Green Building Materials for a Healthy House

This post concludes my four part blog series about learning how to purchase safe and green home goods, furniture, cleaning products and now this week; materials for your home and remodel projects.  If you’re planning any sort of home project this year, then you’ll want to read through these green tips before planning too much.  

When you’re improving your home’s appearance or systems in any way, it becomes an excellent time to make healthy improvements.  By planning ahead, you can actually improve the indoor air quality at home through simple choices.  The great thing is that often times choosing an eco-friendly or green building material won’t increase your project budget.  It simply takes research and a little bit of knowledge about the materials you’ll be purchasing. If you’re going to be remodeling or improving your house anyways, why not take the opportunity to improve the health of your home at the same time?

Another important factor when it comes to choosing materials is to know HOW to shop and purchase them.  By understanding that your home should have fewer toxins and chemicals, less dust and lower humidity, you can make some really great choices at the hardware store.

Below are some of the most common materials purchased for homes during remodels and some of the healthiest choices you can make when choosing:

FLOORING

Flooring is probably one of the biggest components of home remodels.  The sheer square footage of new materials that are being installed means flooring has a huge impact on the health of our homes.  Through choosing a product that has the fewest amount of chemicals and toxins in it, right off the bat you can improve your indoor air quality and health of your home.  You also want to look for an option that holds the least amount of moisture as well as a material that doesn’t trap a lot of dust in the fibers. Below are the best options for flooring in a healthy house:

When any flooring is installed you want to make sure that non-toxic adhesives are being used.  Many adhesives and solvents contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. Another great tip for installing new flooring is to use a dustless install method.  This method is when the wood, planks or other material is cut outside and brought in, reducing dust while the remodel is underway.

non-toxic flooring

DRY WALL

When any flooring is installed you want to make sure that non-toxic adhesives are being used.  Many adhesives and solvents contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. Another great tip for installing new flooring is to use a dustless install method.  This method is when the wood, planks or other material is cut outside and brought in, reducing dust while the remodel is underway.

Look for a drywall that has the highest amount of natural gypsum.  In the same breath, you’ll want to look for a drywall that has the lowest amount of flue gas desulfurization (or synthetic gypsum – FGD).  These synthetic gypsums release large amounts of mercury into the environment during production and are less healthy for your home.

If you’re wanting to really up your eco game, opt for magnesium oxide boards, which is ideal for indoor air quality.

Below are some healthier options you can use for installing healthy drywall in your home:

PAINT

Painting is another part of a home remodel that can have a huge impact.  Bringing in toxic paint can cause big problems with your indoor air quality simply due to the large amount of surface space you’ll be covering.

There are SO many great options today that are completely VOC free and are still high-quality paints.  You can even purchase paints made of 100% natural materials and dyes.

Paints that are lighter in color generally have fewer VOCS, and paints with a darker, deeper tone produce more VOCs. It’s also a good idea to have fans and open windows during the painting process as the VOC emission is the highest at this time.  A really good tip is to look for Green Seal Certified Paints or GreenGuard Certified Paints.

Below are some brands that have completely VOC free paint options:

COUNTER TOPS

Often times we don’t think of counter tops being healthy or unhealthy, but they can be a large contributor to the health of the kitchen environment.  Keep in mind that you’re preparing food on this surface and most likely eating off of the surface. In addition to this, remember that any toxin that is ingested has a direct route to your bloodstream.   

You’ll also want to be particular of the sealant you use on the counter top you purchase.  Sealants and coatings on counter tops can contain perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS). These PFAS have been tested and linked to various reproductive disorders and developmental disabilities.

Opting for a material like all natural stone is optimal in the kitchen.  However when researching your granite, you’ll want to ensure it is solid and has low absorption rates.  Another tip is to find stone that is mechanically polished rather than chemically sealed.

Other healthy options for counter tops are:

  • Wood with VOC free Sealant
  • Stainless Steel
  • Concrete with a Non-Toxic Finish
  • SoapStone
  • Quartzite (not Quartz)

CABINETS

Cabinets that are made of plywood or pressed wood can off gas chemicals like formaldehyde, which is found in the adhesive holding the cabinets together.  Your best option is to find cabinets that are completely solid wood. Not only are these healthier for your home, but they are also more durable.

Of course with any wood in your home, you want to make sure the paint or stain is VOC free.  If you’re refinishing cabinets make sure to stain or paint as much of the cabinets outside as you can and let the product fully dry and off-gas prior to bringing it back into the kitchen.  

If you’re hiring a contractor to either refinish or install new cabinets,  be diligent and ask them about the materials and finishes. This is your home and you’re responsible for keeping as many toxins out as possible.  A good contractor will respect your wishes for a low toxin product.

INSULATION

If you’re looking to improve the energy efficiency in your house, you may be adding or replacing insulation.  Often times attics are a great place to begin adding insulation to improve the thermal barrier of your home.

If you’re adding insulation to your attic yourself, just remember to leave vent baffles unblocked to allow proper air flow through your attic.  Without this airflow through the attic, you risk the potential for mold growth and high amounts of trapped moisture.

Below are the best and healthiest options for types of insulation you can add to your healthy home:

MATERIALS TO AVOID

Any sort of chemical sealant is always a good idea to avoid.  Also be careful of any plastic materials. Plastics in general should be avoided at all costs.  Opt for the most natural materials with the least amount of manufacturing and processing done to them.  Some of the worst materials to bring into your home are:

  • Plastics
  • Chemical Sealants
  • Synthetic Carpets
  • Sealants with VOCs
  • Paints containing VOCs
  • Pressed Woods
  • Man Made Laminate Materials
Green building Materials
What are the best green materials and eco friendly materials for a home remodel?

Natural flooring options that don’t use VOCs, plastics, toxins or synthetic fibers are desired. Sheetrock that has the highest amount of natural gypsum is best. Paints and varnishes that are VOC free should be used. Counter tops made of all natural granite should be mechanically polished rather than chemically sealed. Any cabinets installed should be solid wood and stained or painted with a VOC free finish. Finally, insulation of natural wool batting is one of the healthiest options for a home.

Materials to avoid are plastics, chemical sealants, synthetic carpets, sealants with VOCs, pressed woods and man made laminate materials.

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