Peter Thiel famously said that "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters." Alternatively, we look back at homes from our parents and grandparents and mock them for their quaintness and their failures. Pink marble formica? Hah! Gas furnace wrapped with asbestos insulation? Hah! Shag carpeted conversation pit!!? Hah, hah, hah!! Lead paint, lead water service lines, lead faucet fixtures!!!!? If it weren't so sad . . . we'd laugh.
So what are the things we take for granted today, assume we have no choice to use and that will surely cause our grandchildren to mock us? Plenty!
Our homes today, while better in some ways than those built even a decade ago, are making some tragic and unnecessary mistakes. Consider the following facts:
1. According to the American Lung Association, indoor air quality can be more polluted and more unhealthy than the outdoor air.
2. Toxic chemicals can be found in shower curtains, mattresses, carpeting, sofas and many other household items. Flame retardants, glues and vinyl plasticizers have chemicals known to cause cancer, are neurotoxins or hormone disrupters.
3. Without thought we pipe flammable, deadly gas into our homes for the dryer, stove, furnace and water heater. Each year nearly 500 people die in the U.S. from non fire related CO poisoning. Between 2007 and 2011 nearly 220,000 homes burned from cooking or heating fires.
4. We pee in our drinking water. Yup. It's true. All the water used in the home comes in one pipe as clean drinking water then out another as sewage. Our water treatment and sewage systems nationwide were built many decades ago and have reached the end of their useful life.
In the future, our grandkids might just ask us "did you really poop in fresh drinking water?" "Did you really cook your food with a poisonous gas?" And "what was up with all those word art sculptures all over the kitchen? Did you really need to be reminded by giant teal-painted wood letters to 'EAT'?"
These are just a few things our ancestors will mock us for. My daughters are growing up in a home that is all-electric and powered with electricity harvested from the sun through the roof. They will not know what it is like to grow up in a home that burns things and requires alarms to warn of dangerous leaks that could cause sudden death. Their car is electric so they will never know what it's like to drive with the noise or exhaust of a combustion engine. They may wonder why we ever did.
They will take for granted that when you paint a room it has no odor and emits no volatile organic compounds that are harmful to human health. They will wonder why we didn't always turn our rainwater into drinking water or why we didn't reuse the water from our laundry to flush toilets or water the garden.
All homes in the future will come with water reuse systems that capture and filter water from our showers and washing machines. All homes will manage their waste using onsite treatment. The floors, counters, furniture, and paints will all be free from Red List materials that are known to be hazardous to human health. We'll have to answer to those children when they ask why we ever allowed such things to be brought into our homes.
We have the ability today to rid our homes of all of these things that are hazardous to ourselves, our families, our communities and our planet. We know that to meet our needs over the next 50 years we need to rethink our energy, water and manufacturing systems. Shouldn't we be working to get there as soon as possible?
Check out the NRDC's advice on How to Buy a Safer Sofa