mood. Studies have shown repeatedly the positive effect daylight has on people's moods, yet we still rely mostly on artificial lighting in our interior spaces. Happily, green design strategies initially developed for office buildings are increasingly being used in homes. From (barely there) window tinting and solar shades to a new generation of leak proof skylights and light tubes, the options for letting the sun shine in are better than ever.

Improve Your Sleep. Dust mites are a common allergen and a common cause of snoring. These creepy, microscopic critters make their homes in mattresses, pillows, bedding, and carpet. By switching to a healthier, wool-stuffed organic mattress and pillows (dust mites hate wool), and changing out allergen-infested carpet for sustainable hard flooring, you might find yourself sleeping more soundly.

Baby Nursery
Jamie Beckwith

Five Ways a Green Interior Helps the Planet

Renews Instead of Removes. Sustainability is all about renewable resources. When materials can be replenished endlessly, future generations will be able to have the same level of beauty and enjoyment in their homes—all without taking anything away from the planet.

Learn How to Find Certified Sustainable Wood Products.

Improves Air and Water Quality. When designing a green interior, attention is paid to making sure no harmful chemicals are used in the products and installation. Likewise, materials requiring the heavy use of pesticides and herbicides, such as conventional cotton, are avoided in favor of far less harmful, organic choices. This improves both air and water quality worldwide.

Decreases Our Need for Oil. Although some synthetic (petroleum-based) materials can be used in green interiors, they are generally made from recycled plastics, such as carpeting and fabrics from PET water bottles. This reduces our dependence on new oil and keeps large amounts of plastic out of landfills.

Improves the Lives of Workers. Through programs such as Forest Stewardship Council, GoodWeave, and the fair trade movement, green interiors can have a positive impact on not just the planet, but the people on it as well.

Get the facts on what the fair trade movement is.

Supports Your Community. Green design encourages using local sources and craftsmen to reduce the carbon footprint of the materials and furnishings used. This has the additional benefit of adding jobs and industry to the local economy.

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