Hiring contractors: Eco-friendly vs. eco-fake

HOUSTON - Thanks to a growing list of green companies and products, living in an eco-friendly home is attainable. Homeowners now have green options for everything from insulation and flooring to lawn fertilizer and paint. When it comes to going green around your home, there are some things consumers can do to make sure they are getting eco-friendly and not eco-fake.

"When you are painting, you can use non-toxic, low-VOC paint. Even housecleaners are looking at eco-friendly opportunities, using eco-friendly products when cleaning. My guess is this trend is going to continue and become more and more important," said Angie Hicks, the creator of the service referral website, Angie's List.

So it should come as no surprise when people look to hire they want service providers to be just as green. A recent Angie's List survey found 70 percent of users are interested in going green when it comes to service companies while 15 percent said they hire companies that are exclusively green.

Hicks said consumers should be warned the word "green" means different things to different people.

"With green practices being a new trend, consumers are a little skeptical that they truly are providing green services," said Hicks.

Check that the company has earned its green certification in its fields and then contact the agencies to confirm it. Hicks says don't stop at the ads or pretty websites. Do some digging.

"Don't take it for face value. Ask a lot of questions, so that you are sure what they say they are offering you is actually what you are getting," Hicks said.

You can check a company's answers with groups like the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies safe harvesting of wood or the National Fenestration Rating Council, which certifies windows for energy performance or products earning the Energy Star or Watersense labels to ensure energy and water efficiency.

A good indicator is LEED certification. It means an independent, third party has verified the high performance standards in the work and the selected materials.

Do your homework so your green intentions are not wasted.

Hiring Eco-friendly tips:

  • Scrutinize ads: Advertising often misleads consumers with words, artwork and vague or exaggerated statements.
  • Seek certifications: Companies that care about the environment should take the time to earn industry-specific green certifications from a reputable third party, such as LEED, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) or the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Membership in NARI or NAHB doesn't guarantee the company is green. Check that the company has earned their green certification for design and construction.
  • Do your homework: Confirm green training, licensing (if applicable), credentials, and work practices. Solar panel installers, for example, require licensing in some states.
  • Track materials: Ask companies if they use sustainable products, such as the Forest Stewardship Council's certified wood from sustainably harvested forests. The National Fenestration Rating Council certifies windows for energy performance, and products earning the Energy Star or WaterSense labels ensure energy and water efficiency.
  • Have a conversation: Take time to make sure your potential hires know that work practices that protect the environment are important to you. As you discuss your priorities, you'll get a good feel for whether the contractors share your passion. It will set your project off to a great green start.

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