DIY goes environment-friendly

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It’s the start of a busy time for DIY stores as many of us decide to tackle jobs around the home. It’s a good opportunity too to do our bit to safeguard the planet, thanks to the growing availability of environmentally-conscious products.

Least damaging to our world is the use of reclaimed materials such as timber, bricks and tiles, fireplaces, doors and baths. This slows depletion of resources and saves the energy and pollution involved in extracting the raw materials, producing the finished goods and transporting them.

Most builders’ merchants carry stocks or you can log on to for a directory listing architectural salvage dealers, showing yards, shops and showrooms where you can buy antique, reclaimed, salvaged and green items and materials.

But if only unused wood will do, look for goods bearing the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) trademark. This ensures a sustainable resource from managed forests. You should avoid all hardwoods not carrying the FSC logo as they may have been harvested from natural ancient forests. It is possible to buy FSC-accredited wallpaper or wallpaper made from recycled packaging.

MDF’s toxic formaldehyde content makes it a poor environmental choice, though low or zero formaldehyde MDF is available.

Traditional oil-based paints and wood preservatives have a high solvent content which gives off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contributing to greenhouse gases. New water-based products are on the market containing 30 times fewer VOCs than conventional gloss paint and are quicker drying, less smelly and don’t require white spirit to clean brushes.

White spirit is a difficult product to dispose of as it must not be put down drains, dug into the soil, thrown into water courses, or burnt, but most council-run tips and recycling centres will accept spent white spirit. A good alternative to white spirit is something called clean spirit, which can be poured easily down the drain after use. There are water-based alternatives to creosote too which are harmless to plants.

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Many DIY components are made of PVC, including windows, guttering and replacement doors but PVC’s manufacture and disposal cause pollution. Burning PVC produces dioxins, some of the most toxic chemicals known, so consider alternatives.

Coconut fibre, wool, cork, linoleum and timber are all renewable alternatives to vinyl and other synthetic floor coverings, or be up-to-the-minute with rubber matting made from recycled plane and lorry tyres!

For insulating materials, natural products offer least environmental impact, such as cellulose fibre loft insulation (made from recycled paper), cork, wool or insulating soft board.

Sustainability, durability, recyclability, safe disposability, energy efficiency and low pollution levels are all features green DIY-ers should look for in the products they buy. So always read the label carefully.

Information on green building, renovation and decorating is available from The Centre for Alternative Technology which aims to empower people to live a more sustainable life. Useful too is The Association for Environment-Conscious Building which helps individuals and companies build and share knowledge about sustainable and green building.