Tag Archive for wall

Bathroom Makeover: From Vinyl to Recycled Tile

One of the most fun aspects of renovating a home is shopping for materials that will take a room from conventional to beautiful. The vinyl tile in one bathroom is from the 60’s and completely worn. Vinyl flooring (or polyvinyl chloride – PVC) can contain harmful lead, phthalates and other toxins, as found in a study from the nonprofit HealthyStuff.org. So replacing it with something healthier is great for kids, who tend to spend a lot of time crawling and playing on the ground.

Because older vinyl or composite tiles can also contain asbestos, I had these tested. The lab evaluated both the tile itself and the mastic (adhesive). Thankfully, both tests came out clear, and it was time to demo the floor. The tiles came up easily, a welcome surprise.

Big box home improvement stores have a wide selection of ceramic and porcelain tiles, but many are manufactured overseas without recycled content. After plenty of searching, I found Florim USA tile at a local, family-owned store. It’s made in the USA, has 40% pre-consumer recycled content, and is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). At about $4 a square foot (uninstalled), it’s an affordable “green” option. Other great choices are Oceanside Glasstile, which I’ve used (and loved) in a previous home and stunning Fireclay Tile, made in California.

For the tub surround, I found a treasure trove of neutral wall tiles at Green Demolitions, similar in concept to Habitat for Humanity resale stores. The tiles are inherently recycled since they came to this nonprofit store as leftovers from someone else’s big project. They were a fraction of the retail cost and are in-the-box new. All proceeds go towards charity, so it’s a win-win way to renovate. With the vinyl out and the recycled tile in, this bathroom space just got a little healthier.


Like to learn more? See info on vinyl floors and kids’ health at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

Getting Unstuck: Wallpaper Removal

The Healthy Home Project house came with its fair share of outdated wallpaper, from the 60’s.  This weekend I’m working in the bathroom, removing a blue metallic flowered version.  It’s quite a learning experience, but more manageable when broken down into simpler steps. 

Is wallpaper healthy?  Most wallpaper today is made of vinyl, one of the most toxic plastics produced and rife with phthalates (pronounced tha-lates).  These chemicals are used to “soften” hard plastics to make them pliable.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxicity & Exposure Assessment for Children’s Health details the dangers for kids, including developmental abnormalities such as cleft palate and skeletal malformations.  Phthalates can act as endocrine disruptors as well, altering the body’s hormone system.  Vinyl wallpaper is easy to clean and cheap to buy, but spells trouble on the health front.

Phthalates can show up in unexpected places, migrating from the everyday products we buy – even those on our walls – and into the environment, like house dust.  If it’s vinyl wallpaper from the 70’s or before, it may also contain asbestos fibers, so it is essential to consult a state-certified asbestos consultant for testing, preferably one who comes highly recommended from a trusted realtor, home inspector or other homeowners in the area.  If you’re renting, be sure to understand your rights and options to avoid any exposure issues for your family.


 Though vinyl by itself is a tough and flexible material, asbestos, a tiny fiber-like substance that can easily break apart and float in the air, was once added to vinyl to make it stronger and long lasting. These asbestos fibers are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, yet they become incredibly dangerous when introduced into the lungs through inhalation.  In the late 1970s, when it was made widely known how toxic asbestos was, vinyl wallpaper was no longer manufactured using asbestos, but products containing the deadly mineral continued to be sold through the 1980s.  Older buildings may still have asbestos-containing wallpaper on their interior walls.  (http://www.mesotheliomasymptoms.com/household/vinyl-wallpaper)

The American Lung Association states, “If you know or suspect there is asbestos in your home or workplace, leave the material alone if possible.  Asbestos-containing materials are safe as long as they are in good condition and not disturbed.  Fibers are unlikely to become airborne unless materials are cut, ripped or sanded.   If you need to remodel, remove or clean up asbestos, be sure to hire trained professionals.”

Thankfully this blue metallic wallpaper is so old that it pre-dates vinyl, so it’s simply layers of paper with a glue backing. The top metallic layer peeled right off, and in fact, all came down in about an hour during the kids’ sleepover.  

This afternoon I’m tackling the tough stuff…the undermost “glue” layer.  I sprayed it down with water and it hardly budged, so I turned to a product from Green Depot called Pure & Simple Wallpaper Remover, made from natural materials including clay, starch and wheat.  Following the directions, I mixed a tablespoon (1/2 oz.) in a quart spray bottle of warm water. Working around the room with spray bottle in one hand and sponge in the other (to keep the excess from dripping), each section got a few minutes to soak in.  The next step is to go back to the starting point, using a scraper.  The glue backing is coming off well and a few hours from now, this bathroom will be unstuck from the 60’s.

Solving the Paint Mystery

With the old wall-to-wall carpeting gone, the wood floors are finally revealed. Two of the bedroom floors plus the hall were painted. Since we don’t know when that was, it could be lead paint, which was in use before being banned in 1978. The only way to find out about these floors is to have them tested, so for this I’m turning to a state-certified environmental services company, who came out with an XRF meter to test the area. With a quick point of the meter gun, the technician can get an immediate reading on the paint in that spot, reading through 3/8″ of paint, which would include many, if not all layers.

Home contractors can’t treat large areas containing lead paint if they’re not certified as “EPA Lead Safe“.  Flooring companies typically aren’t certified, as it’s not routinely in their line of work.

Thankfully, these floors came out in the clear, and the sanding and refinishing are good to go!

Healthier Paint Made Easy

The world is full of hundreds of kinds of paints, most of which contain carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and other chemicals that have no place in our homes. What to do?

This week I made my second trip to Green Depot in NYC, purveyor of healthy building products. With locations across the country and shipping available, their accessibility makes shopping for this project just that much easier. 

Ivy Coatings is Green Depot’s “store brand” of paint, which makes it a budget-friendly choice amont the healthiest paints on the market, which include Mythic and AFM Safecoat, both excellent choices but pricier.

At about $35/gallon for eggshell, Ivy Coatings is comparable to other well-known premium paints.  As a consumer, here’s one thing to keep in mind:  many brands advertise as being zero-VOC but once the colorant or tint is added, the paint is no longer true zero-VOC.  In other words, the base paint without color meets the zero-VOC guidelines, but the end product doesn’t measure up.  VOC claims aside, any “green” claim doesn’t necessarily mean the product is all-around healthy.  It can still contain formaldehyde or other chemicals including glycol ethers (“glymes” for short), which the EPA links to reproductive and developmental problems. I’ve had my own run-in with gymes while using a conventional primer that left me feeling quite sick. Sure enough, I checked the product ingredients online, and there were glymes in it. So as with everything, buyer beware.

According to the Green Depot website, “New paint smell? Beware! That odor is actually VOCs (volatile organic compounds) ‘offgassing’ into the air we breathe. VOCs in mainstream paints and wood finishes can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat; cause headaches and nausea; and damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some are carcinogens. Alternative products labeled as ‘low VOC’ may contain other toxins, including formaldehyde and acetone.”

Ivy Coatings is also locally made in Brooklyn, NY, just a stone’s throw from the Healthy Home Project.  As for other budget-friendly tips, go to the store with the contractor’s license number in order to get contractor pricing, which is often about 10% off at paint stores.  Another way to stretch reno budgets is to check out the “oops paint” table of colors that didn’t turn out just right, or may have been returned. At Green Depot, I got a gallon of Yolo Colorhouse (another healthier brand) “oops paint” for $10. Oops paint is a great way to keep mismatched paint out of the landfill and put it to good use.

So here’s to lots of painting.  I’m starting with one of the kids’ rooms this afternoon and then will progress on to the kitchen.