Families get excited as summer winds down and the kids head back to school. Children learn lots of information and develop many skills in school, on their way to becoming independent adults. The most important skill of all is learning to be a lifelong student. Maybe it's time to dust off your learning skills and learn how to buy the best home products?
The skills children learn today are very different than ten or twenty years ago, with the Internet and smart phones changing our lives.
And while homes and the materials they're built with aren't changing as quickly, there are lots of new products being introduced. Many changes have come in response to increasing energy costs, and the need to make our homes more energy efficient. More recently the focus has shifted to green building and reducing our impact on the environment, so let's explore the things you want to consider when making purchases for your home.
Smart Buying Tips 4 Home Products
You probably have certain criteria you use for buying clothes, like they have be washable to avoid trips to the dry cleaners. Personally I don't want clothing that needs ironing, something I do willingly when quilting but don't have time for otherwise. While I'm disappointed when a new shirt comes out of the dryer wrinkled, it's easy to give it to a friend who can enjoy the shirt because they don't mind ironing.
Rather than commit to the impossible task of updating you for new home products (we now introduce one new product each Friday, called Fabulous Friday Finds), here is a checklist of things to consider when looking for new home products. And we're talking about everything in your home, not just caulking and paint. The the furniture, toys and cleaning products you bring into your home, also affect things like air quality and safety because the lead in paint, might be on your walls, your kids toys or some of the pots and pans in your kitchen.
- Efficient Use of Natural Resources – refers to products and their packaging. Look for products that include recycled materials like the new carpeting coming on the market, made from recycled plastic bottles. Consider where new materials are harvested and whether they are sustainable resources like bamboo which grows twice as fast as wood. Consider products that are built to last longer (moving parts made from metal, not plastic) and find the manufacturing processes and packaging that strive to minimize waste.
- Indoor Air Quality – relates to the chemicals that many home products and furnishings give off, and you ultimately breath. Paints have shifted from oil base to water, and are now moving towards low/no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). There are new products like drywall that resist moisture or inhibit the growth of mold. Look for eco friendly furniture, versus particleboard furniture that releases formaldehyde into the air. Watch out for household cleaners that contain toxic chemicals.
- Energy Efficiency – is all about buying products like a new refrigerator or hot water heater, that use less energy. What isn't efficient is buying a new Energy Star refrigerator for the kitchen and putting the old refrigerator in the garage for overflow. This happens too often as home owners forget to step back and look at the big picture.
- Water Conservation – covers a wide range of products. New front loading washing machines use less water but only if you run them when they're full. Low flow toilets use less water with each flush. There are manufacturing standards that limit how much water shower heads use … great but now people are installing multiple shower heads? You can also pick climate appropriate trees, shrubs and design your landscaping to use less water.
- Affordability – is what your family budget can afford. These are tough decisions but you'll want to consider the total cost of a product, starting with the initial purchase and installation plus maintenance costs for the life of the product. An inexpensive water heater might need to be replaced in 6 to 8 years while a medium quality water heater should last up to 15 years. A pressure treated deck might not be such a bargain when you add in the cost of staining and sealing it every 2 years.
When researching home products you should get manufacturers information including Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) test data and product warranties. You'll also want to look for recycled and source data, durability and environmental information. Where available, certification by a government (Energy Star) or industry organization is really helpful like the Green Label and Green Label Plus (above). It confirms certain home products, like carpets, carpet backings, cushions and adhesives, have been tested and shown to that emit low VOCs.
You need to dig below the surface though, as many brands have changed their packaging to claim “green” without demonstrating and improvements to their products. That's where industry groups like GreenBuildingPages.com validate the claims of real green products.