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8 Tips for a Non-Toxic Home Renovation

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Written by Maia, President

Over the last few months, we’ve been blogging about Project One-Eleven, our non-toxic home renovation. Recently, one of our readers told us about her own non-toxic home renovation efforts. We were so inspired by her hard work and wisdom that we asked if we could share some of it with our readers, and she obliged.

Read on for Jocelyn’s super-savvy tips for non-toxic home renovation, as well as her top picks for the Good Stuff—home products that are safe, functional, and beautiful.

UPDATE: This nontoxic haven is for sale as of March 2017. Jocelyn’s family is relocating and so she has to sell the place. Here is the listing.

Meet Jocelyn

Jocelyn Talbot
Jocelyn Talbot, MD

Jocelyn Talbot is a primary care doctor at The Vancouver Clinic near Portland, Oregon. She’s also a wife and mother. Jocelyn and her husband are in the homestretch of a major non-toxic home renovation, a project that has involved countless hours of research and planning. Pregnancy, motherhood, chemical sensitivities, and Celiac disease have all motivated Jocelyn to go the extra mile (or million miles!) to make the healthiest choices for her and her family.

As Jocelyn says, “I have yet to find any medical reason why toxins are good for health, and I’ve found compelling data to avoid them–so it seems like an easy call to me.” We couldn’t agree more!

Here are Jocelyn’s non-toxic renovation tips and top picks:

1. Devote time to doing research and choosing the Good Stuff.

Jocelyn and her husband learned this lesson the hard way. When they renovated their first home a few years ago, she was a medical resident working 80-hour weeks. Short on time and energy, she did no research, instead buying products off the shelf from design shops and big-box retailers.

Unfortunately, many of these products were of poor quality and full of toxins. Even her pricey, custom cabinets from a local company turned out to be made from medium-density fibreboard (MDF). Three years later, they still smell of formaldehyde, and the paint is chipping.

2…but beware of information overload!

As important as it is to do your due diligence, you’ll burn out fast if you get overwhelmed by information and options. Keep things simple by relying on only a couple of reputable sources. Jocelyn is a fan of Gimme the Good Stuff (obvi!), as well as Green Building Supply, which is also our go-to for expertise on non-toxic home renovation supplies.

3. Find local sources for handcrafted items such as furniture and cabinets.

Craftspeople can make these types of items using simple, natural materials like solid wood and zero-VOC finishes. The mass-produced versions, on the other hand, are likely to be riddled with toxins.

Use Yelp and Google reviews to vet local businesses. Ask for a list of materials and ingredients; a reputable source is transparent and knowledgeable about what they use. (If you need help understanding the materials used by a local craftsperson, Gimme the Good Stuff offers consulting services.)

Bonus: You might be surprised to find that going the local, handcrafted route can actually save money. For example, the kitchen cabinets in Jocelyn’s new home have been made by a local craftsman for less than half of what she would have paid from a national retailer!

4. Save time and money by shopping online for mass-produced items that are less likely to be toxic.

It’s a big relief to realize that you don’t have to worry about everything and go to great lengths to source a non-toxic version. Items that Jocelyn identified to be of less concern include sinks, faucets, some appliances, tile, LED light bulbs, light fixtures, light switches, outlet covers, cabinet hardware, fabrics, and subfloor material.

For major appliances, ceiling fans, and electronics, Jocelyn recommends looking for ones that do not carry a Proposition 65 warning. Retailers like Home Depot include this information for products listed on their website.

5. Don’t expect future home-buyers to pay more for your wise choices.

Jocelyn and her family are investing in creating a non-toxic home because it’s healthier for them and the environment. Jocelyn also wants to have first-hand experience that she can pass along to her patients. What she and her husband are not expecting is for their healthy choices to add significantly to the market value of their home. Sadly, most people want things like granite countertops (which may off-gas radon and are ecologically costly to mine and import), rather than Jocelyn’s pick of quartz.

6. Test for hidden dangers.

Radon gas and lead contamination were two concerns that weren’t on Jocelyn’s radar when she and her husband bought their first home. Such “hidden dangers” can have serious health consequences for children and adults.

It’s normal to want to bury your head in the sand rather than confront them, but don’t. There are ways to test for and mitigate radon, lead, asbestos, and other environmental hazards. Whether you’re considering a home or already living in one, conduct the appropriate tests.

7. Be kind to yourself.

Any renovation can be an overwhelming experience. Renovating the non-toxic way is an even bigger project. The more you know, the heavier the responsibility can feel.

Jocelyn keeps an even keel by reminding herself of her top priorities, such as making healthy choices during pregnancy and choosing non-toxic baby and kid stuff. As committed as she is to a healthy lifestyle and home environment, she finds comfort in the idea that the vast majority of people use conventional products, and they are okay. As we’re fond of saying: Stay sane!

8. Have fun!

Renovations are an opportunity to be creative. Jocelyn has discovered that non-toxic and eco-friendly choices tend to be more eclectic. Confetti-colored countertops? Beeswax-finished dining room table? Bright, stainless steel sippy cups? This is your chance to create a truly unique and beautiful home environment—enjoy it!

Jocelyn’s Good Stuff

After much research (and aesthetic consideration), Jocelyn has chosen the following products for her home:

Stay sane,

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7 responses to “8 Tips for a Non-Toxic Home Renovation”

  1. Follow these tips for safer remodeling from start to finish. 👍👍👍

  2. The non-toxic way is the best, thanks for sharing this article.

  3. I agree research is really important to know more information and help you make plans and list the things that you need when planning to renovate your home. Great tips by the way. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thank you for your tips. I am learning a lot. I want these non-toxic ideas.

  5. Great information. I have been a roofing contractor, and have owned my roofing company for years, and many of my customers have been asking me about lowing the toxicity within their home. Being in the roofing niche it can be difficult to fins all natural solutions, especially when the most popular roof style is asphalt/shingle. We do offer window installations and so I appreciate you including the options for window treatments. Thanks for the read, and I appreciate you putting this down. I am glad I bumped into this!

  6. “Toxicity could be oxidated nutrients vitamins and minerals”

  7. Coriena

    Thanks so much for all of this information and all of your work (Maia and Jocelyn!). I’m so glad to find people out there who are as thorough (neurotic?) as me about their environment and what they purchase and thankful you have done some of the work for me. Thank you for #7. I am not so good at that and get worked up about things I’ve done wrong or can’t feasibly or financially change. My husband, one-year-old daughter and I recently moved into a house that is included with our new job and was renovated right before we moved in, and I’m having to deal with some poor choices made by the owner who renovated… Lots of spider plants and moso bags in here! Here’s to staying sane!

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