3 Tips on Buying Green Building Materials

Green building materials can be defined in terms of many criteria that take account of environmental and social responsibility. Examples include engineered lumber, biomass-based building panels, natural earthen materials, low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and stains, and many products manufactured by companies with a strong commitment to protecting both the environment and their workers. When planning and shopping, consider this advice adapted from The Natural House by Dan Chiras, a Real Goods Solar Living Book, Chelsea Green Publishing.

In recent years, many manufacturers have climbed onto the green building bandwagon. Hardly a product in use today can’t be replaced by a more environmentally sound alternative, and the variety of green building materials only promises to get better.

If you are building a natural home, be sure to consider alternative materials for foundations, walls, floors, and windows. If you are going to build a more conventional wood-frame house or just an addition, give careful thought to ways that you can use green materials.

Either way, these tips will help you maximize the benefit and satisfaction from your choice to build greener:

1. Don't expect perfection. Select the products and materials that meet the greatest number of green criteria possible. Some materials may meet the criteria, but cost too much — either to purchase or to ship to your site. Others may not be as aesthetically appealing as standard building materials. Still others may not provide the structural strength you require. (In some cases they could actually be stronger than standard materials.) Sometimes a product may meet only one or two sustainable criteria; nonetheless, it is an improvement over conventional building materials. Choose materials that offer the greatest gain for the environment and the health and welfare of the occupants of the house.  One useful strategy is to concentrate on products that are used in great quantity, such as framing lumbar, insulation, tile, concrete, and drywall.  Purchase as many green building products as you can afford.

2. Buy product made by companies that take actions to manifest their commitment to the environment. Pollution prevention programs are an important sign of environmental responsibility. Production of materials from recycled scrap or sustainably harvested forests is another.

3. Purchase from companies that treat their employees well; it indicates they truly care about the health and well-being of the people who are making them wealthy — or at least keeping them in business.


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