Expert Advice on Green Buildings

Green Home Products: What Environmentally Friendly Products do You Recommend?

 
Question:

What are some green home products that you can recommend from personal experience?

Answer:

As an architect who likes to experiment, before I specify products for use in clients’ projects, I first test them out in my own home. I’ve been living with several green product choices for the past several years in a renovated 1920s wood frame house and before that, in a refurbished 1830s wood row house, just outside New York City. I’ve found that some choices have held up exceptionally well, while others have been surprisingly disappointing.

1. AFM Safecoat Low VOC Paint – I used this in the old row house and found that the colors were true to the samples, and held up well. At the time of painting, there were fewer deep, bright selections available in AFM’s Low VOC line of paints, but they’ve expanded the line now. This gets a grade of 8/10.

2. AFM Safecoat Low VOC Polyureseal polyurethane – I used this in the row house on the original wood floors and in the 1920s house, and have found that the luster holds up and that the wood is easy to maintain. No headaches on installation. This gets a grade of 9/10.

3. AFM Safecoat Low VOC Caulk – This has been disappointing. I used this around the trim of new wood windows, and in almost every location it has shrunk, leaving a narrow gap between boards. The smell on installation is also stronger than one would hope for and expect with a low VOC product. This gets a grade of 6/10.

4. Andersen wood windows – These have performed well and are easy to open and clean, although the upper sash of the double hung window can be tricky to operate. The accompanying exterior metal trim has been easy to maintain. These get a grade of 8/10.

5. Benjamin Moore Eco Spec Paint – This has held up well, but on damp-wiping walls, some of the color turns a slightly brighter shade. This tends to only happen if too much pressure is used in the wipe-down. This gets a grade of 9/10.

6. Cork tile flooring – This is remarkably disappointing, which I find upsetting, since I love cork and have seen it work well in various settings. The low VOC adhesive that was used is part of the problem here – the edges of the cork tile began peeling up almost immediately. Fortunately, this experiment is in an area that does not receive high traffic. This gets a grade of 3/10.

7. Energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs – These were originally purchased from Ikea. I had to switch the color of paper light fixture to keep up with the greenish cast of the light bulb, otherwise the color rendition was so terrible it made me feel ill. I’m looking forward to the next generation of energy efficient light bulbs, such as LEDs and better CFLs that will have better color rendition and that will not produce headaches for some (an unfortunate consequence of switching bulb types for some sensitive individuals). These get a grade of 4/10.

8. Energy Star appliances – These have all performed well and are only hindered by the hardness of our local water supply. Next purchase: a water softener. These get a grade of 8/10.

9. Forbo Marmoleum flooring – Marmoleum flooring is a true delight and has held up to heavy foot traffic, spills, etcetera. The colors remain bright, the finish clear, and the surface is easy to clean up. The installer insisted on using a low VOC adhesive that is not Forbo’s, but comes from another company. No complaints on the user end – it has performed very well. This gets a grade of 9/10.

10. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) wood trim – This was purchased from Home Depot . I was thrilled to find FSC wood at Home Depot and it has held up well, in spite of the caulk (see #3 above). The interior trim was quite knotty and not what I expected – had to be painted over rather than clear-stained, due to countless blemishes. Still, it turned out as a lovely job. This gets a grade of 9/10.

11. Natural jute stair runner – I loved the feel of it underfoot, but the material was just a bit too thick to hold the curve of the stair nosings well. Staples would occasionally pop out. A good experiment – next time, I’ll use a thinner jute material. This gets a grade of 6/10.

12. Taski Vision Matte clear finish – This was applied over the Forbo Marmoleum flooring (see #9) and has been consistently easy to clean. It has no smell on application due to its low VOC formula. This gets a grade of 9/10.

13. Wool stair runner – It is hard to find a modern print in a wool stair runner these days, but I found one at ABC Carpet and Home in Manhattan. Love the pattern, love the material, love the no-adhesive installation. This gets a grade of 9/10.

I always endeavor to give my clients the most complete information about the products I specify for them. Experimenting gives me a way to test drive the materials first hand, so that I can speak from experience about selecting, installing, and living with green building products.

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Expert Advice and Comments

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