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Lisa Sharkey on “Healthy Child Healthy World”

Submitted by on Thursday, 20 November 20082 Comments

From the Blog SIte, Healthy Child Healthy World November 11, 2008:

Five years ago, when my husband and I made the decision to dive into the world of green design with a gut renovation of a long-neglected Manhattan townhouse, we knew we were taking a leap of faith. Although we both had long been devoted to healthy living (way before that was mainstream), eco-friendly design was something new for us. But when we learned that we could make our home healthier for our children by building green, as well as do the responsible thing for the planet, we felt sustainable design was the only choice worth making.

We learned about green homes from an amazing couple, Jim and Nancy Chuda, the founders of Healthy Child Healthy World. I attended a fundraiser for their groundbreaking organization at the very same time as my husband, architect Paul Gleicher, and I had decided to buy an eyesore of an 1885 townhouse in Manhattan. I learned, that night, about the Chuda’s story, how they lost their precious young daughter to an environmental cancer, how they had turned tragedy into a mission to help others lead healthier lives with their families. And they told me about the green house they were building in Southern California. Considering the lives we had been living up to that point, our chance meeting seemed more destiny than coincidence.

Our family of five had been integrating alternative medicines and organic foods into our lifestyle way before it became chic. With our three children, Greg, Doug, and Casey, making healthy choices is a priority. We’re always willing to look into new paths to wellness, from homeopathic medicine to chemical free baby wipes. After doing extensive research on a health topic, I would often announce to my husband Paul, “We’re only eating organic!” or “We’re trying Reiki!”. Paul, ever supportive, usually goes along for the ride. And we’ve always found that these lifestyle changes have only made our lives better.

My eureka moment with the Chudas happened when they discussed the crucial and frightening link between what’s in your home and your health. I was fascinated-it was an entirely new world. The night of the fundraiser, I barely made it through the door back home when I saw Paul and exclaimed, “We’re building a green house!”. Paul, wearing the hats of husband and of architect, signed on immediately. He had long been interested in eco-friendly architecture. Our lives have never been the same since.

At the time, green building was still on the fringes, and finding contractors, suppliers, materials, finishes, paints, flooring, furniture, appliances, and fabrics that fit our stringent requirements wasn’t easy. We wanted our house to be free of dangerous chemicals, as energy efficient as possible, and filled with only with sustainable or recycled materials.

The Chudas helped provide some of their resources which gave us a great jump start in the process. But finding many of the additional resources and people who knew about environmentally conscious residential building in Manhattan was a major challenge. We found ourselves explaining green to the contractors, the painters, our children, and our friends. The more we discussed the benefits of building this way, like lower energy bills and cleaner air inside your home, the more we were certain that we had made the right choice.

Many late nights searching online and hours on the phone led us to beautiful fabrics, comfortable and glamorous furniture, and recycled materials, all of which were easy on the earth. We were lucky that our research led us to so many wonderful people who told us what worked, what didn’t, and where to find environmentally-friendly companies and products.

What we could have really used at the time was the book we have just written! When we started out, we looked for a coffee table book that would inspire us with pictures of gorgeous green homes, tales of the road to living green, and resources for eco-companies. It didn’t exist. So we decided to write our own book to share what we’ve learned and showcase other stunning houses across the country. It’s been an incredible journey and we’ve been thrilled to find such an awe-inspiring variety of homes and homeowners from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale. We found that green homes do come in every size, shape, and imaginable style. There’s cutting edge design, like the ultra-sleek house overlooking the Pacific made entirely out of refrigeration panels by eco-superstar architect David Hertz. But we also found plenty of homes to suit more classic tastes, like environmental activist Laura Seydel’s grand, elegant, antiques-filled house in Georgia.

There’s certainly no specific type of person who lives in a green house. The homeowners we met run the gamut, including young couples living in their first place, single fathers, and retirees who finally built their dream house. While some homeowners were ardent environmentalists like the Bennetts who dry their laundry outside, ride their bikes to work, and grow their own produce, there were others like Paul Riili, who purchased his home for its industrial chic style, but was inspired by his green house to outfit it with furniture and accessories made out of recycled materials. We also met several other architects who designed their own homes green to push the envelope and explore new eco-technologies. Pioneering architect Michael McDonough even built an experimental house that’s a livable lab, where he tests out the feasibility of hundreds of eco-ideas to inspire other architects, builders, and homeowners.

While there’s a common misconception that it costs more to live green, we found houses that fit a range of budgets. Massachusetts-based architect Mary Ann Thompson, who primarily does large-scale projects, took on designing a home for the Bennett family partly to see if she could build a sustainable home for the same cost as a conventional one. The simple, understated home accomplished her goal, and it’s beautiful to boot. In some cases, like the Goldbergs in Seattle and the Skillman family in Northern California, they were able to build incredible houses for even less, thanks to their willingness to do much of the work themselves. Talk about inspiring.

What all these families have in common is that they are incredible pioneers. They didn’t go the easy route by building green. It would have been a much faster, simpler, less trying process for them to just pick out whatever cabinets or flooring or insulation that was available. Because of their hard work, passion and drive, you will have an easier time going green.

We hope that you’ll be as moved and inspired by these stories and these beautiful homes as we were. We hope that even if you make just a small change in your life, it will be a green one. We believe green feels great, looks great, and makes a difference.

So thank you Jim and Nancy Chuda, thank you Healthy Child, you are our inspiration and we hope our book will help pave a new path down the green brick road!

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