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A decade of mistakes I wasn’t wise enough to learn from others guides my New Year My father always said that a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. But what happens when you don’t know anyone who made the mistake you’re about to make, and you don’t know you’re about to make a mistake? When I hired a flooring company to install solid strip hardwood flooring in 1998, I was not yet working in the flooring industry. How was I supposed to know to ask about the chemical emissions that would fill the house when they finished the floor with a toxic, oil-based polyurethane? Okay, some people would argue that I should have investigated when the installer mentioned he had liver damage, and assigned the cause to his profession. He did not expound about finishes or less-toxic, water-based options. So, I assumed he was talking about a different liquid all together.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This article was accurate as of the date it was published, and was signed off on by all of the manufacturer sources quoted. That said, manufacturers frequently change their formulations and ingredients, so this article, given its age, becomes background. DO NOT rely on this article for purchasing these manufacturers’ current products.  Low- or Zero-VOC on the label can create a false sense of security It’s almost time to paint two more rooms in my house, and I think I will have tested every mainstream “zero-VOC” paint on the market by the time we are done. I know which brand works best for me, but it’s not a mainstream brand and is not carried by a local retailer. Call me impatient, but ordering paint from another state, or for that matter having to drive for more than 10 minutes to get it, doesn’t work when you need to finish in the time allotted. Custom colors, like the terracotta in my kitchen, sometimes need re-tinting after I test them on the wall. And, inevitably, we run short on non-accent neutrals, which also means another run to the paint store. As someone who does not do well around chemical odors, I can say with certainty and watering eyes that there are irritating ingredients in popular paint brands, even though their labels read “zero-VOC.” More importantly is that low- and zero-VOC labels don’t mean what many people think they do.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) urges FSC boycott in response to failed proposal that would have opened the door for non-FSC products Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is still the only label for sustainable wood products that qualifies for credit under LEED, an important U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) rating system. Despite several years of work and heavy lobbying by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and others  who say their certifications also should qualify, revisions that would have allowed consideration of non-FSC products for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credit have been defeated. “The conclusion of the benchmark process marks a new opportunity to work with the USGBC and other interests to find an alternative and workable solution moving forward,” said Kathy Abusow, SFI Inc. president and CEO, in a written statement released today. But cooperation isn’t a theme in the rest of her message, which urges the building community to ignore the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) credit earned for using FSC-certified wood.

Consider origin, construction, chemical emissions, innovation and responsiveness when you choose cork flooring The call was one no flooring retailer wants.  The customer was furious. Her husband had damaged the cork flooring Cline’s Carpets had just installed in her home outside of West Lafayette, Ind. “She was really honked off, not at us, but at her husband who had done something that took a divot out of the floor,” owner Cary Cline recalls. But a strange thing happened when Cline’s installer went out the next day to make a repair. He couldn’t find any damage. “The flooring had healed itself,” Cline says. Cork flooring, invented more than 100 years ago, is known for its ability to bounce back from abuse. Today’s construction -- which includes engineered flooring and an array of stronger finishes -- has led to a dramatic increase in sales during the past decade.

Does a material that naturally resists mold need Microban? The definitive answer isn’t proven. But USFloors has made up its mind. USFloors, in addition to Qu-Cork supplier Global Market Partners, added Microban – a mold inhibitor – to their cork flooring products some time ago. While Qu-Cork still feels this was a cutting-edge move, USFloors has decided to focus on other ways to lead. At issue, says USFloors Marketing Director Gary Keeble Jr., are concerns about unknown, long-term effects of Triclosan – a bacteria killer that is used in Microban and many consumer products, including toothpaste. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved Triclosan, both agencies have called for more review of the chemical in light of studies that show it alters hormone regulation in animals and might contribute to making bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

U.S. Green Building Council’s certified wood vote ends Nov. 23, while debate over which certification is best intensifies You’ve probably heard about it somewhere.  The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has for some time been considering revisions to rules that determine what wood products qualify as sustainably harvested. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification to date has been the only certification that qualifies a product for credit under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an important “green” building rating system.  The proposal, with voting to conclude Nov. 23, has long been anticipated as a document that would open the door for Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certification and others. “Okay, that’s nice,” you say. “But why do I care?” Because your understanding of these certifications -- and the availability of products that have them -- will affect choices you can make to protect the planet, and possibly, your pocketbook.

Retailer claims to clear air of dust, irritants and mold with its industry-first Healthier Living™ Carpet Installation system  “We’re not going to get done in time,” the carpet installer yelled to his boss on his cell phone after his crew removed the old carpet from my house 13 years ago. “This guy wants to vacuum everything, and he won’t let us get in there.” The carpet installation crew was behind schedule because my husband insisted on vacuuming the subfloor. The old carpet had been there since the house was built. Dust, dirt, wood shavings, construction debris and tell-tale signs of the former owner’s dog were hidden beneath it. The way carpet is installed and maintained has a big impact on indoor-air quality. Even if there is no construction debris under the old carpet, an army of irritants and allergens can become airborne when old carpet is removed, and new carpet is brought in. And if any spills have made their way through the carpet, mildew and mold also might be taking hold of the subfloor.

Part One: A Focus on the Finish You might not see it.  But when you inspect the most popular cork floors, you’ll feel the difference. The surfaces on prefinished cork floors range from rough to smooth. The looks range from stone-like to clear and natural. Only the leaders have obtained “green” certifications that prove their products don’t release harmful levels of chemicals. And there is a little debate over whether some of the harder finishes chosen for durability belong on a softer floor like cork.