Furnishings

e1logoI’m not going to list every piece of furniture that we’ve chosen for the house, but I wanted to quickly highlight our master bedroom furniture.

We’ve chosen a bedroom set (seen here) that is very environmentally friendly.  It is made of FSC wood and has received the European E1 rating.  This rating is “a European Union certification system that states that the materials used in the construction of the furniture do not off gas formaldehyde or other dangerous fumes.”  Think of it as the furniture equivalent of low- or no-VOC paints. 

Also, the mattress we’re using is an all natural latex mattress.  According to the website, “Latex does not off-gas toxic petrochemicals as does memory foams or synthetic chemical mattresses. Latex is naturally hypoallergenic. Bacteria and dust mites cannot reside in natural rubber.”  So again, no off-gases, no petrochemicals.  The mattress cover is unbleached cotton.

The furniture is shipped from Colorado, so that is a little troublesome, but given the other benefits and the fact that it is exactly the look that we wanted, we decided to buy it.

Paints and Finishes

primerlowvoc02072009I can’t believe that anyone reading this wouldn’t have heard of low VOC paints and varnishes.  VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are what makes paint have that “freshly painted” smell.  The EPA broadly describes them as “any organic compound that participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions.”  VOCs commonly used in the home are found in carpets, paints, varnishes, dry cleaner solvents, and household cleaners.

You can learn more about VOCs and how they can contribute to “sick building syndrome” by clicking here.   These are pages on a website from the EPA that do a great job of outlining the many contributors to sick building syndrome, including a listing of 12 common indoor polutants.

We have avoided VOCs in several ways:

  • No carpet (we actually get a LEED for Homes point for having no carpet!)
  • No VOC Paints.  We’re using Sherwin Williams’ Harmony series for our paint and you can see from the photo above, our primer has no VOCs either)
  • We do dry-clean some of our clothes, but we get our clothes without plastic bags.  The plastic bags concentrate the VOCs and don’t allow them to dissipate (and we avoid throwing away dry cleaning bags every week).
  • We have specified formaldehyde-free plywood and formaldehyde-free binders on our plywood finishes and furniture.
  • Our cleaners are natural.  We like the Seventh Generation brand.
Exterior Finishes

I wanted to create a short post to talk about exterior finishes and why we chose them.

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  • Brick – a green material that is highly durable.  Brick can last for decades with minimal maintenance.  Our brick was made locally so transportation costs were minimal both in dollars and carbon footprint.
  • Concrete board – also a green material and highly sustainable.  This product looks contemporary, can be used for multiple applications (both on the outside walls and in the exterior sofits).  This material is also very affordable and easily replaced if a board gets broken.  The photo above shows the concrete board and Cedar Siding on the garage/studio structure (I decided I had posted too many photos of the front of the house lately!).
  • Cedar siding – a fairly green material.  We debated about how much wood to put on the exterior.  The result was a moderate amount – enough to make the home’s exterior aesthetically pleasing.  This material is sustainable and long-lasting.  Also, we opted for a “non-clear cedar”, meaning we decided to have a large number of knots in the wood.  While the prevailing wisdom is that clear cedar is more pleasing to the eye, I like the more informal look of the knotted cedar that we used.
  • Metal – green and durable as well.  We have metal windows, a metal roof, and metal sheathing around the top of the house and around the front window structure. 

These selections – along with our energy-efficient windows – create an environmentally-friendly fascade that is also aesthetically pleasing. 

The paints and stains on the exterior of the house are not low VOC.  We decided to use low VOC on all interior paints and stains, but not on the exterior.  We were looking to save a little bit of money and chose to go traditional.  LEED is very concerned with interior air quality and not so concerned with exterior finishes.

Materials & Resources (LEED MR Category)

This category addresses those areas of Green Construction that most people are familiar with.  Bamboo flooring, low VOC paints, locally-source materials:  these are the mainstays of environmentally friendly building materials.  The MR category addresses the materials that make up a huge portion of your house, and the vast majority of the finish-out materials. 

To determine the number of points we were eligible for in this category, we reviwed 21 groupings of materials to determine if the materials we are using are:

  1. recycled or reused
  2. had low emissions (low VOCs), and/or
  3. were locally produced

Points are potentially awarded for all three of these characteristics – so if you used wood flooring that you salvaged from a barn less than 500 miles away you get points in both the ‘recycled’ component and the ‘locally produced’ component.  We believe we’ll end up with the maximum number of points for this portion of the MR category.  We’re using materials such as 30% fly ash concrete, bamboo floors, FSC certified woods in our millwork, recycled oak hardwood floors (from the house we deconstructed), locally produced windows and window frames, locally produced cabinetry, low VOC everything, and we have 100% hard surface flooring (meaning no carpet in the entire house).  I’m going to highlight several of these materials in my later posts because we’ve done some really fun things with these products.  The LEED Environmentally Preferable Products chart on Page 80 of the LEED for Home Rating System document is very informative – although it looks scary when you first see it.  Take time to study it and ask me any questions you have. 

The MR LEED for Homes category also addresses the planning that goes into the framing of the house.  Obviously, the framing makes up the vast majority of the wood portion of the house, so LEED cares about whether you’ve planned appropriately and didn’t order too much wood or wasted too much wood in the building of your house.  As a prerequisite, you have to order no more than 10% in excess of what it will take to construct the house.  If you over-ordered more than 10% you’ve missed the prerequisite.  Extra points are received for having detailed framing documents (which we did thanks to the engineer and architect we hired), and for having a detailed cut list (which we had).

Framing efficiencies can get you 3 points.  There’s a chart on page 78 of the LEED for Homes Rating System that outlines 13 types of efficiencies that you can earn points for.  We are following these, some of which are often collectively called “advanced framing techniques”.

  • Stud spacing great then 16″ on center (we don’t have every single stud spaced greater than 16″, but the majority are)
  • Floor joist spacing greater than 16″ on center
  • Roof rafter spacing greater than 16″ on center
  • Size headers for actual loads
  • Use 2-stud corners (also known as California corners)

Why do we care about having greater than 16″ on center studs, joists and rafters?  As LEED puts it, “Reduced framing can reduce the number and size of thermal breaks and increase the amount of insulation installed, leading to better energy performance”.  And it clearly allows you to use less materials.

Waste Management is also addressed in this category.  You must have a construction waste management plan, and you can get extra points for limiting the waste.  I’ll again refer you to a table showing the amount of points you get (page 84 of the Rating System), but the idea is to send to the landfill or incinerator as little as possible.  Our wood waste is minimal because as you read in my post on the deconstruction of our old house, we are having our bare wood shredded to be used as mulch in our new landscape…so ZERO of it ends up in a landfill!

Materials & Resources expected points:  16 out of a possible 16.