There are so many considerations when dealing with green building materials. Where do they come from? What are the made of? Are they safe? And above all, how to avoid greenwashing.
There is also the need to distinguish between green building materials and other materials that would fall under durable goods, such as furniture, fabrics and rugs.
To start with some basic building materials that find its use into many project, new construction or renovation here is my list.
Paint. See also article about non VOC paint. Toxic free is the way to go. A new coat will not just give the finishing touch to your project, it will also leave your air nice and healthy.
Adhesives and Sealants. Ensure that these are VOC free. The EPA has a great summary about the effects of VOC’s: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
Flooring. Go with the recycled content carpet, the rapidly renewable bamboo or cork, or the reclaimed coconut palm (my favorite, see pictures). http://www.plyboo.com/durapalm.html
Hardwood and wood furniture. Look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label that ensures full chain-of-custody and sustainable growth from the source. I recently picked up a wooden side table from Target that was from certified forests. You have the power as a consumer to make a difference! http://www.fsc.org/
Insulation. Go for soy based or foam core products like Icynene. The later will also reduce the amount of waste, quite a bit, saving you air leakage and thus energy dollars. http://www.icynene.com/
Look for natural and durable goods. A rapidly renewable material should be replenished within 10 years. When going for reclaimed materials, ensure that you have a reliable source. The later is not for everyone as consistency in the material cannot be ensured. Look at the bright side. No one else will have a floor like your. Guaranteed!
Outside of the FSC label noted above, there are a few other good sources to help you make the right decision. You probably already know the Energy Star label from the EP, but did you know about the Water Sense program? It follows the same idea but identifies fixtures that are water preserving.
The Greenspec directory is an excellent source for the professional but can also be navigated by the novice. http://www.buildinggreen.com/menus/
Ask your (sustainable) design professional to help with more specific needs relating to your project. I am always glad to help!
Sebastian Eilert, AIA, LEED AP
Sebastian Eilert Architecture, Inc