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Green building practices and technology will magnify as the cornerstones of mainstream architectural and interior design It was difficult enough to explain the benefits of people- and planet-friendly flooring when I first got into the business years ago. Many flooring dealers I called on would hold back snickers and raise their eyebrows. Had I also mentioned that some buildings would one day be one with nature, or constructed in weeks instead of months, I would have been laughed – and likely escorted – out of the room. Today, a little more than a decade later, those who have not changed their mindsets know not to reveal their opinions in mixed company. Their hometown in Greater Cincinnati, OH., has become a national leader in green building and interior design, and home to some of the most experienced architectural and interior design minds in the country. With help from several of them, I’ve put together this list of national trends that merit attention because they’re here to stay and will guide the future of architectural and interior design.

A growing number of flooring consumers know more about people-friendly products than mainstream flooring salespeople do When a consumer is intent on finding a specific product and spends hours researching it, she might be more knowledgeable than the salesperson when she gets to the store. Jennifer Lutz recalls how frustrated she was when she went to a mainstream flooring store, asking about natural carpet and hard-surface flooring that had third-party indoor-air quality certification. This drove her back to the computer and her Google searches, which put her in contact with Natural Interiors.® “I didn’t feel like the salespeople at the store knew what they were talking about or even understood my questions in regard to certifications and VOCs,” says Lutz of Lebanon, OH. “It is very important to me, and I do not want to spend money to buy a product that does not meet my standards.”

Amish Prefab, a lot of DIY -- and a surprising vinyl plank floor -- combine in a place to call home Rick Hicks was looking for a fixer upper to transform and call home when he decided it was time to downsize in 2015. A mechanical engineer, Rick’s ambition was to have enough land to build a 3-to-4-car garage, where he could work on cars – his hobby and passion. But the best properties listed and were sold quickly, and suitable opportunities were difficult to bid in time. Then, an open piece of land in West Chester, OH, caught his attention. The only building on it was a 30-foot by 40-foot metal garage – perfect for working on cars. “It was like being secluded out in the country but with all the convenience of being in the city,” Rick says. “The hardware store is only a few minutes down the road.”

Once frowned upon by healthy-home experts, engineered hardwood flooring is becoming a people- and planet-friendly choice Engineered-hardwood-diagram-150x150If you are looking for a new hardwood floor in today’s popular, wider widths, you most likely have seen engineered flooring. Unlike solid hardwood flooring, an engineered floor is put together in layers, using adhesives. And when the healthy-home movement began more than a decade ago, these products were a no-no. But with today’s No Added Urea Formaldehyde (NAUF) adhesives, used by many leading manufacturers, concerns about unhealthful chemical emissions are diminishing. And because engineered products use the premium wood species only on the product’s surface, planet-friendly product seekers can make a stronger case for engineered hardwood.

Indoor-Air Quality Certification on original product does not automatically apply when that product is sold under a different name FloorScore LogoMore and more Natural Interiors visitors have been inquiring about flooring products that have names we don’t instantly recognize. These are products from known manufacturers. But the retailer is offering the product under a private-label name. This practice is common in the flooring industry, and the private-label product usually is of the same look and quality as the original. Nonetheless, third-party indoor-air quality certifications – such as FloorScore, GREENGUARD or CRI Green Label Plus – are not automatically transferable to the private-label name.

Complaints about carpet pad odors show that researching the underlayment is just as important as the carpet that goes over it green-labelThe homeowner was almost distraught. She had just invested in a high-quality nylon carpet, only to deal with chemical fumes throughout her home as soon as the installation was complete. Now, she was spending hours doing research on the Internet, and she called Natural Interiors® for help. She had a remnant of the carpet and had isolated it long enough to know that it was not the problem. The odors, she had determined, must be coming from the carpet pad. “Can you tell me about chemical-free wool carpet and pad that you carry?,” she asked. “I am thinking that I may need to redo this whole project.” I replied: “Is the company that sold you the carpet and pad going to give you your money back? It would be a real shame for you to have to pay twice for the same job.”

Temperature changes of winter and summer should remind you to get a hygrometer, even if you don't have hardwood floors DSC_0568Colder temperatures usually mean drier air – inside and outside. That’s why hardwood flooring manufacturers issue written guidelines that the owner must keep indoor relative humidity levels between 39 and 60 percent. When humidity drops too low, the floor with shrink. Too high, it will expand and cup. But most people have no idea what their indoor humidity levels are at any given moment. And there are more reasons to know than just for maintaining your flooring’s health. It is important for your own health, too.

U.S. vinyl flooring manufacturers are aware of the dangers and have taken steps to eliminate phthalates from their vinyl products. To be sure, there are questions you should ask. DSC_0325Q: I have put my plans to put vinyl flooring in my kitchen and family room on hold because of news reports about phthalates in vinyl flooring. Why is this information just coming out now, and can you recommend an LVT (Luxury Vinyl Tile) that does not contain these chemicals? A: This is not new news. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. EPA have been looking at potential health concerns with phthalates for more than a decade. It began in the 1990s, with studies, and then rules restricting phthalate use in children’s items, like rattles and teethers  -- things that they would routinely put in their mouths.  Flooring was not on the list. More recently, the U.S. EPA has issued an action plan for several phthalates, some of which have been used in vinyl flooring.

Questions about chemicals in flooring are now common for the mainstream flooring shopper FloorScore LogoSomething is changing in the flooring industry. Customers are asking more frequently about what chemicals the products contain. Though there is no national statistic on what percent of the population has concerns, it is safe to say that 2015 should go down in history as the year mainstream consumers gained noticeable awareness of how flooring can impact indoor-air quality and human health. It started in March, with the 60 Minutes report that alleged excessive formaldehyde was being emitted from cheap glue used to make some of Lumber Liquidator’s laminate flooring in China. A second wave of concern erupted weeks later when it was announced that The Home Depot would phase-out sales of vinyl flooring that contained ortho-phthalates.

Confusion and half-truths follow report of excessive formaldehyde in some Lumber Liquidators’ laminate floors Carb II CompliantA customer who has seen the 60 Minutes report about unhealthful levels of formaldehyde in certain laminate floors from Lumber Liquidators now is questioning a flooring purchase she was about to make. “No worries,” her salesman says. “All of our flooring meets California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards for formaldehyde.”  He is misleading, but not intentionally. To assist its salespeople, a national retail group issues an alert to its members that reads: “All of our laminate flooring meets CARB 2 standards.”  Another over-simplification. Most flooring retailers – including those touting “natural” products – have limited understanding of how to gauge a floor’s impact on indoor-air quality. Understanding the evolution of people-friendly products, and keeping up with the ever-changing status of which manufacturer has added a certification and what the certification means, is a specialized field of its own. Compounding the confusion, certifications expire annually.