My fellow home-makeover TV addicts know Carter Oosterhouse from his many gigs on shows like Trading Spaces (throwback alert!) and Million Dollar Rooms. Now, the well-coiffed home expert is sharing his wisdom as host and mentor on on the FYI Network’s Rowhouse Showdown. Needless to say, 500(!) home makeovers in, the guy’s got some serious intel. Carter is particularly passionate about eco-friendly living, so I chatted with him to find out how we can all be a little greener at home.
GLAMOUR: Are there any easy little ways everyone can be more eco-friendly at home that people might not have considered?
Carter Oosterhouse: There are so many. I think the number one would be composting. My wife [actress Amy Smart] and I composted and recycled at our wedding and we only had one bag of trash. So if we can do that at our wedding, you can definitely do that in your home. It’s just taking the time to do it. We have a little stainless-steel pail that sits on our countertop. Literally we’re emptying that thing at least once a day. Also, don’t use paper towels—you use them once and then you throw them away. If you’re cleaning your countertops, you can use a rag that you can just wash and reuse. When you get more into the home space, lights are easily transferable now, to LEDs instead of incandescents. And even if you have recessed lighting in your house, it’s becoming easier and easier for any do-it-yourselfer to transfer lights in your house to LEDs or even halogen. They’re a bigger cost up front, but you’re going to recoup that over time.
GLAMOUR: What’s better for the environment: Buying used furniture or buying new but eco-friendly pieces?
CO: The fact is, five years ago we didn’t even realize we had this opportunity to be buying eco-friendly items, but now they’re so readily available. And of course, you can still go to a secondhand store—a Habitat for Humanity resale store or something like that—those are great to find secondhand items that otherwise would have been somebody’s garbage, but now can be these fantastic pieces. And maybe it’s not a sofa or a chair, but maybe it is a side table or a coffee table. You can find that very easily, and you can still make it your own, whether you paint it or you ding it up to make it look more vintage-y than it actually is. So, both [options] are good. I do love going to secondhand stores though. And then when you have those pieces, they become these talking points in your home, so you look so much cooler.
GLAMOUR: That’s an excellent point—it’s all about the story. So, one of our editors just moved into a place that doesn’t have a dishwasher, like so many city apartments. So she wants to know: Is hand-washing dishes more or less eco-friendly than a dishwasher?
CO: Dishwashers have grown leaps and bounds. They use less water now than they ever have before, and you can use them on the “eco” setting when it’s already an Energy Star-rated appliance. To her point, it’s sort of like driving a car. Some people drive a car really hard and stop and go all the time and use gas a lot faster. It’s sort of the same with washing dishes. If you’re leaving the water on the whole time while you’re hand-washing dishes, you’re probably wasting more water that way.
GLAMOUR: What are some earth-friendly ways to cool your home without turning on the AC?
CO: Obviously you can install ceiling fans in your home, which a lot of people are against [for aesthetic reasons]. Also, shades and blinds. The majority of the reason it gets so warm is windows. Take our home in Michigan, for example. We don’t have air conditioning in it, but it gets really warm here in the summertime, and we have all these windows. But as long as we keep the blinds down and the curtains shut on our westerly facing windows during a certain time period, the house stays so much cooler. So, window treatments. The short answer would be window treatments.
GLAMOUR: What should consumers look for when shopping for eco products? Are there certain materials to avoid?
CO: Look for how it was made. If you see a green label certification, chances are good that there was more eco thought put into it. Does that make it the perfect item? Not always, but there was some of that thought put into it and that label is significant. For instance, furniture. Even if the wood is FSC-certified—which is a great sign because it means it was sustainably harvested—sometimes the adhesives that they use could have VOCs [ed note: That would be volatile organic compounds]. There’s always those hidden little things that you may not know about or see. Look for where they came from too. If something is American-made, we probably didn’t have to expend a lot of energy to get it here.
GLAMOUR: Are there any brands you particularly love for those reasons?
CO: Cambria countertops. Those are great countertops and I love using them because they’re a quartz composite material. They’re not just marble or granite where it’s a stone taken away—it’s a composite so you aren’t using as much product. And they’re extremely durable. The other would be Urban Floor. They make a really good engineered hardwood floor. There’s hardwood, there’s engineered, and then there’s laminate. Engineered usually lasts about 20 to 30 years, and with Urban you can actually sand them down and use them again, and a lot of engineered and definitely laminate floors do not have that quality, but Urban does. Another one is Pella windows. I know a lot of people know of them but they’re making a lot of really cool windows—since we were talking about keeping the sun out and whatnot. They make a lot of windows that have that more urban look to them, as well as being eco-friendly and blocking the sun out and all that.
GLAMOUR: So you’ve got the new show, Rowhouse Showdown. What can you tell us about your role on it?
CO: For me, a guy who’s always been in the building seat, if you will, after 10 years of being on TV, I get to mentor people and tell them what’s doable and what’s not doable. And that’s such a fun part for me on the show. Not only do I get to host it but I get to critique their work and tell them to speed up, slow down, repaint this, whatever it may be. For me it was a learning experience—I realized, wow, all those years did pay off and I am able to give everyone words of wisdom back. You look back at all those makeovers—one thing I always tell people is that I’ve done over 500 makeovers on TV, and that experience has definitely given me the opportunity now to do a show like this.
GLAMOUR: So what’s the biggest lesson learned after those 500 makeovers?
CO: With design, it’s so subjective, but things are constantly evolving. That’s the beauty of what we’ve seen in the design space. The old rustic, sort of “chic” look is still there, but even that style is now sort of phasing out. So you see it evolving and it’s a really fun thing to see. You feel like you’ve sort of reached the end and then you’re like “oh, I didn’t realize this was happening” and that’s really fun.
Great tips, right? For more, don’t miss Carter on Rowhouse Showdown Wednesdays at 8 P.M. ET on the FYI Network!