Saturday, November 04, 2006

It’s not easy being green

Not to beat a dead horse here, but we’ve been doing a lot of work on our house lately. Being that Popsey and I have both dealt with medical issues in our lives that may or may not have been caused by chemical exposures (of course we’ll never know), we’ve decided to do our best to use non-toxic building products whenever possible.

Now how hard can that be, you ask? “Green building” is all the rage right now, so what’s the problem? Well…

Every time we call a hardware store, contractor, or building product supplier and inquire about non-toxic products, the response is always the same:

"• It will cost 3 times as much.
• It will take longer to get.
• It will be harder to install .
• It really isn’t non-toxic anyways, so why bother?"

I understand this is a developing industry that is just trying to get itself off the ground, but really. Is there some sort of Republican-led conspiracy preventing widespread distribution of products without toxic chemicals? We wouldn’t want to harm the chemical industry after all! It’s like we’re living in a world where all we have is Safeway’s “organic” vegetable section—1/16th of one side of an aisle containing a picked-over assortment of wilted broccoli and split carrots. We're living in central California, smack in the middle of the "salad bowl" of America, but somehow Safeway can't find a single unbruised cucumber or one head of lettuce that doesn't look like it was run over by an 18-wheeler? I practically trip over organic farms just getting to Safeway for God's sake. I can't stand this kind of petulant corporate foot-dragging.

Anyways, one stark example of this problem was when we showed up at our regular haunt, the hardware store, in search of a non-toxic finish for the plywood floor in the barn. We bellied up to the paint counter, and asked the main guy, George, what product might meet our needs. He began thinking, his brow furrowing. There was a long silence. The silence grew longer. A line began to form behind us. Still, only silence. His brow furrowed deeper. More silence. We glanced at each other helplessly and tried to appear attentive. I started feeling a case of the giggles coming on. Which is worse? Early death due to chemical exposure, or dying of boredom from remaining in a hardware store too long. It's a toss up. It began to seem hopeless, but interrupting a train of thought this long seemed the height of rudeness. So we waited. More silence.

At long last, his train of thought pulled back in to the paint counter, and he began peppering us with questions about the barn:

Q: “Does it stay pretty warm in there?”
A: “Uh, no George.”
Q: “But warmer than outside?”
A: “Well, there’s no insulation and holes in the walls, so, no.”
Q: “How’s the moisture?”
A: “Uh, moist.”

This went on for quite awhile longer until I ducked away for the ladies room. I took my time, and when I came back, Popsey was dejectedly heading for the cashier clutching a can of the standard polyurethane.

Green-building, 0. Chemical industry: 1

Next up: the insulation saga.


  1. Word. Society is not going to care about this until three minutes after the last possible second.

    We're doomed.

  2. I'm getting this feeling too, but maybe I've seen too many Mad Max or Waterworld type movies. I'm compelled to make a reasonable effort, considering the alternatives. Don't worry... hopefully we'll be on to cheerier subjects at some point soon.