Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

I've been talking for months about greening up my flat with wind turbines and solar panels and converting the loft using eco-friendly materials, and at long last work is beginning. My squeeze and his team are going to do the renovations. I wasn't sure if this would be a good idea, as our relationship is a bit volatile, a concern which, alarmingly, everyone else seemed to share.

My mother insisted it would "end in tears", Donnachadh, my eco-coach, asked: "Is it wise?", while Alex the architect's gloomy silence spoke volumes. I gave their advice serious thought - which I immediately disregarded and employed him anyway.

Work has been going on for 48 hours and, so far, we've only had one very small row - which I take as a good sign. The first job is to repaint my bright red flat with muted Swedish tones. What a relief! It was painted red four years ago when I was going through a flaky spiritual shopping phase and had become a slave to all of London's feng shui consultants. I even ended up dating one of them.

They all said wildly different things, the most plausible insisting the whole flat must be painted red, and, indeed, living in a crimson apartment is very energy boosting - if you go for the stimulating brothel look. But quite suddenly I just couldn't stand it any more.

As I write, my squeeze is poised with his brush, ready to repaint my crimson walls with a muted Swedish/Nantucket sort of colour. Or he would if I had been organised enough to track down some eco-friendly paints. Hence the very small row when I insisted it was his job and he insisted it was mine.

We both thought that at least one of the widely available poncy ranges of paints must be reasonably eco-friendly as they are so expensive - but no. Paints are definitely better than they were; many are now water-based and have lower VOCs (volatile compounds that create ozone, implicated in asthma and many health problems) than ever before. However, even these "purer", low-VOC paints still contain toxic ingredients and are pointlessly tested on animals.

Researches found no building shops that sell 100 per cent pure paint, but fortunately Donnachadh averted a domestic crisis by recommending Ecos Paints, which sells an extensive range of colours, available online. I'm realising that it's one thing to talk about eco building and another to actually track down all the bits and pieces a builder needs.

Good news! The doorbell has just rung and, judging by the grunts of relief emanating from downstairs, this can mean only one thing - the eco-friendly paints have arrived. I shall report back on their effectiveness in due course.

www.ecospaints.com 'Save Cash and Save the Planet' (Collins £12.99) is full of good advice on eco building that is simple enough for totally impractical people to understand.