As a term, ‘Green’ has been a hard one to truly define in broad strokes. It seems more appropriate to judge what is green based on a setof criteria, and to match products to that set of criteria on a spectrum, rather than as one hard-coded definition. The best way to approach the business of choosing green building materials therefore is to take a look at this list of criteria, decide what is most important to you, and see how many ‘checkboxes’ a certain option in green building materials meets.
With this in mind, I thought I’d talk about the green building materials that you may think about investing in during the coming year for your home improvement projects. Luckily, in the last few years the range of items that meet the criteria have expanded, as the industry has become more and more sensitive to the increasing demand for sustainable building materials.
Specifically, I’d like to talk about some of those ‘checkboxes’ I mentioned earlier, to put these materials into a proper context. Here are some of the big ones:
1. Resource efficiency. How quickly or easily is the material processed without undue impact to the environment? Does that resource renew itself fast enough in line with the demands placed upon it by industry, and is the process in place that go into its manufacture recognize the importance of this balance? Is that resource long-lasting enough to serve as reclaimed materials at a later date?
2. Indoor Air Quality. Does the material meet with government and industry standards for emissions. CARB is a body that has led the way in reducing the percentage of particles into the air from the materials themselves. Also in terms of air quality in general, does your building material of choice come out of a process whereby natural materials are preserved for the purposes of C02 absorption?
3. Energy efficiency. How much fuel is burned getting the materials from harvest to market? When it’s installed, how much energy will the material retain to the benefit of energy efficiency to your home in general?
4. Water conservation. Does your building material or fixture of choice contribute to more efficient water usage such as low-flow technology, graywater usage, or rain harvesting?
5. Affordability. Does your building material outweigh the cost of production with long-term durability so as to reduce the requirement for replacement?
Also to be taken into account here is the idea of post-industrial waste, and how your building material option utilizes these types of materials. For instance, strand-woven bamboo floors utilizes the parings of bamboo used to create traditional bamboo floors, and makes them into a unique product. Many types of glass and porcelain tile rely heavily on the presence of recycled glass products in the production of new tile surfaces.
In judging just how to choose green building materials, it really is all about balance. I think it’s about communication too, between you and your building materials vendors, and between them and the manufacturers. This aspect of things, much like the market itself, is constantly evolving. But, in the meantime, it’s good to have a starting point toward achieving a better balance when becoming a more informed consumer. It’s information like this that will help us to gain a better balance to our world in general.
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