Home & Real Estate

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. The questions are relatively simple, but if you would like help in getting guaranteed answers about certifications on a current product, sign up at: https://www.naturalinteriors.com/consumer-subscription/ “Green” certifications that test chemical emissions don’t require compliance until long after the paint is dry GREENGUARD®, Green Seal and SCS Indoor Advantage Gold. They’re all top third-party certifications designed to help us choose paint that will not make the air in our homes dangerous to breathe. But while these labels mean chemical emissions have been measured -- or in the case of Green Seal dangerous ingredients have been prohibited -- none of them tells us what we are breathing at the time the paint is being applied. And certifications that test chemical emissions don’t require compliance with safety limits until 14 days after the paint is dry. “When it comes to verifying sustainable claims, it may be wiser to start by being a ‘doubting Thomas’ instead of a ‘gullible Pollyanna’ …,” says Michael Mauch, AIA, LEED AP and principal of RWA Architects in Cincinnati, OH. “Third-party verification is supposed to work like Politifact -- an organization to sort out the truth. But third-party verification is not a perfect system. In theory, it works, but in reality, there are many influences that can sway the outcome.”

Bargain hunting for flooring installation can cost more in the long run Q. I thought I was getting a great deal on the prefinished, FSC-certified hardwood floor I want to put in my family room and kitchen, until the salesperson figured in installation. This added about $3 per square foot to the total, and the space is about 700 square feet. In today’s economy, combined with the fact that I waited for the slow winter months, I thought I could do better, but I have now checked with three different contractors with very little difference.  With the number of people out there who are in need of work, would it make sense for me to keep shopping? A. What you should be asking is what the experience level of the installer is, and what type of warranty you will get on the work. You are correct that in this economy, fewer installations are being done, and installers need the work.  But what this also means is that the most experienced installers should be available to do the work.

Past and present green building trends mean 2012 will bring increased interest in healthy indoor-air quality, reclaimed and recycled products, and smaller homes Residents on the West Coast have been walking the green building walk longer. But even in the Midwest, which often lags behind, people who build or remodel in the New Year likely will be doing more than talking the talk. From seeking smaller, more energy-efficient homes to using low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints, finishes and furniture, healthier, planet-conscious trends have a firm foothold that can only grow in the future, experts say. “Clients are now asking for sustainable strategies in the first meeting,” says Michael Mauch, architect, LEED AP and principal of RWA Architects in Cincinnati, OH. “We do not have to bring it up. They bring it up. What homeowner does not want clean indoor air? Lower energy bills? And smart design? Now they know they can ask for it up front.”

A word of warning about spray polyurethane foam insulation Winter is coming again, and so are all of the e-newsletters about insulation, weatherization tips and and energy savings. Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is big this year because it stops air flow -- around that water pipe or that vent through the roof -- when other insulations don't. But the companies pushing their SPFs aren’t really talking about what the chemicals in these products can do if not handled properly. And if you’re chemically sensitive, you might not want to use them at all. SPFs are a very effective insulation product, and they are on our standing weatherization tip list. But, whether open- or closed-cell, SPFs contain diisocyanates, amine catalysts, flame retardants, polyol oils and blowing agents. Without getting into all of these, diisocyanates cause asthma, lung damage and can sensitize humans, triggering ongoing reactions to chemicals. The primary hazard exists when the products are being applied, and unsafe levels of the chemicals are released into the indoor air. The label on your product might not say it, but NIOSH and OSHA would tell you to wear full protective equipment, including a fresh-air- supplied respirator. In the array of information available online, you will also see that unprotected workers and building occupants should leave the building while spraying is underway, and they should not come back until all dust and vapor are ventilated out of the building, and just when that is can be difficult to determine.

You have served me well for a very long time, but there has to be something that holds dust better Dust containment. This is the term on my mind this morning as we near completion of our bathroom renovation project. My aging vacuum has done a commendable job, sucking up the sanded drywall compound and other mess that left a trail down the hall. But the unseen microscopic remnants are lingering. I know this every time someone sneezes, including the cat and the dog. While this website has focused on chemical emissions when discussing  Indoor Air Quality, dust, particulates and other allergens deserve equal attention. In keeping with that, I am coming to terms with reality: My vacuum cleaner is no longer the top of the line. It has seen me through every tough job, and it operates with admirable suction power. But too much of what it sucks up comes back out of its filter and it’s polluting my indoor air.

What makes carpet pad “green?” Q. It seems like every carpet pad on the market has some kind of “green” certification label on it. I am mostly concerned about indoor-air quality, and am worried that even if I buy a carpet with CRI Green Label Plus, I won’t benefit from the low chemical emissions, because there could be higher emissions coming from the carpet pad. How do you sort through all the “green” carpet pad choices and make sure you get what you are looking for? A. Remember that “green” can mean good for the planet, good for human health, or both. The good news with almost all carpet cushion --excluding rubber and prime urethane -- is that it contains essentially 100-percent recycled content from either pre- or post-consumer waste. This means: Good for the planet.

Is Owens Corning’s entry into formaldehyde-free products timely or tardy? How do you know when health concerns about chemicals emitted from interior building and decorating products are valid? How about when the company whose Pink Panther is synonymous with “industry leader in insulation” finally comes out with a formaldehyde-free product – years after it had the capability to do so? Owens Corning Eco Touch™ Fiberglas™ insulation is still pink, but its PureFiber™ binder – made from plant materials – means it is formaldehyde-free. If you haven’t routinely looked for or researched green products that are indoor-air friendly, you might think this is a cutting-edge option with no competition when you see it on the rack at the big-box store.

Demand for traditional bamboo fizzles while strand draws attention It’s official: traditional, vertical- and horizontal-grain bamboo flooring is dated. Despite its popularity five years ago, it appears this fad was destined to fade. Strand bamboo, on the other hand, is here for the long-haul, flooring experts say. “There is almost no interest in traditional bamboo in our store,” says John Hill, ecological coordinator at Interstate Flooring in Portland, OR. “It seems to be, been there, done that. When people are looking at bamboo, they want a more evolved look. Strand, stained and hand-scraped bamboo give them that.” This sentiment is not limited to the west coast, which is always on the cutting edge of green-product style. “Traditional bamboo has become a tired look,” says Joe Byrnes of the Allied Flooring Group in Cincinnati, OH. “Consumers are disenchanted with it. It was oversold, treated sort of like it was the second coming of Christ.”

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.