Residential Construction
Green Products
August 4, 2015

Green products are an essential component of green design. However, defining what is green is not an exact science. Products require assessment in terms of their entire life-cycle — from raw materials used in manufacture through processing, transport, installation, use, reuse, recycling or disposal. Forethought in product selection provides a means of evaluating how one product choice affects another so that tradeoffs and choices can be evaluated for overall environmental impact. A builder can follow general guidelines to choose most building materials and products. Then, if a questionable product is being considered, review research provided by organizations that do more complex analyses (see references below).

Green products are available for every stage of construction. To effectively include green products, talk with distributors during the design phase and specify purchasing practices for subcontractors. Sources for various types of green products can be found in the Green Building Product Directory.

Reasons to Change

Home owner concerns for protecting family and environmental health is a major driver for designing green products into a new home. They should perform as well or better than the conventional item. As with green design, product choice is aimed at reducing pollution, resource consumption, and waste generated during home construction, operation, renovation, and demolition. By adding green products, builders and consumers can most effectively create the system they desire.

One green purchasing method is to buy local products when possible. Products purchased from local or regional sources reduce transporation costs and bolster the local economy.

Using environmentally friendly products can also reduce builder liability and increase marketability of homes. To learn how about how Northwest businesses are achieving benefits read this Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Center newsletter.

P2 in Action

Products with environment-friendly qualities can be identified using the following guidelines:

Consider Raw Materials Used in Manufacture

  • Reused (salvaged) and recycled waste from households, industrial and agricultural processes
    • salvaged doors and beams
    • recycled glass aggregate backfill, landscaping or road mix
    • strawbale insulation
    • sunflower shell flooring
  • Renewable, quick-reproducing sources (especially if environmental impacts, such as water and pesticide application, clear-cutting, and erosion are minimal)
    • certified sustainable lumber
    • form-release agents made from plant oils
    • flooring materials made from coir (husk of coconut), organic cotton, wool, or sisal (native Mexican plant)
  • Natural materials that require a low level of processing, thereby reducing energy use and pollution
    • stone
    • rammed earth blocks
    • brick
    • clay tile

Consider Durability and Waste Produced

  • Use drywall clips vs. corner studs
  • Use erosion control products, e.g. compost bags, silt fences
  • Use compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Use structural insulated panels (SIP)
  • Use water conservation fixtures
  • Use low-maintenance engineered or composite siding
  • Use photovoltaic or wind turbine systems

Consider Safety and Health of Workers and Occupants

  • Use less toxic alternatives
    • carpet tacks rather than adhesives
    • low VOC paints and caulks
    • non-formaldehyde containing products
  • Products that block or remove pollutants.
    • hard, durable interior surfaces that are easy to clean and won’t trap allergens
    • radon mitigation system
  • Detection or warning devices for hazardous emissions
    • carbon monoxide detector
    • hard-wired smoke detectors

Where To Find Green Products

Many organizations work to provide builders and consumers with guidelines, standards, and model purchasing specifications. The following are some of these organizations for quick reference:

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology, BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability)
  • Green Seal
  • Energy Star (U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency)
  • Forest Stewardship Council
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    • Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
    • Recycled-Content Product Database
  • American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE)
  • Construction Specifications Institute (CSI)