Whole Living: Completing the Green Experience

By Sean D. Sullivan

It’s not hard to see why everyone is bitten by the “green bug.” Coast to coast, consumers are realizing that green homes can sell faster—and for more money—than non-green homes. And consumers have discovered that families living in green homes are often happier, healthier and more productive as well. So you’ve bought a green home, but now what? As home building professionals, we can take an active role in educating the consumer on what it means to live green beyond buying a green home and help our customers live whole-picture healthy lives.

What We Breathe

While a crucial component of being green is the sustainable use of resources and having a low environmental impact, another piece of the green puzzle is the impact installed products have on the health of the residents. In a country where we statistically spend 90% of our time indoors, it’s concerning that the EPA has found that indoor environments are typically two to five times more toxic than the outdoors. So, what’s causing this? One reason is volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can often be found in standard home building materials, such as adhesives and finishes. Another reason is that older buildings were often designed to have plenty of natural ventilation and ample window area, which limited the accumulation of air pollutants. Newer builders, on the other hand, are often more airtight, which can help to improve energy efficiency but can also create conditions for higher levels of air pollutant, like VOCs. Especially for energy efficient homes with tight envelopes, these toxic vapors remain in the home and are absorbed into furnishings and finishes, and they can unknowingly cause health problems over time.

So you know the problems, now how can you help?

Consider the Contents

If we build a green home for our client, and then they fill it with furniture that is made with toxins, the wellness circle is detrimentally disrupted. Furniture—and furnishings—are responsible for a large part of indoor pollution because they are filled with added formaldehydes and other VOCs. Fabrics from upholstered goods are traditionally filled with chemicals to retard stains and flammability, while the frames and cushions are filled with glues, resins and other off-gassing finishes. This applies to all types of furnishings from upholstered items, to casegoods, to even area rugs.

Solution: Look for brands that are flame retardant-free and fully recyclable and that use water-based adhesives and finishes. Seek out quality furnishings that are smart, healthy, and responsible by choosing companies that use solid and FSC-certified wood, certified organic textiles, natural latex, jute, hemp, wool, goose feathers and down. In addition to comfort and lifespan, these products can be inherently flame retardant without the use of chemicals. In the event one is allergic to any of these natural materials, or a byproduct thereof (like dust mites who love down), there are some conscientious manufacturers that offer certified non-toxic and synthetic alternatives.

Living Green Post-Purchase

There are also some misconceptions about the meaning of building and living green. One of the biggest is about the word “natural.” Many believe that this word means that a product is safe to use or eat, but this isn’t always the case. For example, radon, lead and mold are all naturally occurring but are highly toxic. Another misconception is the belief that if a home is built in a healthy way, then a healthy environment is ensured. While a built-green home helps at the onset, it’s up to the homeowner to maintain a clean and green home that is healthy and well-maintained for its occupants.

Solution: Maintain the long-term health of the build long after it is finished is hugely important to having a healthy home. This means implementing suggested behavioral strategies such as using non-toxic cleaners, locking up chemicals, cleaning vents and ductwork regularly, removing shoes and doing a deep clean twice a year.

Armed with these tools, you’ll help your clients not just build but live green.

Post courtesy of Sean D. Sullivan, an Accredited Master Builder, 2016 Certified Green Professional of the Year, and owner of Living Stone Design+Build. Together with his wife Laura K. Sullivan, Principal and Lead Designer at ID.ology Interiors & Design, they have combined their passion for quality and green living by launching a retail store featuring healthy furnishings.

Featured image: Pritchard-Hardin Residence, courtesy of Living Stone Construction.

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