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The Green Kitchen on Facebook Live (Notes)

If you caught my Facebook Live event on The Green Kitchen, here are some notes to help you connect with resources that I mentioned for the three topics I covered: composting the lazy way, incorporating reusable cloths around the house so you can ditch paper towels, and replacing non-stick cookware with healthier options. When there is a specific brand that I like, I’ve linked that exact one. When it’s whole a category I talked about, but I don’t have a brand preference, I’ve provided a search on Amazon for you based on some key words. Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy something, I may receive a small commission at no additional expense to you.

1. Composting the Lazy Way

Americans represent 5% of the world’s population but generate 30% of the world’s garbage. The average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash a day. What we reduce and reuse can make a difference! Commercial recycling should always be a distant third to the other two R’s. However, recycling at home–like through composting–is an impactful, doable step.  

Previous Posts:

The book that got me started was Composting by Liz Ball. It is simple and non-gimmicky.


Products relating to composting if you don’t want to DIY:

2. Reusable Cloths

Read more…


Basement Paint Palette–Brand and Colors

As if choosing paint colors isn’t hard enough, there’s the whole question of which brand of paint to choose. Most of our main floor is done with Olympic from Lowe’s. This is a zero VOC paint that is very affordable (under $20 per gallon) and can match any color. That said, it is only zero VOC in the base paint, the pigment does contain VOCs.  For the basement project, we wanted to something with  zero VOC base and pigment, and optimally a paint that was overall less chemical and formaldehyde-laden. There are options like milk paint, but that is the kind of product I would want to experiment with myself on a small job before spending big bucks to have professionals paint it over a large area.  So, we looked at what Amicus sells to start our search, but decided to go with a brand that was available closer to our home so if our team needed to run out and get more, it wouldn’t be a long, gas-expending hassle. One brand that Amicus sells is American Pride. It turns out that Mythic Paint is also made by the same company, and Mythic is available at Ace Hardware, which is just down the road from us. From looking at the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for each, they seems to be the same product, just marketed differently. We loved that Mythic can  match any color while still remaining zero VOC in the base and pigment.

At about $50 a gallon or $215 for five gallons for the Mythic Classic line, this is no bargain paint. But, we felt that it was worth it. Our team is well underway with painting and we have so appreciated that there is almost no smell. Not only will this benefit our family’s indoor air quality both now and down the line, we are happy that it facilitates a pleasant and safe working environment for our crew . I should ask them how they think application and coverage compares to other brands.

To help us pick colors, we checked out a fan deck from Ace Hardware so we could look at Mythic’s 1,232 colors in our own space. To check it out, we bought it, but we can use it and then return it for all of our money back. I am so grateful that Ace offers this service!

Now, on to the colors!

Click to see a larger image

Main Room:
We decided to pick a wool rug as our starting point and then design the wall colors around that. After looking at over 9,000 wool rugs online (yes, I am picky when it comes to rugs), we settled on an orange one from Overstock.

To complement it, we chose:
Banister Beige (Eggshell) – Walls
Navale (Eggshell) – Accent Wall
Trim (Semi-Gloss) – Warm Welcome

Our inspiration for the bathroom was the glass accent tile we selected for the shower (which deserves a whole post of its own): Piedmont from Florida Tile’s Harmony line as well as the Jovi Home Woodland shower curtain and rug we’ve already purchased.

For paint, we went with:
Antiqua (Semi-Gloss) – Walls
Warm Welcome (Semi-Gloss) – Trim

Walk-In Closets
Pale Blossom (Eggshell) – Walls
This was originally our trim color for the main room and bathroom, but it turned out looking like a very pale electric green in our space. It was odd out there, but we kept it in the walk-in closets hoping that it will keep them looking bright and cheery.


Basement Insulation Options: Rockwool Rocks!

Last week we got insulation. Not only were we thrilled about not having cold feet anymore (the empty ceiling in the basement leads to a chilly floor upstairs), but this also was a huge milestone because it meant that we’d passed some big inspections. Since insulation (and then drywall) covers up the plumbing, electrical, and framing work, the fire inspector had to come and approve everything done so far, first.
The boys celebrate insulation day
Choosing a green insulation was a decision that flummoxed us. While soil is nature’s built-in insulator for basements, and the cinder block that our house is made of also contributes R-value (measure of thermal resistance), we wanted additional insulation  to make our space cozy. Choosing insulation proved to be a challenging decision, as there are differing opinions on what  is greenest that works for a subgrade basement. Our research led us to these finalists:

Fiberglass- This “pink stuff” is all I knew of when I started. This is bad stuff to breathe in, but the continuous roll version, for use in walls, comes lined with paper that makes it cleaner. Plus, I learned that there are some greener options that are very low VOC and are partially made from recycled materials. Owens Corning EcoTouch is formaldehyde free, 58% post-consumer recycled content, comes in many great R-values, and is very affordable. I felt good about going this route as long as we used this brand. Alas, at the DC Green Festival, I heard the owner of Amicus Green Building Center speak and he pointed out that while some fiberglass may be greener, it is not green. It’s that whole idea that not bad and good are two different things. It was a wake up call to me that in terms of cubic inch, insulation will be the highest volume of a single product that we have in our basement. I decided that this needed to be a splurge area in not only for indoor air quality but also in terms of production. Fiberglass was out.

