Great guide for healthy home improvement products

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer

"Short term exposure can cause headaches, sleepiness, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, and in extreme cases, unconsciousness. Chronic (long-term) exposure can cause increased signs of neurotoxicity (numbness, etc.) and irritation of the upper respiratory tract. In animals, chronic exposure has also caused kidney and liver damage." A while back I wrote "14 toxic home improvement materials to avoid: the Red List," and this is the hazard of just one of the Red List chemicals commonly found in products used in home renovation materials. It is one of the many dangerous consequences of our community failure of transparency in building products.

Why don't we know more about harmful chemicals in our building products?

Companies are not required to tell you when they put hazardous chemicals in their products. Lead, which is a neurotoxin, was banned for use in paint and gasoline but can still be found in many products, including roof shingles. Did you know the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act aims to ensure chemical safety hasn't substantially changed since 1976, despite many more toxic substances coming on the market? Most other industrialized nations have much stronger controls on dangerous substances in consumer product. But in the U.S. we rely on the kindness of corporations to be transparent and provide us with health and safety information.

The good news is that many corporations are doing the right thing. They are looking to the rise of building standards like the Living Building Challenge and the Declare Label. The International Living Future Institute calls Declare "a 'nutrition-label' for products, providing a clear, elegant and informative method to disclose ingredients. Declare is transforming the building materials marketplace through transparency and open communication."

What's the Living Building Challenge?

There are currently 44 buildings around the globe that are certified under the Living Building Challenge (LBC). We now have teams of designers, builders, architects, and engineers who have worked diligently with companies to figure out which products comply with the strict third-party standards of the LBC.

Seeing the need to provide easy access to this information to consumers and builders, the firm of Eskew+Dumez+Ripple assembled a list of products used by these ground-breaking projects. They recognized that finding the right products was an extraordinarily time consuming challenge. They created the Healthy Urban Places Materials Database to help crowdsource the available product information that has been vetted by prior teams.

The products are divided into the following categories: concrete, masonry, metal, wood, thermals & moisture protection, roofing, windows, doors, finishes, furnishings, plumbing, and electrical. You can click on a photo of an item in any of these categories and instantly find a list of dozens of products that have been vetted by professional design and building teams. It gives you a wonderful shortcut to finding the best materials from the best companies.

Resources for healthy products

If you need further help finding the world's greenest products, check out the Declare website.

Check out the Healthy Urban Places Healthy Materials Database here.

Also check out www.HealthyStuff.org for other consumer products like toys, cars, and other home products.

For a really deep dive, explore the Materials Red List of the most hazardous chemicals.