Potential problems and fixes in constructing a green home

| by Teena Hammond
Potential problems and fixes in constructing a green home

Ever wonder how to fix some major potential problems while building a home? Our Approved Contributing Expert, Eric Corey Freed, takes a look at some issues and includes tips to correct each one:

Drywall —

THE PROBLEM WITH IT:

The chief ingredient in a drywall panel is gypsum, which is mined out of the earth uses a great deal of heat to produce. This heat requires energy and gives off CO2. The backing is typically 100 percent recycled, unbleached paper facings that are bonded without adhesives onto a gypsum core.

HOW TO CORRECT IT:

Though mined virgin gypsum is still widely used in gypsum board production, recycled and synthetic gypsum is easily available. Synthetic gypsum may replace up to 100 percent of the natural gypsum in drywall. Be aware that paper facings may provide a medium for mold growth in conditions of high humidity and low air circulation; some drywall is made with integral cellulose or fiberglass fibers instead of paper facing to eliminate mold risk.

Also, be aware that the boards come in standard heights of 8' & 9' and designing to those ceiling heights will reduce waste.

Plywood —

THE PROBLEM WITH IT:

Plywood consists of wood cut into thin layers and alternately glued together. Typically, the wood comes from newly cut trees. The adhesives are typically toxic and contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) and phenol-formaldehyde (PF), which can offgas significant concentrations of formaldehyde gas—an indoor air quality concern and known carcinogen.

HOW TO CORRECT IT:

All plywood used should carry the FSC label (Certification to Forest Stewardship Council) to ensure that sustainable practices were used in the extraction of the wood. MDI binders do not offgas any formaldehyde and should be specified for all wood materials used.

Oriented-strand board (OSB) is an efficient alternative use of wood because it is produced from small-pieces and low-grade

Vinyl Base —

THE PROBLEM WITH IT:

Polyvinyl chloride is one of our most common synthetic materials. Commonly known as "PVC" or "vinyl," polyvinyl chloride is a tremendously versatile resin, appearing in thousands of different formulations and configurations. In the U.S. we produced over ten billion pounds of PVC resins in 1992.

While some vinyl products such as siding and flooring have long had critics, recently the entire PVC industry has come under fire for environmental reasons. Greenpeace is calling for the phase-out of all chlorine-based industries, including PVC, for a range of health and environmental reasons.

PVC is toxic at every stage of its lifecycle and the extraction, manufacture, installation and use of the material gives off proven and known carcinogens, including mercury, which has been turning up in women's breast milk who reside within 150 miles of the largest PVC plant in Louisiana. There is a correlation between PVC exposure and birth defects in communities adjacent to PVC factories. In addition, PVC is difficult to recycle and again toxic to do so.

HOW TO CORRECT IT:

Avoid the use of all vinyl, especially in interior, exposed areas. Look for low-VOC adhesive.

SUGGESTED ALTERNATIVES:

There are now numerous alternatives for vinyl, including ABS, Rubber and Polyethelene. For the vinyl base, these alternatives will work:

Rubber Wall Base Reclaimed Wood MillworkTurned up Carpet Edging Design to avoid need for wall base

Wood Flooring —

THE PROBLEM WITH IT:

Wood flooring comes, obviously, from trees. These are typically clear-cut and milled into planks very inefficiently and with no regard for the future environmental impact.

HOW TO CORRECT IT:

Reclaimed Wood Flooring is made from timbers salvaged from old buildings, barns, bridges, or other timber structures. The benefit is a floor with a great deal of character and old growth quality unmatched in new wood. Plan your needs with plenty of lead time, as availability and pricing fluctuate widely.

Certified wood carries the FSC label (Forest Stewardship Council) to ensure that sustainable practices were used in the extraction of the wood. Sustainably harvested woods include bamboo or palm wood. Bamboo — which is a grass, not a tree — typically comes from China and is very strong and dimensionally stable. Despite the long-distance transport, the durability, hardness, and short regeneration time of bamboo provide justification for using it for flooring instead of wood. No matter what floor you use, be sure to specify non-toxic sealers.

Carpet —

THE PROBLEM WITH IT:

Carpet, especially wall-to-wall carpet, has several environmental issues.

Carpet is typically made from synthetic, oil-based materials. These are toxic and off-gas harmful chemicals.Carpet is typically backed with vinyl (PVC) and vinyl is toxic at every stage of its lifecycle.The synthetic and mixed materials make carpet impossible to recycle.Carpet requires a great deal of energy to maintain, since it must be vacuumed.Vacuuming alone does not clean carpet and instead creates an environment for pests, mold and mildew to reside. Carpet is host to numerous indoor-air quality issues, including the spread of asthma.

HOW TO CORRECT IT:

There are now many carpet manufacturers who have addressed some or all of these issues:

Use natural fiber carpets from companies with recycling take-back programs. The use of carpet tile is an environmentally preferable alternative to wall-to-wall since damaged tiles can be individually replaced without having to replace an entire floor. Of course, avoiding carpet altogether would be best.

Natural padding is preferred over glue down applications for several reasons: the adhesives typically contain VOC's which off-gas harmful chemicals; the adhesives make replacing or removing the carpet much more difficult; the adhesives can make the carpet unrecyclable.

Insulation —

THE PROBLEM WITH IT:

Most fiberglass insulation is made primarily from spun glass fibers and contains a phenol-formaldehyde (PF) binder, which offgasses harmful chemicals. In addition, the airborne fibers are also a potential carcinogenic hazard. Most fiberglass insulation today has at least 30 percent recycled-content, but varies from plant to plant.

HOW TO CORRECT IT:

Use a natural insulation, with a formaldehyde-free binder.

Cotton insulation is made from recycled cotton, such as denim. Nontoxic flame retardants similar to those used in clothing are added. Unlike fiberglass, there are no microfibers to cause respiratory problems.

Cellulose insulation contains 75-80 percent recycled newspapers and nontoxic borate for fire retarding.

Insulation saves energy, so the more the better.

 


Topics: Going Green, Remodeling



Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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