Foam- Foam insulation can be sprayed in or installed in sheets. I was leery of these from the start as they are made from polyurethane and thus petrochemicals. Since we live a minimal-plastic/synthetics lifestyle, this just was contrary to all that we’ve already worked for in our house. Production and disposal are red flags; in the case of a fire, foam is toxic if burned. In terms of indoor air quality, foam is a mixed bag. Open cell vs. closed cell foam still confuses me a bit, but here is what I think I’ve got right from asking loads of questions to contractors and the Amicus folks. Open cell foam is better in terms of off-gassing because it only off-gasses ammonia. However, it takes longer to off-gas than closed-cell foam does, and it is not a popular choice for subgrade spaces. Closed-cell foam has an initial burst of off-gassing, but then it is done. It also has a better r-value per square inch than open-cell. In our brief foray into considering foam, we looked at GreenGuard certified Owen Cornings Foamular (rigid closed-cell foam boards) as well as spray foam. Ultimately, I just couldn’t get on board with this, despite talking about it with vendors at the DC Green Festival and talking to a green contractor who closed cell spray foam in his own basement.
Wool- Yes, the stuff from sheep. We are a bit wool-obsessed at our house right now: wool rugs, wool dryer walls, wool sweaters, wool pants, wool diaper covers. So, why not wool insulation? Just like how wool clothing keeps you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, wool insulation does the same for a house. It can absorb a huge amount of moisture (though hopefully a house isn’t very moist) without any thermal change. It is fire-safe, like all insulation must be, and it is inhospitable to vermin. This is a very attractive option, but we didn’t feel like we knew enough about it for a sub-grade space and, even with splurging on insulation, we wanted a cheaper option. I would consider it for our attic, someday, though! Learn more about it, here.
Rockwool- This innovative insulation is made from volcanic basalt rock, abundant in the earth, and slag, a byproduct of the steel and copper industry. The materials are spun into fibers that resemble wool and made into batts or boards. (The boards are brand new to the US.) It is breathable (yay for good air quality), but cannot absorb moisture. If it gets wet, the water just drips right off. Mold cannot grow on rockwool. Rockwool does not off-gas and they are non-combustible, in the case of fire. Its R-value is competitive with fiberglass, but it shines above it because of the eco-friendliness of production. It also provides better sound-proofing than synthetic insulations. While it is more expensive than fiberglass, it is not prohibitively expensive. This was our winning material! Check it out in our house:
We were expecting Roxul Comfort Batt, but our contractor’s supplier sent Roxul Acoustical Fire Batt (AFB)  instead. I only noticed the alternative product when posting the picture below to this blog entry and then freaked out because the insulation had already been encased by drywall, which had already been mudded and sanded. Needless to say, we had a very stressful 16  hours before we got in touch with the supplier, the inspector, and  Roxul‘s customer service. I learned that Comfort Batt is more commonly used for residential projects these days, as it is a newer product better sized for the way US houses are framed. AFB is the same material, it just needs to be cut more to fit interior framing widths. Comfort Batt placed on exterior walls typically gets a vapor barrier on the interior wall, but the AFB does not include that in their instructions. Because the Northern Virginia climate does not get frigidly cold, we are comfortable with having no vapor barrier.  Our contractor learned that the inspectors had also been held up on this issue and talked with Roxul before issuing approval. Ah, the joys of using products that aren’t rare, but aren’t common either.


The picture that struck fear in our hearts.

AFB has an R-value of 4.1 per inch of thickness. That is a well-insulated basement when you add up all the components, which is a good thing since putting in ample ductwork for HVAC wasn’t in the budget.


Basement Flooring: Cork, Here We Come!

The current flooring in most of the basement is vinyl, but it is not in good enough condition that we would keep it exposed. Initially, we thought that we would go with the simple option of getting the floor down to concrete and then painting it. Painted concrete is affordable and more attractive than you might think. With an eco-friendly paint or stain, this is also a good choice in terms of indoor air quality.

But, that wasn’t meant to be. First off, we realized how cold the floor would be—not so pleasant in the winter. But, then the even bigger problem showed up. As we started to talk with contractors, we began to wonder if there might be asbestos tile under the vinyl (due to the age of the house and because we have some of the tell-tale 8 inch square black tiles in our laundry room). Removing the vinyl would risk disturbing any possible asbestos, which would then have to be removed at great cost and health risk. In contrast, intact, undisturbed asbestos tile is perfect harmless. So, the current floor (and whatever is under it), needs to stay.

