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Building Materials: What Makes a Product Green?
Discussion of the challenges in defining a "Green" product. In-depth identification of standards de...
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Guide to Resource Efficient Building Elements
Click on "E-guide". A directory of environmentally responsible building products divided into secti...
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Oikos: Green Building Source
Searchable directory for thousands of green building products.
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Smart Material and Product Choices
Questions to consider and resources for standards, ratings, product analyses and databases.
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Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Building Material...
Considerations, commercial status, and guidelines for a variety of general construction materials, e...
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Treated Wood Containing Arsenic : EPA Announces Tr...
Industry has voluntarily agreed to phase out wood treated with chromated copper arsenate, also known...
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Pollution Prevention and Residential Construction- Green Products

Resource Efficient
Residential Construction

Building With Green Products


Green products are an essential component of green design. But, putting a finger on exactly what a green product is can be difficult. Products require assessment in terms of their entire "life-cycle"; meaning from raw material through processing, transport, installation, use, reuse, recycling or disposal. (For a full discussion of life-cycle analyses, visit the Environment Australia site at http://www.ea.gov.au/industry/eecp/tools/tools1.html#intro). This analysis process can be quite intensive. Yet, the green product issue doesn't need to be complex. As with all resource efficient design it requires forethought, and an integrated whole house approach to allow for tradeoffs between beneficial and negative environmental impacts. A builder can follow general "green" guidelines to choose most building materials and products. Then, if a questionable product appears, fall back on the research provided by organizations that do the more complex analyses, e.g. Center For Resourceful Building Technology, Environmental Building News, GreenSeal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Construction Specifications Institute and the Office of Applied Economics BEES program, among others.

Green product choices are available for every stage of construction. They can contribute to the environmental benefits of a design, i.e. using certified wood in conjunction with optimum value engineering (OVE) or stand alone. To ensure that green products are included throughout the project, include discussions with distributors in the design process and specify purchasing practices for subcontractors. (For a more detailed discussion on incorporating green purchasing practices into a business, visit the Green Purchasing Topic Hub at http://www.p2ric.org/TopicHubs/toc.cfm?hub=13&subsec=7&nav=7 ).

The following sections will provide guidelines for choosing green products, finding standards and locating vendors.

What are they?

Generally, green products are those that have lower environmental and health impacts than other products that serve the same purpose. As with green design, product choice is aimed at reducing pollution, resource consumption and waste generated throughout the entire process of home construction, operation, renovation, and demolition.

More specifically, products should be purchased from local or regional sources whenever possible to reduce energy expended during transportation. An effort should also be made to purchase products from companies with reputable environmental reputations. Products with "green" qualities can be identified using the following guidelines:

1. Products that are made from "green" materials

  • Materials that represent the most efficient use of resources such as reused (salvaged) and recycled waste materials from households, industrial and agricultural processes. For example:
    • salvaged doors and beams
    • recycled glass aggregate backfill, landscaping or road mix
    • strawbale insulation, sunflower shell flooring
  • Materials produced from renewable, quick reproducing sources, especially if environmental impacts such as water and pesticide application clear-cutting, erosion, etc. are minimal during plant and animal production. For example:
    • certified wood
    • form-release agents made from plant oils
    • natural paints
    • flooring materials made from coir (husk of coconut), organic cotton, wool, sisal (native Mexican plant)
  • Natural materials that require a low level of processing, thereby reducing energy and pollution. For example:
    • stone
    • rammed earth blocks
    • brick
    • clay tile

2. Products that reduce environmental impacts during production, construction, renovation, demolition and building operation

  • Less hazardous alternatives and products designed to reduce pollution, waste and resource consumption. For example:
    • carpet tacks vs. adhesives
    • drywall clips vs. corner studs
    • erosion control products, e.g. compost bags, silt fences, etc.
    • compact fluorescent bulbs
    • low-maintenance engineered or composite siding
    • photovoltaic or wind turbine systems
    • structural insulated panels (SIP)
    • water conservation fixtures

3. Products that enhance safety and health of workers and occupants

  • Less toxic alternatives, products that block or remove pollutants, and detection or warning devices for hazardous emissions. For example:
    • low VOC paints, caulks, adhesives
    • non-formaldehyde containing products
    • systems to capture mud and moisture upon entrance
    • tile versus carpet
    • carbon monoxide detector

Sources: http://www.crbt.org/ and http://www.buildinggreen.com/features/gp/green_products.pdf

Where To Find Them

As mentioned above, many organizations are working 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
  • The U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Star Program
  • 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)

Click on "Only Green Product Links" in the left-hand navigation bar to find articles, reports, standards, directories and news regarding everything from efficient lighting to healthy indoor products to foundation systems. Check there to find guidelines or important issues concerning particular types of products. For a quick list of product and vendor directories click here: Product Directories.

Why use them?

Green building is about creating a system that protects and enhances the site, saves energy and water, maximizes the usable lifetime of the structure, promotes a healthy indoor air environment, and minimizes waste products during the construction and use of the home. By implementing the use of green products in this system, builders and consumers can most effectively create the system they desire.

Additionally, builders will have fewer liability concerns and increased marketability of the homes. (To learn how businesses achieve benefits visit the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Center at http://pprc.org/pprc/pubs/newslets/news1199.html#answers ). Homeowners will gain greater satisfaction from their home due to improved comfort, less noise, reduced maintenance, operating and health costs.

The Residential Construction Topic Hub was developed by:
Peaks to Prairies
Contact Laura Estes at Peaks with questions or comments:
406-994-3451 or laurae@montana.edu