Carter Oosterhouse, host of HGTV's Carter Can and Red, Hot & Green, recently shared his expert tips with us on adopting simple but effective eco-friendly habits in our daily lives and homes. As seen in his shows where he renovates houses with both the homeowners and the environment in mind, Carter proves that going green in your home doesn’t mean you have to steal much green from your wallet.
How did you become interested in advocating for greener living?
I’ve been building for quite some time and it sort of evolved into looking for things that weren’t going to take away so much from the environment. I’ve been working on homes since I was 13 years old and once you’ve worked on them enough, you start to realize what works and what doesn’t. The beauty about my profession is that I see so many materials that come to the market and what we consume the most in our homes. I took it upon myself to see how we could use less overall as individuals.
A lot of it is continually reminding people to do something that they probably already know. People sometimes need to be pushed in the right direction and reminded of some of the things they can do because those old habits are tough to let go. One, for instance, is using towels, rags or cloth napkins around the kitchen so you’re not using paper towels. Paper towels are of course something that so many people have been using since they were young and they don’t even think twice about it. And they buy more and more paper towels when we could use cloth towels instead to clean up the kitchen. Put them in the laundry and it will save a ton of waste. In the U.S. alone we go through something like 13 billion paper towels annually. We have a dirty cloth basket right next to the sink so that after one, two or three uses we throw the cloths in that laundry bin.
That seems like a great idea. I’m guilty of using paper towels at home and they can add up in cost…One thing I want to ask you about is light bulbs because I have two in my apartment that I need to replace and all the different kinds available can get confusing. Can you give us some tips on what people should look for when they’re shopping for light bulbs?
It depends on what kind of lights you’re using. CFLs have been on the market for quite some time. The good thing about them is that they use so much less energy. Your energy bill will definitely go down. But now there are halogen lights, there’s LED lights…with an LED light you use 75 percent less energy than you would with a regular incandescent light bulb and it lasts 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb.
If you have 6-inch can lights in your ceiling, you can always change those out with LED lights as they burn out. They’re usually going to cost around 20 to 30 dollars per light, which of course can get pretty pricy, but you’ll notice the savings immediately and over time you will make that up as you work on replacing each one. If you are changing out lights completely, you can use halogen lights. They are a little bit pricier, but again, use less energy consumption and they’re even higher quality.
I also tell people that a quick thing they can do is put dimmer switches in their home. They’re very easy to install, they’re not expensive, and they will definitely save you money because you won’t have that light burning as hot as it usually does when it’s just on. But it also sets the mood; there’s nothing better than having good lighting in a house and there’s nothing worse than having bad lighting in a house.
I know you’re involved with your charity, Carter’s Kids, so do you have any suggestions for parents who want to get their kids involved in a project around the house that’s earth-friendly?
Yes, building a compost bin in your backyard. Composting is a great thing to do in general—you dispose of a lot less because your waste isn’t going into the trash or the recycling. Just a little side note: when we got married, at our wedding we only had a half bag of trash with 200 people. We composted as much as we could. Of course, we thought a lot about it before so we knew what we were getting into. The plates and napkins were reused but most of the food scraps we were able to compost. At people’s homes, composting is something fun they can do with their kids because it’s like a science project. You have all the organic compounds that change over time. Next year you’re going to be able to use it for your plants around the yard to make them healthy.
Speaking more to the construction side of things, what are some of your favorite sustainable or recycled building materials that people are using today?
There’s cork composite countertops out there that are not directly cork, but a composite material that uses a lot of cut-offs and ends. I’m big on the cork composite because it not only looks great, but is extremely functional. You’re not cutting into marble or something like that. Not to say that marble is bad, but once you use a marble slab it’s a marble slab and it’s gone. The composite is even more durable than marble but it’s also something that doesn’t affect the environment as much. Another thing is low-flow fixtures like shower heads and, without a doubt, programmable thermostats. Everyone should use those because you can cut your energy consumption with your HVAC system down by 20 percent
People are sometimes worried that using sustainable materials, or anything different than what they’re already using, won’t be as functional or as easy to find. Do people have to do any extensive research to find these replacements or are they as readily available now as anything else?
Fortunately these materials are becoming more readily available now than they even were 2 years ago. In the last 10 years we were definitely there. In the last 5 years we’ve made huge strides not only in the construction of the materials to make them more functional, but in the amount of materials out there. Now it’s cool, it’s hip to be eco-friendly and it’s a great talking point. Of course the consumer wants that and the manufacturers are putting it out there. While we’re much farther along than we were a couple years ago, it’s constantly evolving as well. Just in the lighting department alone we’re cutting down our energy consumption and the government is taking it upon themselves to ban a lot of the old, traditional practices because they’re realizing how many different materials are out there, which is great to see.
If DIYers were going to do one thing in their homes to go green, what would be the most effective?
There’s so many, so it’s hard to say just one. The biggie is that since everyone has to go to the grocery store, reusable shopping bags are a must. We have to wean ourselves off using the plastic bags. Plastic in general is bad for the environment on so many levels. We could have an hour-long conversation just about that. But using plastic and paper grocery bags is kind of ridiculous. Using reusable bags is something we should familiarize ourselves with, and a lot of cities and corporations are taking it upon themselves to instill those practices, which is great to see. We know about the garbage patch in the middle of the ocean--we know that there’s a couple of them. It’s so hard to degrade that. Plastic stays in its form for so long. So using reusable shopping bags, without a doubt, is a huge thing that I think we should familiarize ourselves with.
Get more great green ideas for your home from Carter on his HGTV shows Red, Hot & Green and Carter Can and on Twitter at @C_Oosterhouse.