So, what can we put down over top of the vinyl that is environmentally responsible, suitable for a sub-grade space, and won’t freeze our toes off when we hang out down there? It turns out there is no universally right answer. However, here is how we processed through the options to find the best fit for us:

Carpet? Synthetics off-gas. Wool costs a fortune. I am not a fan of wall-to-wall carpet in the name of minimizing dust, dirt, and lead. This is a concern in an older neighborhood like mine that has old paint flaking off houses, which then becomes part of the dirt again. Plus, it is a basement and there is always that “what if” worry about moisture.

Hardwood? Our main floor is original 1950 hardwood and we love it, but most hardwood is not a viable sub-grade flooring option. If we went with a floating option, I knew I would obsess over how the wood was sourced and finding something that met my standards would lead to blowing the budget.

Bamboo? A floating bamboo floor can be OK for basements, but it isn’t a great choice for sub-grade. Plus, it is pricey and it can be difficult to install (or so we’ve heard). We do love that bamboo is rapidly replaceable, though.

Vinyl? Being that we minimize plastics in our home we never really considered this one. I mean, the good news is that vinyl is cheap; but the bad news is that it has no redeeming value in terms of production or indoor air quality. It is probably the most popular basement option, but adding new vinyl is not the right choice for our green goals.

Linoleum? Yes, actually linoleum made from linseed oil is still around. It is a great, eco-friendly choice and comes in every color of the rainbow. We looked at Marmoleum and quite liked it, but were not convinced it was the best choice for a sub-grade space.

Tile? This is another one that is a natural for possibly damp spaces like basements, but it is too cold for the main part of the basement. Plus, the firmness is too hard on my back—I need a slightly springy floor. Plus, that whole obsessing over the source thing: where was the stone quarried, was it done responsibly, is it over-quarried, etc. That said, I know that tile is a good choice for the bathroom. Amazingly, someone posted 70 square feet of new tile on Freecycle and we got it. Yay for free. Plus, since we are repurposing cast-offs, I feel freed of ethical obligations about manufacturing.

Cork? The first thing that came to mind when we heard about cork was a floor that looked like a giant bulletin board—spongy and light brown. Ugh! But since cork naturally resists mildew and comes from a renewable source, we wanted to learn more. We went to Amicus Green Building Supply and checked out several brands. We knew that everything at Amicus was carefully vetted to meet high environmental standards. There, we saw that some brands look very much like hardwood, plank floors and come in many shades. We discovered that cork has a natural warmth to it and has a very gentle springiness but yet is quite sturdy. Finally, we had a winning material! Read more about how amazing cork is, here.

Cork floors (like any product) are not equally durable or green—some cut corners on the backing, others don’t protect the cork well with a coating (or use an off-gassing sealant), some must be installed with formaldehyde-laden adhesives. Ultimately, were impressed by USFloors/Natural Cork, which is the only US producer of cork flooring. (Bonus points: they use solar at their facilities). We went with their Greenguard Certified Almada line, which is click-together planks (so no glues to install it), comes with a solid warranty, and is lovely.  Here is the stock photo of the flooring we chose:

US Floors’ Almada line  in Marcas Areia

In terms of cost, a high-quality cork floor is more expensive than vinyl , basic carpet, or basic tile, but is less than hardwood or bamboo. Coming in at over 10% of our project budget, flooring is likely our highest cost material.

Final Flooring Verdict:

-Living areas of the basement (about 600 square feet) will have cork with QuietWalk Floating Floor Pad as the underlayment
-Bathroom will have tile that we got off Freecycle
-Closets will have tile or cork, depending on which material we have extra of
-Unfinished laundry room remains the same with vinyl and asbestos squares (the laundry room is not part of the renovation)


Reusable Cold Cup

I recently bought this reusable, cutie Copco Cold Beverage To Go Cup from Bed Bath and Beyond for $7.99 (plus 20% off with a coupon). I rarely drink soda, but if I did, I would totally try to get fast food places to fill up this cup instead of their disposable ones. I do enjoy the occasional treat of a frozen drink at the coffe shop at work or a milkshake from Chick-Fil-A (which come in polystyrene cups—ick). The coffee shop uses my new cup with no issue, but I haven’t tried it anywhere else yet.

What I love about this cup

  • Reusable
  • Secure lid that is easy to screw on
  • Fat straw/stirrer, sturdy enough for chunks
  • BPA-free
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Affordable price
  • Feels solid
  • Tag is made from post-consumer recycled paper
  • Some places give a reusable cup discount
  • You can fill it up to the very brim and the lid still fits on without overflowing the cup

What I don’t love about this cup

  • Made in China
  • Made from virgin materials
  • I wish it came in more colors
  • Too big for the size of drinks that I usually get (but I show people that the middle of the brown section is 12 oz.)

Copco also makes a double-walled hot cup version that comes in several colors and features a sipping hole in the lid, just like disposable cups have.

Update: I brought my cup into a McDonald’s for my annual Shamrock Shake and they used it without question. Added bonus, instead of filling it to the 16 oz point, which I estimated for the cashier, she filled the whole thing for me.

This guy is also great for drinking ice water out of. Sipping ice-cold water from a straw seems almost like a restaurant treat.