Love the sight, sound and smell of a roaring old-fashioned fire? Well, I hate to break it to you, but you're sucking up way more lung- and heart-damaging fine particulate matter (PM) than health authorities recommend. Home fires can get so smoggy that the city of Montreal is outlawing them in all homes by 2020. Score: N
They had me at "enviro." These guys are made entirely of waxed cardboard leftover from the grocery/restaurant biz (diverting over a 150 million pounds from landfill by 2011). They're third-party tested to emit up to 80 per cent less carbon monoxide and 30 to 40 per cent less pm than plain firewood. Only problem is you're still burning petroleum since most cardboard waxes are petrol-based. Score: NN
America's largest fire log maker ditched the petroleum wax in 2007 but now uses petrol wax in their 3-pound logs. You're better off with 5-pound logs made with soy- or pine-based "biowax," recycled sawdust and ground tree nut shells. The company says it recycles 50,000 tons of commercial wood waste and agricultural biomass every year. These logs puff out up to 75 per cent less carbon monoxide and 80 per cent less PM than cordwood. Score: NNN
Similar to Duraflame, but the company bumps up its green cred (add an N) by planting a tree through Tree Canada's urban and rural reforestation program for every case sold. It's made of recycled sawdust and ground nut shells, but, oddly, there's no claim the wax it also contains is "natural" like Duraflame's (so subtract an N). Emits up to 80 per cent less carbon monoxide and up to 75 per cent less PM than cordwood. Score: NNN
Made of old coffee grounds and "all natural-based waxes," these guys actually divert 5.4 million kilos of coffee waste from landfills every year. Tested to emit up to 80 per cent less carbon monoxide, up to 75 per cent less PM and up to 66 per cent less creosote than cordwood fires. Kind of disappointed there's no coffee aroma, but it makes a decent fire. Score: NNNN
Is spray foam insulation safe?
As conservative pundits huff and puff about the validity of climate change in the face of frigid winds, let's weigh the merits of a more rational winter debate, shall we? Is all that cold air seeping into your home a sign that you need more insulation?
If the chilly gusts in your abode aren't coming from cracks around doors and windrows, you might consider padding your place with an extra cushion of insulation. The blown-in/spray-in type is really the only way to go with existing walls.
But what insulation to choose? If you listen to spray polyurethane foam salesmen, SPF insulation is the greenest product this side of St. Paddy's Day.
It's got lots of high-profile supporters, too, including Mike Holmes, who on his Make It Right website says closed-cell spray foam is the best of all insulation: "It wins on all counts - energy efficiency, indoor air quality and environmentally." Well, he may have the first factor right.
Spray foam is made of either polyicynene or polyurethane. Both super-effective insulators, yes, but CBC's Marketplace chronicled the horrors that can happen when it's not properly installed.
Namely, "A strong, unpleasant fishy smell from off-gassing that has driven some people from their homes, some complaining of difficulty breathing and other health problems."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that spray polyurethane foam is highly effective, but notes that its key ingredient, isocyanates, and other SPF chems can trigger asthma, lung damage and skin and eye irritation in those exposed to vapours, aerosols and dust before and after installation.
Says the EPA: "Individuals with a history of skin conditions, respiratory allergies, asthma or prior isocyanate sensitization should carefully review product information when considering the use of SPF products."
Then there's what's called the B-side of the foam -the polyol blend that often has some soy, sugar or other "bio-based" components. The EPA says the proprietary blend of chems may include amine catalysts that can cause blurry vision (halo effect), flame retardants (including persistent and/or toxic ones like TCPP, TEP and TCDP) and hormone-disrupting surfactants, not to mention planet-harming blowing agents.
WALLTITE Eco, the stuff Holmes endorses, is Greenguard-certified for indoor air quality, and it's the first closed-cell spray polyurethane insulation to obtain EcoLogo certification, meaning it's free of shunned PBDE flame retardants and ozone-depleting blowing agents and contains 5 per cent recycled content. But the blowing agent can still be a greenhouse gas (just a lesser one), and the company doesn't publicly disclose what flame retardant it uses instead of PBDE. Regardless, you'd have to remove your drywall entirely to use it properly.
Blown-in cellulose (recycled newspaper often made flame retardant with borax or ammonium sulphate) is most commonly recommended to fill empty wall cavities and irregular spaces. Its insulation value isn't quite as high, though it's better than blown-in fibreglass, and its dust - an irritant rather than a carcinogen - should be fine as long as it's sealed behind a wall.
Naturally non-toxic, non-flammable, rodent-proof, soundproof AirKrete (a "cementitious foam") is favoured by those with chemical sensitivities (and by Neil Young, who built it into his recording studio), but all insulation options should be weighed with care. I recommend doing more digging at BuildingGreen.com before you decide what's right for you; you can buy the org's thorough insulation guide for $129 - well worth it.
Research your installer, too, and get written guarantees on removal in case it all goes wrong. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you're warm and healthy without throwing cash to the wind.
GREENWASH OF THE WEEK
TRESemmé Naturals Shampoo
That giant green leaf and bold green "Naturals" label may be beckoning you along with the siren song of aloe and avocado oil, but resist. Your first indicator that it's not trying all that hard is right up front where it says "lower sulfates" rather than sulfate-free. It finally ditched sodium laureth sulfate but still uses ammonium laureth sulfate, which can be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane. An even bigger concern, though, is it's use of formaldehyde-releasing DMDM hydantoin. Take a pass.