KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Mar 03 2010

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"All I need is the air that I breathe…"

I recently completed the interiors of a green home remodel in Las Vegas for the International Builders’ Show. The house was a very cool “Palm Springs Modern” design that was built in 1964. As you can well imagine, a house built back then wasn’t exactly a model of energy efficiency. Aside from installing things like solar panels, a tankless water heater, triple-paned windows, etc., the outside structure was literally encapsulated with foam panels. With the addition of spray foam in the wall cavities, the house became completely airtight, significantly reducing the amount of energy that’s wasted due to leakage.

Because the house is so airtight, it has the potential to keep fresh air from getting in, so an efficient air handler was also installed. What this also means is that anything that’s brought into the house has the potential to create a problem if it contains any harmful chemicals that can off-gas. So it’s important to make sure that the new products that are installed have been certified for low emissions. This is especially important for people with respiratory problems, the elderly and little children. But my question is: Why would you want to bring anything into your house that could harm you, regardless of your age or health issues?


You might not know that wood products, glues and finishes can contain harmful chemicals. Paint has added chemicals used as drying agents. Glues can contain chemicals used for bonding, and plywood products can contain formaldehyde. Some are smelly and can cause asthmatic symptoms, make your nose run or give you a headache. Others are completely odorless, but you are still breathing them in.

The GreenGuard Environmental Institute was founded in June of 2001 to establish a true third-party product certification program based on proven emissions standards and to provide a baseline for low-emitting products. You can go to their website and plug in an item you’d like to check and see if it’s been certified for low emissions.

Also, as of January 2009, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved an Airborne Toxics Control Measure (ATCM) to reduce formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products, such as hardwood plywood, particleboard, medium-density fiberboard, and also from doors, windows, furniture and other finished products with composite wood parts. What this means is that they’ve made it a mandatory issue, not an elective one, at least in their state. Perhaps one day the entire country will follow the lead of California when it comes to indoor air quality.

Some of the fabulous products I selected for the Las Vegas house were bathroom vanities from Xylem Corporation, an Atlanta-based manufacturer. Xylem has taken the initiative to adhere to the CARB standards and use low-emitting plywood and composites in all their products, even though it’s not mandatory. “We believe in the CARB measures, and we’re committed to doing our part to help,” said company founder Hal Weinstein. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Thanks, Xylem, for doing the right thing. We can all breathe a little easier.—Patricia Gaylor

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010 at 5:29 AM and is filed under Green. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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