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Natural oil hardwood flooring finishes gain popularity as consumers get more familiar with product benefits Some would say that using plant-based oils to finish a hardwood floor is unique. Not the norm, the road less-traveled and, possibly not suited for standing up to high traffic. But with the number of customers who are beginning to ask about oil or low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) floor finishes, I would have to say that a trend is emerging. And floors that are standing up to customers and spilled drinks in a downtown Cincinnati bar where the floor was finished with plant-based oil last fall is debunking doubt about durability.

Demand will mean more product selection, but can your retailer tell you what standards a product meets? Even if you are not consciously seeking people- or planet- friendly products, it’s more likely in 2013 that the product you buy will have some environmental advantage -- particularly if it’s a building or interior finishing product. The U.S. green building market has grown from $10 billion in 2005 to an estimated $85 billion in 2012, with expectations that it will exceed $200 billion by 2016, according to a recently published analysis by Environmental Building News. The top motivators behind this movement? Health-related factors including indoor-air quality, in addition to energy use reduction, according to U.S. and global surveys. Not building a new home? These findings still affect you.

Painstaking remake of historic Rauh home in Cincinnati means authentic replication, along with new, environmental features The squares within the new parquet floor had to be just so. They were the design foundation in restoring the former home of Frederick and Harriet Rauh in Wyoming, Ohio – one of the oldest Modernist residences in the state, built in 1938. All you have to do to understand this is to look at all the squares and rectangles in the flat-roofed, International Style home designed by architect John Becker. A grand landmark in its day, the home eventually fell victim to deterioration and vandalism. But with funds donated by Emily Rauh Pulitzer, and the expertise of noted Cincinnati architects and contractors, the Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) oversaw a two-year renovation, completed this year, and returned the building to its original glory. With some new, modern efficiency improvements, the project is setting new standards for historical preservation.

Glass backsplash adds just the right color and dimension In a perfect world, you would remodel your master bathroom all at once, making every selection in advance to ensure all components of the finished product complement each other. In reality, remodeling in stages is sometimes forced upon us. In this case, the latest addition of a recycled glass countertop, new vanity, mirrored cabinets and sink were supposed to mark the completion of this bathroom overhaul. But there was something noticeably missing. The counter area needed a backsplash for a finished look that pulled the whole room together.

Repurposed wood, certified dimensional tile and natural, zero-VOC finishes position new Cincinnati bar for lasting attention Architects and designers know that designing the perfect bar means creating a unique atmosphere for respite and escape. It must invite, perhaps with warm, dimly lit nooks perfectly suited for comfortable conversation.  It must have an attention-getting focal point, and logical pathways that help customers find their way through the building. Now add to that a requirement for a natural aesthetic that uses building materials that are better for people and the planet. For the design-build team coordinated by Core One Resources in Cincinnati, OH, this meant reusing floor joists for interior woodwork and wall paneling, restoring salvageable wood floors, laying environmentally certified tile and finishing new and old wood floors with odorless, Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)-free natural oil. No, the architect explains, this was not done to seek tax abatements through Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) certification. No certification was sought. Is it possible that today’s green building standards have become common practice for the creators of this new, downtown Sixth Street bar, who simply see environmental considerations as the right thing to do?

When are pigments dangerous? Q. I just read your article titled “Part Three: The Problem with Paint” published on January 19th, 2011. I have two questions: You had interviewed the owner of Earth Paint, Inc. and he said that "pigments used to color paint should be chosen carefully as the dust from raw earth pigments is often more toxic than synthetic pigments." Is there any way to find out what kind of pigments they use in AFM Safecoat paints? Please advise. I am pregnant and we are planning to paint our house next week and any information you can provide will help us make our decision about which paint to buy. Also, AFM Safecoat has two kinds of paint: Their regular Safecoat and their new AFM Naturals. Which is better? A.  AFM and its dealers use special zero-VOC liquid machine colorants, eliminating the risk of any dust exposure. Unless you are actually mixing dry powder pigments yourself, pigment dust ingestion or inhalation could only occur if you are sanding previously painted surfaces in preparation for a new paint job. Wet sanding and a painter's mask are recommended to avoid this still unlikely exposure.

Research indicates LED day-time health benefit, but possible nighttime risk It’s not yet cost-effective for residential use. But Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology is improving every day and ultimately slated to replace most other artificial light forms. Will it yield, I ask hopefully, a more natural and healthful light than the compact fluorescent light bulbs I am using? “You seek the Holy Grail,” answers Phil Richards, a senior instructor with The Juno Lighting Group. “And what you are asking about is an amazingly complex topic, currently being addressed by the American Medical Association (AMA) and medical societies in the European Union as well.” The AMA issued an alert in June because of research that shows certain types of nighttime lighting suppress our natural circadian rhythm, and shift-workers have been shown to have an increased incidence of breast cancer and other medical conditions.  Additional research published in April suggests a possible reason: The blue light -- in LED and all non-incandescent light forms in use today -- affects non-visual, blue-sensitive photoreceptors in the retina, which in turn suppresses melatonin production.

Flooring retailers and distributors see roadblock in FSC certification requirement Flooring retailers and distributors -- who have learned they must have Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification in order to sell FSC-certified products that count as certified wood under the U.S. Green Building Council’s rules -- are questioning whether FSC rules have gone too far. FSC certification is the hallmark of sustainably harvested wood. While it is the only certification accepted for certified wood by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in awarding credit under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, the USGBC acknowledges that it has not strictly enforced certification requirements on retailers. Flooring manufacturers who produce certified products have FSC certification and must package and clearly label FSC-certified products. Some retailers who then sell those products argue that they are not repackaging or altering the materials, and should not have to pay to get certified. Depending on sales volume, a wholesale flooring distributor or retailer can expect to pay $2,000 and up annually for achieving and maintaining certification. “Does it pencil out to become certified?,” asks Mark Thompson, sales manager for Major Brands Floor Supply /Abbey Carpet & Floor of Seattle. “Is it something that will drive business toward me? If the certification is so watered-down that every other store down the street is certified, then what goal was achieved? Some Eco-capitalist got more chumps to buy into his ‘label.’”