A green home may mean different things to various organizations, and you may find that one organization or another states that the product you are using does not mean you are being green.
I met a green consultant this past weekend, and we had a great conversation about some different green home standards. He had a great question boiling down a basic debate going on amongst those concerned with sustainable, green homes: is the focus of a code on health or on energy efficiency? For the average consumer, we will focus on energy efficiency. For those concerned with sustainable buildings, the focus is becoming increasingly about the health of the occupants and the environment. Once we learn more about possible health issues, many of us do try to make wiser choices that would ensure that we are not exposing our family to health issues. Here is my two-fold problem: 1) Is a product truly a health risk?; and 2) How can the average homeowner find a product to meet these new standards?
I mentioned possible health issues with a product. One product that many who wish to create a green home do not want to see in the home is PVC pipe. The production process is said to be harmful to the environment, but the product is also said to release chemicals into the home’s plumbing system. Firstly, the product when used for drinking has een deemed safe by testing standards when it is marked as being acceptable for drinking (potable) water. I still have not found a study which specifically has shown a correlation with health problems related to PVC pipe in the home. Next, what would be the alternative? There are alternatives to PVC with copper being the main choice. Yet, copper is not always mined in an environmentally friendly way, and we could be placing a stress on the environment when concentrating on this material. Another argument is brewing over insulation. The concern is that the off gas from this product can be harmful. Again, we have different studies that state amounts of harmful chemicals. Interestingly, to my knowledge, both insulation studies have not been available to review. To my mind, we have too many groups putting forward green standards. Each person, firm, and green, sustainable organization has their own focus, and they develop their standards based upon their mindset. This is actually fine with me, but it does allow for confusion, so I wish that there was a blanket organization that could properly review statements being made for their veracity. Until definitive studies come out regarding health risks, I will be skeptical when a new claim arises.
My second problem was finding green products. I am slowly working on updating my home. I do not have a spare $80,000 to have everything completed in three months. (This figure comes from a green home remodel done on a foreclosure in Phoenix, so it can be more than what I would spend). I do look for the best product, but I also want to come in at a budget. Finding the best green product is easier. I know there is a lot of green washing happening, but you can find real green products at home improvement centers, and we do have as tore like New Living here in Houston. There is also the internet. I saw my green home conversion as a project with a mission statement. I want to make my older home more sustainable in a way that is practical for the average homeowner, which means to me using products that are simple to find. This involves buying products at my local building supply store or hardware store. However, I do have an addition to my mission statement: try to reuse what is already in the home. Instead of tearing out a floor to install an eco-friendly flooring, find ways to maintain the floor. I also want to maintain everything in my home (I am still looking at the best way to improve my aluminum framed, single paned windows, and that may be my next major project). I find that we may be punishing the the average guy for not really being green when he is
trying his best. A blanket organization reviewing green products in an independent forum would be a good way to guide manufacturers to produce better products, which will be affordable and readily available.
I wish to leave the homeowner with this thought: be concerned with your family’s health; try to reduce your energy usage; and try to update your home with the best product you can afford and by making wise upgrade choices. I think that in time, we will be gainingsound information on how to build a sustainable home. Maybe in ten years we will be at that point. I want to leave you with this link about examining LEED certification and health issues. We are on the right track. Debate about what is sustainable is good for the building industry, but we need honest evaluation in defining green products for the home.