Read the following for some practical tips on how to select healthy and environmentally-friendly products for three of the most commonly used types of home remodelling and renovation materials. The materials addressed here — paint, flooring, and wood particleboard/fiberboard cover a significant amount of surface area in a home and they can be detrimental to your health if conventional products are used.
Many of the conventional products contain a host of toxic chemicals and their associated volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause respiratory, skin, and eye irritation, headaches, nausea, muscle weakness, and more serious ailments. VOCs are also harmful to the environment, because they contribute to ground-level ozone (i.e., smog). Fortunately, many non-toxic, low-VOC alternatives are now available, since the demand for healthy homes and healthy products has grown. Links are provided so that you can find more information on specific products and where you can purchase them.
- Beyond just selecting a latex, water-based paint instead of an alkyd oil-based paint, you should seek out paints specifically marketed for their “low-VOC” content. More than 25 brands of low-VOC paints are now available. Almost all of the major paint manufacturers now offer one product line that is “zero-VOC” or “low-VOC” (and therefore, often low-odor). Most of these are in the same price range as their conventional counterparts.
- White and light pastel-colored paints typically contain fewer VOCs, and darker pigments contain more VOCs.
- Most low-VOC paints are interior paints, but a couple of low-VOC exterior paints are available.
- Standards for low-VOC paints have been established by the non-profit organization, Green Seal, which has set the following VOC limits: For flat paints, 50 g/L (grams per liter); for non-flat paints, 150 g/L.
- You can find the VOC content of any paint by requesting the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the manufacturer or paint store; these sheets are often available for download on paint companies’ websites. The chemicals that are commonly found in paints include formaldehyde, aldehydes, and styrene. Other ingredients of concern include heavy metals (e.g., mercury, cadmium, chromium).
- In addition to low-VOC synthetic paints, there are alternative “natural” paints; natural paints are often derived from milk protein, lime, clay, and earth pigments.
- It’s a good idea to avoid putting down carpet wherever possible, because carpet serves as a harbor for dust, dirt, bacteria, and mold. Also, many types of carpet off-gas VOCs and contain other toxic chemicals.
- There are a number of flooring alternatives to carpet that will make for healthier indoor air. These include bamboo flooring, wood flooring, natural linoleum, tile, cork, and concrete flooring.
- If you decide to use carpet in some areas, consider a carpet made of a natural fiber (e.g., wool, coir, sisal) rather than synthetic carpeting. But if you use wool, beware of mothproofing pesticide treatments, which can be highly toxic. Of the synthetic carpet materials, 100% nylon is safer than others. Be sure that the carpet comes with a non-toxic backing and use either non-toxic adhesives or tack-down installation. Never install carpet in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, or other moist areas where mold can easily grow.
- Vinyl flooring is commonly used in non-carpeted areas of houses, but it should also be avoided, because it contains PVC (polyvinyl chloride). Dioxin is a by-product of PVC production and it is highly toxic; it is especially dangerous if burned and inhaled, in the event of a fire.