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Green Issues

Green issues are everywhere these days - on the television, in the papers and part of mainstream political debate.

Being aware of environmental issues is no longer considered as being just for hippy types, indeed we are all being encouraged to "go green". In today's political and economic climate focusing on environmental issues is of paramount priority and many new home owners in Bulgaria now want to make their property as environmentally friendly as possible. However, information on the real environmental cost of many products, which people think are green, is very hard to obtain. In this article we investigate whether the notion of genuinely environmentally friendly building products really exists.

"It's no good though if you make a half hearted attempt at going green. Renovating with natural products and installing triple glazing to conserve energy loses its significance if you drive a gas guzzling 4x4."

Finding environmentally friendly products

Searching on one of the internet search engines like Google for ‘natural' or ‘environmentally friendly' products brings up a plethora of websites each claiming to sell suitable products. Many claims are made as to the sustainability of the source materials, but very often these claims are impossible to check. In some instances, the manufacturing process and transportation, which are far from environmentally friendly, are glanced over or just not mentioned at all. For example, on the subject of natural insulation, you'll be inundated with options of wool, recycled newspapers, jute and so on. However if you buy insulation made from sheep's wool, you need to consider whether it was transported over thousands of miles thus adding to air pollution. Additionally, will you be collecting it in your 4 x 4 using gallons of petrol? And let us not forget the question of the animal's welfare with nasty chemical dips.

The origins of these natural products are all important. Whilst products which come from crops sound friendly and green, just how environmentally friendly are they? These may have been genetically modified or had chemical pesticides sprayed all over them. Huge crop plantations may be impacting on an area's biodiversity or the local farmers being exploited. Finding answers to these questions is not at all easy.

Check the small print

We were considering replacing our old-fashioned Bulgarian "double glazed" windows recently. These comprise two layers of single glazed units about 6 inches apart. Replacing these windows with modern double glazed units may offer improved heat and noise insulation, and the choice of products is good. Whilst researching replacements, it was noticeable that some firms made more effort to be environmentally friendly than others. Some companies used timber from accredited sources, others did not. As for PVC windows, it was very difficult to find out if the synthetic materials used were recyclable without giving rise to harmful emissions.

Make-do and mend - save money as well as the environment

In the end, the question was whether we really needed new windows after all?

Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of the Bulgarians' thinking and make-do and mend. If something serves its purpose and meets its functional requirements pretty well, then why buy a replacement at all? If the answer is still yes, then can the old item be recycled or re-used? Finally, we chose the old-fashioned idea and kept the original windows, just using a bit of putty, a coat of wood stain and the odd adjustment to the fitting, making both financial and environmental savings. It has at least saved the making and transportation of new windows with just a few hours work and minimal financial outlay. Inside, we have installed thick curtains to help with thermal insulation; the heavy material gives the house a luxurious feel. We avoided thermally lined curtains as nearly all were using man-made fibre with foam backing.

With green considerations being at the forefront of daily life, many products now state their green credentials as a way to appeal to environmentally aware buyers. However, if you really are serious about ensuring your renovation project is green, then you need to check out the green credentials of anything you are considering buying. Don't accept what the supplier says at face value, do your research and find the answers to your questions before you commit yourself to something that might be as green as you think.