Green and sustainable design is not a waning trend. As advances in science and research are made, the need for green design is becoming increasingly apparent. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, green design conforms “to environmentally sound principles of building, material and energy use to ensure resource conservation while promoting healthier living and working spaces.”
Indoor air quality plays a major role in human health. The selection of materials and methods of construction affect the indoor environment of a building. Operation and maintenance of the building plays an equally important role in health and well-being of its occupants.
Chemicals evaporate from materials used in the structural components of a building and its furnishings. These chemicals, called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), contribute greatly to indoor air pollution. Substances that play a role include:
- treated wood
- vinyl flooring
- painted surfaces
- finishes on furniture
Sustainable Design and Construction
Sustainable design refers to the construction of efficient and environmentally responsible buildings that are, at the same time, aesthetically satisfying. These structures use less water and energy. They also use renewable products and cost less to operate and maintain than non-green buildings.
Making Your Home “Green”
If you are building a new home or remodeling your existing home, consider using durable, efficient products such as those listed below.
- Structural materials, such as, cork or bamboo flooring and engineered stone countertops
- Insulate walls with recycled blue jean (cotton) insulation and finish with wall board made from waste wheat straw fiber
- Design options include the use of natural lighting and ventilation
- Finishes that are non-toxic, such as low or no-VOC paints, or that do not require toxic chemicals to maintain
- Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that are energy efficient
- Recycled roofing products, like recycled rubber slate
- Furnishings made with natural fabrics
- Carpeting that is low in volatile chemicals and has backing that contains no plastics
Many companies, including some well-known home improvement stores, now offer low-VOC and no-VOC paints. If you want to learn more about similar products and their availability, visit Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance website for a list of vendors and the alternative materials they offer.
All building types—homes, health care facilities, offices, and commercial buildings—can be sustainable or “green.” Contrary to popular belief, recent studies and sustainable business models show that the cost of building green is comparable to constructing traditional buildings while the economic and health benefits are greatly enhanced.
Operation and Maintenance
The operation and maintenance of a building impacts health as much as design and construction. Often, toxic chemicals (including paints, polishes, waxes, strippers, varnishes, air fresheners, cleaners, and disinfectants) are used to maintain and clean building components and furnishings. Green options are available and decrease the environmental impact of building maintenance and operations while allowing for a healthier indoor environment. For example, flooring made from chlorine-free polymers can be cleaned with plain water rather than harsh chemical cleaners. The US Green Building Council has developed guidelines for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) that apply to all aspects of building design and operation.
You can extend sustainable living outside your home by greening your yard with hardy, sustainable vegetation that can flourish without the use of pesticides and will conserve water resources. The Environmental Protection Agency provides a helpful brochure, GreenScaping, offering plant choices and other easy recommendations for growing and maintaining a healthy yard.
For More Information:
- Mascaro Sustainability Initiative
- Penn State University’s Sustainable Design Initiative, “Lean and Green” and Indoor Environment Center
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