Even if you don't have a home improvement project, the Alt Build Expo, showcasing alternative building materials and design, is a great event that will inspire you with all the ways people have devised for making our lives more healthy and more earth-friendly without sacrificing beauty or comfort.
I was surprised at first at how eager folks were to talk to me, since I rent and am not a likely customer for many of the construction materials and home improvement products. Soon I realized that these people love their products, love that the things they have to offer are good in both senses of the word: good in quality and good in - well- goodness.
The Alt Build Expo was started five years ago by Executive Director Christine Dzilzelis. At the beginning it was just a good idea, and she put together the first event with a few people and a powerful desire to give regular folks and builders access to all the great innovators in the sustainable, eco-friendly community.
In the intervening years, the public attitude toward environmentalism has shifted dramatically. Now that people accept the need to change the way we live, consumers are demanding green goods and services. Alt Build Expo, having anticipated the shift in consciousness, is a fantastic resource for anyone with an interest in the ways a home can be green.
The first booth that caught my eye when I walked in was the American Clay demonstration area. The clay paint, or plaster, is a wallcovering put on with trowels instead of brushes and has a stucco-like surface. But it is radically different from stucco in that the clay is unsealed, which means you don’t have to worry about drying time. Just spritz water to keep it damp. Any stain, even a Sharpie, can be removed. Not only is it free of noxious fumes when drying ( I can no longer paint with regular paints. I get a horrible headache.), the clay paint produces negative ions even after it has dried, helping neutralize the effects of electronics and appliances.
Solar power booths were everywhere. With energy prices rising, people are taking a hard look at installing an alternative energy source in their homes. I stopped at Sunpower Systems booth because they not only had solar panels, they had a small wind turbine for residential power. When they told me the price, I was shocked. With local and state rebates, a 1 kilowatt turbine system could be installed for about what your tax rebate will be. A kilowatt is more than most people use for home power, and Sunpower Systems includes a grid tie in with the installation, so that what you don’t use you can sell back to the power company.
One of the most fun exhibits was the Pods Are Us outdoor gazebo/tent/nature habitat.
Using recycled lumber and billboard fabric, they create moveable open-air buildings in one of three designs. The model on display at the Expo had a constant crowd, I think in part because it has the feel of a childhood playhouse, but for adults. Next to it was a very shiny fireless stove. The concave mirrored bottom focuses light to heat a pot suspended over it. The reflector tilts to catch the sun and made me wish for some marshmallows and a stick.
Not all the products were big ticket items. Earth Friendly Moving has rentable moving boxing. Instead of buying and then throwing away cardboard boxes when you move, Earth Friendly Moving will deliver their packing boxes to you and then pick them up from your new address when you finish.
They rent the boxes by the week and they also sell packing materials made out of recycled cereal boxes and newspapers.
There were some surprising businesses that are not so much about buying as using or reusing what you have. The ReDiscover Center uses throwaway paper and plastic products and repurposes them in art and toys. Artist SA Schimmel Gold makes portraits using junk mail that she receives, turning trash into art. The Floor Whisperer polishes concrete floors to a shine that makes buying new flooring material to go over a concrete slab seem like a waste of materials and energy.
Other products at the Expo were a surprise. For example, synthetic grass.
Duane Ruth of Synlawn explained that he got two polar opposite reactions from people coming to his booth. Some where aghast at the idea of nylon grass replacing the natural green stuff. Others were pleased with the possibility of satisfying the aesthetic of lawn, so basic to our idea of landscape, without wasting all the water necessary to keep it green.
Not all the exhibitors were manufacturers or service providers. Some were stores who specialize in green products such as Livingreen, a company that started with a store in Santa Barbara, and now has storefronts in Montecito and Los Angeles. Living Green was also handing out free bags to the Expo attendees.
One shopper remarked as he was given one that he could always use another bag for his groceries, reflecting the ethos of many of the Alt Build Expo attendees. These folks are already past the shift from “paper or plastic” to bringing their own bag to the checkout aisle. As such, the giveaway is a great way for a store that wants to draw a ‘green’ clientele to plant itself in their minds.
One aspect of going green is a focus on local products. Vernare is a West Hollywood store that specializes in green interior design products for the home and office that are also local. The stream of people wanting to know more about products for their home or builders interested in having a green resource was constant and heavy. The products time and again caused people to marvel.
A man and wife shopping for a kitchen counter were delighted with a true white countertop material made from paper. He was skeptical of its durability and the damage kitchen knives could do. Vernare co-founder Nicole Landers handed him the sample so he could try to scratch it with his key. He gave it a good rip, and saw that the key did leave a mark. But the mark turned out to be the key itself carbonizing. The mark rubbed off and the sample was untouched.
For a break from the exhibits, the Expo had a place to stop and eat.
The Sustainable Cafe operated by Jackson Catering offered delicious vegan food for a very reasonable price. I had planned on making the rounds of the Expo in about an hour. I ended up staying almost four hours and even then found myself wondering where the time had gone.
Even if you are not in the home improvement frame of mind, the next time Alt Build Expo comes around, it is a fascinating and enjoyable event where you are bound to find at least one project or product that excites your imagination. And all of it will make you feel happy to be a part of the human race trying to do its best to live better and beautifully.
Alt Build Expo website