Greener Lives loves to share ideas about healthy and sustainable interior design, creating greener homes, discovering amazing eco-friendly products and exploring a bit of all things green.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Get rid of those ugly mini-blinds - economically

If you've rented an apartment or bought a house that came with window coverings in the last 20 years, chances are good that it came with the most annoying window coverings around: metal mini-blinds. They are really dust-collection sites in disguise as window coverings. They're impossible to clean, and the individual blinds are easily bent. Their one virtue is that they're cheap, and a houseful of any other kind of window coverings can be expensive, very expensive.

If you want to dump those mini-blinds, but you can't afford to replace all of them, what can you do? If you can, replace the mini-blinds in your public rooms (great room, living room, dining room) with something more attractive: drapes, shades, valences, even wide wood blinds. Try hiding the rest of your mini-blinds behind valences.

During the daytime with the blinds pulled up, you won't even know the blinds are there. At nighttime, who's going to be looking at the mini-blinds when the blinds are topped with valences in great colors and patterns?

There are a lot more options to valences than just fabric gathered on a traverse rod. Here's a contemporary look with grommets from Smith+Noble, an online window coverings vendor.

Valences with blinds are a great choice for kids' bedrooms because you can replace and update the valences when the pony phase is replaced by the pink princess phase. You can be creative with kids' valences, too. Interior designer Lisa Reeves and I came up with this valence made of University of Arizona pennants ($10) plus an inexpensive rod for one of our Habispaces' home designs. It was a big hit with the 11-year-old Arizona Wildcats fan who had just moved into a Habitat for Humanity home.

Valences that use swags complete with tassels and fancy trim are not going to look good with inexpensive metal mini-blinds, so I'd pass on formal valence styles. Formal valences also look odd without drapes. Even with drapes, it can be hard to carry off a swag look without rich fabrics and decorative accents. This one (also from Smith+Noble) looks formulaic.

Ultimately, there is nothing like the unique look of custom window coverings designed by an interior designer who has access to thousands of fabrics, including fabrics made of recycled materials and other green options. Of course, you're getting that opinion compliments of an interior designer.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shut off that car alarm - please!

Everybody can hear it and nobody's listening. We're just too used to alarms going off. Dogs barking, motorcycles gunning it down the road, planes rattling the windows, refrigerators humming - noise pollution is everywhere. Even if you didn't blow out your ears from dozens of rowdy concerts, a lifetime of lower level noise can be just as bad, even worse.

The list of side effects from noise pollution and the side effects from the side effects goes on and on. Noise pollution raises our stress level, which has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Kids from very noisy homes have delayed language skills, reduced cognitive growth and increased anxiety. For seniors with hearing loss, white noise makes it even harder to hear.

Of course, you can ask your neighbors to stop their dogs from barking - if they can or will - but a great way to reduce your indoor noise pollution is by saving energy. Actually, you need to do the things that will save energy: caulk windows, weather strip and add rubber thresholds to doors, insulate walls and attics. What keeps the cold air outside in the winter and the hot air outside in the summer keeps the noise out, too. (If you're replacing your windows, go for double-paned windows filled with argon gas.)

Take a cue from medieval decorators who hung tapestries on drafty walls to keep out the cold and improved the castle acoustics, too. Think of soft surfaces instead of hard ones: drapes, fabric shades and upholstered furniture. Carpeting is a great sound absorber, but if you've ever replaced a carpet, you know it's not a healthy choice. Dust, pollen, mold and more collect beneath the carpet. Standard carpet off gases many toxic chemicals, too. Using a rug that you can pull up and wash is a better way to cushion hard flooring.
The best flooring choice for acoustic control is cork because its spongy texture absorbs sounds. Some sound studios use cork tiles on the walls for acoustic control, and so can you. Today's cork wall tiles and flooring don't look like they were made for pushpins.
Expanko's patterns are anything but cork board style.
Unicork even has a collection of metallic cork tiles.
When it comes to plank flooring, U.S. Floor's Natural Cork is the thing.

Of course, if you want the cork board look, it's around from Expanko and others.

Even as I write, my computer is whirring, a car is driving past my house and, yes, a dog is barking and barking and barking. I have two reasons to replace the rest of my 1951 home's old casement windows: my electric bill and my sanity. For now I need to take a deep breath and enjoy the mountain view out my window.