Q Are there any environmentally friendly products you could apply to a couch to make it stain-resistant?
A Remember when we'd grab a can of Scotchgard and mist every piece of furniture in our homes like we were in one of those crazy Febreze commercials?
After 50 years in commercial use, Scotchgard/Stainmaster phased out the nastiest, most persistent chemical in its formula in 2002, the one that lodges itself in our fatty tissue and stays there indefinitely: PFOS. But that doesn't mean I'd recommend going nuts with its reformulated products. Manufacturer 3M says its new recipe has a "low risk" of building up in the food chain, but there's a big difference between "low" and "no."
Not to mention that lots of other stain treatments use PFOS's sister chem, PFOA. That's the one used in Teflon you know, the likely carcinogen that's in 95 per cent of our bloodstreams. It'll be largely phased out by 2010, but it's still on shelves.
So what's a life-loving, earth-hugging citizen to do about all that furniture that's bound to see some spaghetti splotches or wine drops? Well, for one, don't buy a white couch. I nearly did a few years ago, then flashbacks about all the times I'd spilled food and booze in my life made me ixnay the idea. Two, jump on stains as soon as they occur. If the old salt and soda water options fail, try blotting a mix of laundry detergent and very hot water on your stains using a damp but not dripping-wet cloth or sponge, or lightly scrub with a brush.
Or keep a bucket of seaweed-based Pink Solution on hand (you can order some at http://pinksolution.ca). This natural BC-made concentrate gets out absolutely everything (even five-year old carpet stains, according to my mom) and can be used in a rented steam cleaner for heavy-duty jobs.
But you asked about pretreating, and the answer is: there is no readily available all-natural stain repellent on the market for furniture fabric. You can smear beeswax on your boots and silicone on your tent, but they don't sell that kind of thing for couches.
I did, however, contact Nikwax, the maker of a nontoxic, water-based, fluorocarbon-free stain repellent used on outdoor gear and clothing. A rep told me you can sponge a solution of Nikwax waterproofing for fabrics on a patch of your couch to see how it turns out before doing the whole thing. If your sofa has slipcovers, you can use the wash-in formula.
This stuff does contain mineral oil, which is petroleum-based, but it's probably your best bet, and you can get it at Mountain Equipment Co-op.
Other than that, you can try sticking to your mom's rule of not eating on the couch, but stop short of your grandma's strategy of covering furniture with plastic.
Q How can I recycle my shingles, and what eco-alternatives are there for replacing them?
A First the bad news. Unfortunately, the city doesn't recycle building materials, althoug it's looking into it. Some U.S. states actually oppose shingle recycling because of the risk of asbestos contamination. Others give shingles a second life in roads. Finding anyone who'll recycle them in Toronto, however, is proving impossible. Even renowned recyclers like Turtle Island just junk them. And the people at 1-800-Got-Junk say that, depending on the shingle, it might or might not be recycled.
As for new roofing options, you've got a few to pick from that are way more sustainable than fossil-fuel-based asphalt or over-mined clay tiles or logged cedar shakes. Ontario-made EnviroShakes are made of recycled plastics, wood waste and rubber from old tires. They kind of look like cedar shakes, they're maintenance free and you can install them yourself. And they come with a 50-year guarantee. You can get them from $3.50 per square feet (see Enviroshake.com for retailers).
If you've got a relatively flat roof and a few extra grand, forget shingles, baby, and go for drought-resistant, low-maintenence sedum grasses or ready-grown grass tiles. Green roofs keep your house cooler than a black roof, lower your power bills and pump clean oxygen. But you'll definitely need a pro to figure out if your roof is structurally sound and prep it for planting. ELT Easy Green will do it from $15 a square foot, but they also have DIY options for about $10 (www. eltgreenroofs.com).
Solar shingles sound cool, but according to those in the know, the only solar roofing products that are Canada-proof are Uni-Solar shingles. They look slick, but they cost a fortune and you can't sweep off the snow in winter. You'd be better off putting panels on the ground where you can adjust the angles seasonally to milk the most sunlight.