Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Green Product-from EcoHome Magazine

From EcoHome Magazine: 12 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Green Building Product, By Rick Schwolsky, Editor in Chief.

Schwolsky says: "As a former high-performance home builder, I know what this feels like. You’re stuck in a gray area between innovation and risk, caught between a commitment to build high-performance homes and your responsibilities to ensure those homes still perform their most basic functions without creating problems—or liabilities."

Here is his list, from the the article:
1. How will it perform its basic function as a building material or product?
2. How does it compare with products I use now?
3. Is it code approved?
4. Is it third-party certified?
5. Will it contribute toward project certification?
6. Is it available?
7. How will it affect my pricing?
8. Will it increase my level of risk or liability?
9. How will it improve the level of performance of my homes?
10. How will it contribute toward sustainability?
11. Will it require new sequencing or installation skills/trades?
12. Is it worth the investment for the benefits?

As I read through these, numbers 1 and 8 struck me as the most basic and important. For those actually living in the home, 8 could also be translated to "Is this as water tight as a conventional product? Is the warranty comparable? When will it need to be replaced: 10 years, 30 years, 50 years?" With few exceptions, it does not matter how "green" the product is if it will not last.

Instincts will also go a long way in evaluating a new green product: does it seem like a gimmick, someone who is taking advantage of the green bandwagon by selling me something I don't need? Or is this a quality replacement of something I am using anyway? Will this replace a product that would have been more resource intensive to make, or make an energy intensive product more sustainable (like using concrete containing fly ash)? Will it replace a material whose manufacture is dangerous to the environment and to those who are making it (i.e., choosing FSC certified wood windows over vinyl)?

If you have doubts, ask the manufacturer directly. A few years ago, we were working with a client to develop townhouses, and we suggested bamboo floors. He expressed some concern about the use of product without much of a track record for durability. Through internet research, I found many homeowners who were disgruntled. This is just a warning about internet research in the form of chat rooms and comment pages: they can help alert you to issues with a product, but keep in mind that people don't go to chat rooms when they are happy with a product. However, this research did alert me to a few things to look for when choosing bamboo floors: as in most cases, you get what you pay for in terms of durability. To get the environmental advantages of bamboo (rapidly renewable), it should be certified (i.e. FSC) to ensure that a forest was not destroyed in order to produce the bamboo crop.

Also look for BuildingGreen Top 10 products, and stores like EcoHaus, which has a knowledgeable sales staff and vets products before they are sold, so you know that if it's sold there, it's most likely passed the "green" test. 

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