Here are 12 fun and challenging green DIY projects:
Milk Paint. Before oils came along to create an indelible, toxic mess, paints were made from milk, lime and earth. It’s one of the oldest human traditions known – for example, the 16,000 year old cave paintings at Lascaux in France use this eco-friendly mixture of pigments.
Fancy making your own? Take your pick of methods: dry milk, water and vegetable dye or a quart of skimmed milk, an ounce of lime and some coloring. If you’re feeling brave you can experiment with earths and oxides, but places like The Real Milk Paint Company will happily sell you a range of tailored pigments. Your only problem? Every home-made pot will be a slightly different shade unless you measure precisely.
Radiator lining. Wall-mounted radiators have a design flaw – they radiate heat in all directions, one being directly into the wall. And with the big wide world on the other side of it, there’s no way you’re going to appreciably warm that one up. The result is a huge amount of lost heat energy – up to 70% in some cases.
The answer is to put something in the way. There are various hi-tech solutions, such as this radiator booster, but there’s a quick and cheap way to do it yourself, which is to line the wall with tin foil, the most reflective side facing the radiator. The heat will be bounced back into the room and your heating bill will plummet. I’m sure you can think of an artful, tasteful way to do it.
Sun Jar. Some of us thought fireflies, others thought Tinkerbell…but we all agree that Sun and Moon Jars are mesmerizing creations. And not too complicated to build, either. Have a look at the detailed walkthrough over at Not Martha (but pay attention to their closing comment that in this case, the real thing is far superior in sun-gathering and light-emitting ability).
Household Cleaner. Most of the household cleaners you see on the shelves work on a simple principle: people want results. They cut to the chase by using a truly dreadful cocktail of toxic substances to blast germs into the beyond – and you can smell them even when the lid’s on. That’s not good. Happily, there are now cleaner, greener alternatives such as products by Ecover and The Clean Environment Company.
But there’s a more versatile cleaner waiting to be assembled in your larder right now. All you need is bicarbonate of soda, some lemons, white vinegar (not malt – too pungent) and some standard-grade olive oil. And here’s how to use them to effectively tackle most cleaning jobs under the sun.
Stain removal. What about those really stubborn stains that cling on like a limpet in a rock pool? Grass, blood, motor oil, ink, or a drop of your favourite organic wine. Again, the general response is The End Justifies The Means, i.e. absurdly potent bleaches that do the job at the expense of environmental health. Yet there are plenty of safe, strong alternatives, such as concentrated orange cleaner, table salt or corn starch – all leaving the environment just as you found it. (Compare this with the headache of safely disposing of toxic household substances).
Pillow cases. Pillow cases, as well as being cases for pillows, are strong-seamed bags in a retro style, lacking handles. In other words, they’re unfinished tote bags – chic crusaders against the nuisance of urban tumbleweed. So at the end of their bed-life or sofa-life, upcycle them into the latest in supermarket fashion – and let Instructables lead the way.
Notebooks. Everyone has a favorite type of notebook – for example, reporters gravitate towards the spiral-bound flip style. But the perfect notebook is made at home with care and attention and not a little love. Any unwanted paper can be hand-stitched into a sturdy little journal. Get creative (like the people who use elephant dung to make notebook paper). Horde any good paper, such as the better kind of junk mail. Make a place for your thoughts that’s truly you.
Furniture. There’s a great way to get an entirely new set of furniture for the house, and all it takes is a few choice materials, a set of handy tools, and the prefix “re”. Threadbare sofa? Reupholster it. If it’s scratched? Restore or repaint it. And if you’re feeling particularly brave, you could draw on things with a Sharpie!
Moss. Do-It-Yourself moss? Doesn’t moss tend to do things itself already? Quite true – in fact, moss is virtually unstoppable. You can even break it into a blender, whisk it into a paste with a few other substances, and create a living, growing paint. You can cover entire surfaces, or you can create stunning like the ones seen over at GreenUpgrader. For a primer, try Instructables.
The Sun. Our favourite Earth-dwarfing ball of incandescent gas is the source of a million eco-friendly DIY projects. Not forgetting how human beings are themselves solar powered, there are many ways to use the free energy of sunlight. Work out where you can get the most sunlight, and rig up heat-absorbing materials, mirrors (be safe!) and solar panelling – Treehugger has details on how to do this yourself as cheaply as possible. If you have an old satellite dish in the shed, you’ve got a head start.
Turf Roofs. A few decades back, “there’s something growing on the roof” was a sentence designed to galvanize the idle into a bout of guilty DIY. Now it’s something to be proud of. Grass roofs keep houses cool in the summer and insulate them in the winter – and now, after a century of architects turning their noses up at the concept, it’s enjoying a lush comeback.
But how do you do it? Securing strips of turf on a sloping roof is no mean feat – but while you’re reading up on medieval Scandinavian roof designs, there’s a short-cut. The Green Roof Tiles by Toyota Roof Gardens (via Inhabitat) allow you to cheaply, quickly coat your roof in self-watering rubbed-soled layers of Korean velvet grass!
Strategic Gardening. Your garden isn’t there to just look pretty. As well as gently scrubbing the air around your house, it does the same as a turf roof, insulating and cooling as the situation requires. Think about gardening tactics. Where does the wind come from in the winter? Put trees in the way. Where’s the shade in the summer, and water for the local wildlife? How about a bird feeder and a bee hotel? How about letting it all run a little wilder than you’re used to?
If you’ve recently tackled a novel eco-friendly DIY challenge, tell us about it.