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Practical Sustainability: Take Off Your Shoes!

Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of PANPOTE at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This month’s Practical Sustainability column describes how you can save money and improve the healthiness of your home – with zero investment.  All it takes is a willingness to take off your shoes when you come in from outside.

While we occasionally relax our “no shoes inside” habit when we host a dinner party, for our family taking our shoes off before we come inside is the norm.  But what does this have to do with sustainability, you might wonder?  The answer is a whole lot! 

Removing your shoes at the door extends the life of your carpets and floors.  Tiny pebbles between the treads of our sneakers can scratch our wood floors.  And dirt on the bottoms of our loafers will rub off onto our rugs and floors.  By reducing the wear and tear on our floors and carpets, we’re extending their life span – and delaying the time until they need to be recycled or sent to a landfill.

Because our rugs and floors generally stay cleaner if we remove our shoes before entering, we’re spending less time vacuuming and mopping.  We’re using less electricity to run the vacuum, and purchasing fewer cleaning supplies for mopping and stain removal.  While the financial benefits of reduced maintenance might be hard to quantify, we know intuitively that we’re keeping a few dollars in our pockets by having cleaner floors.

Most importantly, by keeping our “outside shoes” beyond the threshold of our home, we are contributing to a healthy indoor environment.  Nine years ago, our dog Ginger came into our lives.  And that was a real eye opener!  I am more aware now of what has been deposited on the city sidewalks just outside our home.  All you need is to experience one case of canine giardia and that’ll have you wiping your dog’s feet every time she comes in from a walk!

If you live in the suburbs, what you track inside on the bottoms of your shoes may be different from the toxins that lurk on city sidewalks, but they’re still potentially harmful.  Pesticides and weed killers can remain on your lawn for up to a week after they are applied.  As you walk across the lawn, your shoes are picking up those toxins.  You may also track pollen and other allergens inside after a walk in the neighborhood.  When you pass through your garage to get into the house, you may pick up oil and other contaminants form the garage floor.

The LEED for Homes green building program awards a point toward certification to projects that “design a shoe removal and storage space near the primary entryway, separated from living areas.”  The area must include seating and storage space for two pairs of shoes for each bedroom in the home.  According to the LEED® for Homes Reference Guide, “debris carried into the house from shoes often contains lead, asbestos, pesticides, and other hazardous materials…One of the most effective approaches to reducing indoor contaminants is removing shoes upon entry.”  Good Morning America found that shoe soles were “dirtier than a toilet seat” in a 2008 study conducted by the ABC News production.

Taking off your shoes at the door is common sense and costs you nothing.  But it could save you time and money on home maintenance, and can lead to a healthier indoor environment.  So what are you waiting for?  Take off your shoes at the door when you get home from work today. 

Now that’s what I call Practical Sustainability!

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