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EARTH DAY SERIES: Atlanta's Green Roofs and Green Homes - EcoManor

Green roof on EcoManor in Atlanta, GA
EcoManor's green roof. Photo credit: Cloud Conrad

A body can only handle so much exposure to toxins from the chemicals we are exposed to every day before it will rebel.  Many people don’t realize that chemical residues and vapors are readily absorbed by our skin and the exposures often accumulate in our bodies over time, possibly creating problems themselves or interacting with other stored toxins to make us sick.  The nearly invisible doses seem so harmless that we don’t recognize any danger.  But that word, “Danger!” is meant to signal to us that a product contains substances which can be harmful or fatal in a dose as small as a taste to as large as a teaspoonful for a 180-pound male.  If that little can kill me, I wonder what walking barefoot across its chemical residues on my kitchen floor is doing to me over time.  What about my dogs?  When I started looking into it, I learned that these hidden dangers are lurking throughout our homes.

This was the sort of epiphany Laura Turner Seydel experienced, except she had solid evidence of her family’s exposure levels.  Seydel, her son and her father Ted all underwent the Environmental Working Group’s toxic body burden test, screened for the presence of about 80 chemicals in the body.  “There was a clear distinction between the toxic chemical levels in the three generations,” Seydel told me.  “My father showed hardly any traces.  I showed some and my son showed a lot of exposures to toxins such as flame retardants, Teflon, mercury, lead, plasticizers, phthalates, even rocket fuel.”  This generational difference underscores two generally accepted tenets: (1) technological advancements in every facet of our lives inherent with modernization commonly introduce poisons to our bodies and (2) children are more vulnerable than adults to the toxic and repeat exposures we all experience every day.

EcoManor, Seydel’s eco-friendly LEED certified home, was inspired in part by the health benefits of green living practices.  Seydel and her husband share a passion for environmental philanthropy and activism and certainly EcoManor is the manifestation of this drive and commitment.  However EcoManor also attends to the well-being of its inhabitants through careful selection of building materials, furnishings, upholstery and even cleaning products.  “As a mother, once I learned what my child was being exposed to I began to place a high value on creating an eco-friendly environment to protect my family.  I was willing to pay more to protect our health and well-being.”

EcoManor has earned six environmental certifications in all.  It is one of the first five personal residences in the country to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.  Seydel’s home is an Earthcraft certified home, signifying it meets certain criteria as a healthy environment with good indoor air quality while minimizing environmental impact.  EcoManor is also a certified wildlife habitat. 

Among the home’s healthier appointments are marmoleum flooring, low VOC paints, pressed hay straw cabinets and wheat straw doors (manufactured without formaldehyde or toxic adhesives), natural fiber upholstery and drapes and green cleaning products made from plant extracts.  From an environmental standpoint, the home incorporates numerous green practices including rainwater harvesting, gray water irrigation, energy efficient Bosch kitchen appliances and solar panels on the roof.  EcoManor has employed strategic site planning, burying a three-car garage under a backyard green roof.  The green roof and rainwater collection system help keep rainwater on site.  The green roof also provides a wildlife sanctuary with native plants and herbs and a water feature, whereas an asphalt roof on a typical Buckhead three-car garage would deplete resources on which wildlife subsists. 

EcoManor represents the changing residential design values of progressive Atlantans, shifting away from an egocentric approach focused on personal comfort towards green practices and environmental stewardship for long-term sustainability benefiting whole communities and civilizations.  For an interactive tour of EcoManor that will give you some great ideas about greening your own home, visit the EcoManor website.