With the amount of artificial substances being put into building materials these days, it can seem to be a huge challenge to avoid building a house that won’t kill you.
Here is a general guideline for choosing healthier materials for common home fixtures.
Sheetrock is a widely used material for ceilings and dry walls these days in modern construction.
Also known as gypsum-based drywall, these products consist of natural gypsum sandwiched between two pieces of material (usually paper).
This is popular to homeowners due to it being economical.
However, joint compounds and adhesives offgas irritants including formaldehyde. Other than that, this type of drywall is vulnerable to mold and damage generally caused by moisture.
Some people can find these substances too sensitive to manage.
Less toxic options include drywalls primed with the intention to seal off toxic fumes with specialty paint. Alternatives to formaldehyde can also be found like with inert fillers.
A good natural wall finish to consider is additive-free plaster. It also restricts volatile organic compounds (VOC) from offgassing.
If you find plaster affordable, be aware that there is a variant of it called skim plaster.
These are veneer plaster systems that are much cheaper than standard plaster but delivers much of the benefits that come with plaster.
Because flooring takes up so much space in a house, it is essential to be more picky with it for the home. The last thing you want is for it to emit toxins all over the place.
The first thing to think about is to consider factory-finished flooring. If you allow the contractor to apply finishing after laying the flooring, you are basically welcoming VOCs into the house and giving it time to gasoff into the air.
If you are going with vinyl flooring, take note that vinyl chloride fumes are hazardous to health.
For hardwood flooring, the type of wood used is of particular concern.
Forest Stewardship Council Certified Wood (FSC) is an environmentally friendly wood to consider. And if glue is used to secure the wood, try using water-based glues. Also try to ensure that formaldehyde is not used in the underlayerment.
Green homes often use materials like bamboo or cork as flooring. If you are going this route, check if the cork is encased in vinyl.
If coldness is not an issue, ceramic, stone and concrete flooring should be considered. They are very durable and suitable for the health conscious.
The only problem with these tiles is the grout. Choose one that don’t contain polymer additives.
Linoleum is getting more popular in recent years. Partly because of it’s healthy features. They are natural and last almost forever. The only drawback is the upfront costs.
Finally, when using laminated flooring, pay attention to those that are bonded with PVC. You only want to use those that use biodegradable resins.
Countertops add a touch of class into the house. But they have their issues as well.
Avoid those that use high-pressure plastic laminates. They often use VOC adhesives.
And don’t think that you are in the clear if you select a natural material like granite, quartz, or marble. This is because they are manufactured with petroleum most of the time.
When ceramic tiles are used for countertops, the tiles are usually laid on-site. This will expose you to it’s VOCs. If possible, choose to use factory-finish tiles those that are glazed.
4) Doors and cabinets
Conventional furniture and fixtures which were traditionally made of high quality wood are made of composite wood instead these days overlayed with pretty-looking veneer.
These contain formaldehyde.
The best choices are to have them made in solid wood with a low VOC finish.
If you simply cannot avoid composite wood, then make sure to seal up all exposed sides with a vapor retardant sealer.
Fiberglass, which is the most popular building material for insulation is not exactly health-friendly. Gas contaminants and particulates can be released into the air you breathe.
Because insulation is installed inside the walls, the risk is highest during it’s installation instead of after installation.
So do wear a proper mask should you be around during the works. And remember to air the place after the works are completed.
Binders in insulation often contain formaldehyde. So do choose one that is either formaldehyde-free or contains no binders altogether.
Cotton insulation comes in batts and are pretty safe. The drawback is that you might have to accept a compromise of performance levels i insulation.
Cellulose insulation is common for rooms and spaces that require soundproofing. Avoid them if they are not necessary as they can contain irritants to people find sensitive to.
Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) is also a material gaining popularity in modern constructions. It is planet-friendly as it does not harm the ozone layer.
But it is known to trigger sensitivity issues to people with low sensitivity tolerance.
6) Exterior siding
While the natural choice for exterior walls is to go for bricks and stones, sometimes these are not practical as they can be susceptible to moisture.
Metal can provide a barrier against termite attacks, but are not aesthetic and should never be setup when the house is near power lines.
Vinyl is also very prone to water seepage. And it’s manufacturing process is also not friendly to the environment.
The tried and tested wood siding remains the best choice unless you have areas of concern that are not ordinary. They do however, require regular maintenance.
The buzzword these days regarding windows is energy efficiency.
In layman terms this means that it will not allow heat or cold to escape the house easily against your intentions. If you fire up the air-conditioner and the windows allow the cool air to escape the house easily, the cooling system will need to use extra energy to cool down the house to the desired temperature.
An energy efficient window will minimize the impact of losing the coolness of the house to the outside via the windows.
While better windows will cost much more, it can save you money in the long term via savings from the utility bills.
Ensure that window frames and trims don’t contain PVC or made of vinyl. Especially on the interior side of them.
The choice of roof material really depends on the region you are in and the climate there.
In general the average roof should have a 40 year lifespan. Do select a different one if the one you chose is shorter than that.
A light colored on will also reflect more light and therefore heat compared to a darker color.
Avoid roofing material made with asphalt. Fat tar and gravel roof are also not very healthy.
There are various options when choosing framing. And the most common one is framing lumber.
While this does not pose any health hazards to human beings, it is not exactly environment friendly. So do look for the FSC endorsement badge if you choose to use it.
Pressure treated lumber (CCA) is popular for building porches and decks. Should it appeal to you, try using cedar, red wood, or recycled plastic lumber (RPL).
They should also be treated with less toxic CCA alternatives.
Metal should not be used as it conducts electricity and sets up a EMR field.