Green Building: Finishing Materials

Green Building: Finishing Materials

Now, we get into the fun and overwhelming stuff! There are so many options at so many price points, I would not have known where to start without help. And thankfully Flynner Homes has a wonderful arrangement with Chris Woods at Majestic Flooring and Design here in Boise. I could have never done it without his help. From flooring to paint colors Chris has been a wonderful help in pulling everything together. So I chose to interview Chris for this post on the finishes:

1) How long have you been working with Flynner Homes and what do you like about it?

5 years – Scott Flynn’s & Bill Haas’s dedication to perfecting the process in which they build homes. Their overall concern for their client’s needs and their on-going effort to educate themselves and all the subs that make up the Flynner Team.

2) What are some of your favorite “green products”?

Marmoleum, Shaw’s Anso Nylon Carpet, Caesarstone countertop & Anderson Hardwood

3) Do you find it harder to design when you are limited to “green” or non-toxic materials?

No, as the world demands, manufacturers in all industries are constantly moving forward in a “green” market by developing products and processes with our environment in mind. From post-consumer recycled content to more energy efficient methods of manufacturing their products. Ever expanding product lines are being introduced to a “green” hungry consumer each year, making products more readily available at a very competitive price.

4) What do you enjoy most about working on the St. Jude house?

What I love most is being able to give back to the community in a way that I am so passionate about. I also love the work-site environment that working on the Dream Home creates, everyone is so humbled and recognizes the honor of getting to be a part of this wonderful charitable event.

5) Anything else you think s important to know when trying to have a “green” or non-toxic home?

I would just add that when trying to achieve a “green” and “non-toxic” home you must keep in mind all chemicals being brought into the home, not just the obvious ones. Indoor air quality is just as important, if not more, as energy-efficiency.

Finishing Our Home

Thanks to Chris for providing his perspective on green building and to finish this post I thought I would go into a few details about the choices we made for our new home. Like Chris I think it’s very important to know what we are bringing into our home, but because we do not have an unlimited budget, we had to make some compromises. But here is how we chose and why:

Flooring – We have four different flooring types in the house: hardwood, carpet, marmoleum, and tile. The downstairs is almost all hardwoods. This was very important to me because of the kids allergies. I did not want carpets in or around the kids rooms. There are two types of flooring to look at when considering hardwoods. Anderson Flooring makes a zero-VOC (volitile organic compounds) engineered hardwood floor that was very tempting, but a little more expensive. And a little more expensive over a lot of flooring was not in the budget. So we compromised on traditional hardwood floors with a low-VOC water based natural finish. The lighter the finish, the less staining and the lower the VOCs.

The stairs and the upstairs bedrooms are all carpeted. This was another place of compromise. I really wanted wool carpet, but again it did not fit into the budget. So we compromised on the Shaw Anso carpet that is made from recycled content (plastic bottles) and is recyclable (in some areas). But we did not compromise on the carpet pad. We chose the Healthier Choice Pad which is the lowest VOC pad on the market. I believe the foams in a house (and you would be amazed at how many their are if you add them up) are one of the worst contaminates for indoor air quality. Every time you push, step, sit on them they release gases. So I want those gasses to be the least toxic I can find.

The laundry room floor and two of the bathroom floors are Marmoleum. Marmoleum is a naturally derived linoleum. It is also durable (used often for commercial use) and can be purchased in large sheets which I like because their are no (or fewer) seams to trap dirt. It also comes in many, many great colors and patterns. The only room with tile floors is the master bath and that is because I decided I wanted a classic looking checker board pattern. I don’t normally like grout on a floor, but I thought I could handle it in this small area.

Cabinetry and Counter Tops – For cabinetry, Flynner Homes works with Chris Dewitt at Western Idaho Cabinets, and I am so thankful. Chris and everyone I met there was very helpful in designing a wonderful kitchen. Really I spent 99% of my time with them on the kitchen. The laundry room and bathrooms were really am after thought. Best of all they offer Low-VOC materials (plywood) and finishes (stains). I can’t wait to show you, but you’ll have to wait until it is all finished.

There are a million options for counter tops (at least it feels that way to me). There are laminate, natural stone (including granite and marble), ceramic and porcelain tile, glass tile, and various composite solid surface materials (from paper stone to quartz composited). The most commonly used in kitchens today is granite. And it has many advantages, including price because of high competition. But I chose to save even more money here and go with tile. I am not a big fan of grout, but we have chosen a slate colored porcelain that comes in huge tiles that will be placed as close together as possible in a dark colored grout. This will first minimize the amount of grout and second, because of the color, minimize staining. You can get more “eco-friendly” ceramic or porcelain tile if it comes from a recycled source, but the air quality issues are the same and they cost a lot more. But we did decide on a granite slab for the bar area which separates the kitchen and dining room. This gives it a little more formal feel from the dining room view and provides a nice surface from which to serve. We are still looking for the perfect piece, but I am sure to find it soon.

I did want a solid surface for the laundry room and bathroom counters. In the laundry room I wanted inexpensive and durable, so we are using the same Marmoleum on the counter as on the floor. For the bathrooms, we looked at many of the new “green” and non-toxic composite options but they were all more expensive than marble or granite. I knew I wanted a light colored surface, so we ended up with classic looking honed carrara marble (that’s the white marble with the grey going through it). I did not consider laminate. Many of the laminate as marketed as “green” because the use so much recycled content, but it is still plastic and has the corresponding VOC emmissions.

The tiles in the showers are classic white ceramic tile, but this down stairs bathroom has this beautiful glass tile accent. Again, you could go with a “greener” recycled glass tile for twice as much money, but there is no difference from an indoor air quality perspective.

Painting – Because I am so sensitive to light and color, choosing paint was harder than it ad to be. The outside was easy, all white house with a barn red garage (Sherwin Williams), but the inside was a challange. First, I recommend choosing you paint brand first. We needed a brand that offered a good low-VOC paint and had colors I liked. Once you choose a brand, I recommend choosing colors within ther existing formulas. Everyone you talk to in the painting industry will tell you they can color match, but I don’t like color matching. I don’t think the colors ever come out exactly the same and this makes it very hard to touch up later. We ended up chosing Benjamin Moore paints for the interior.

Recently, an article came out in Mother Earth Magazine about the chemical, propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs), which is used in Low and No-VOC paints are linked to higher probability of allergy and asthma in children. CLICK HERE to read full article. Unfortunately we had already chose and bought most of the paint before I read the article, so I asked the naturopath for advice on this problem? Do I need to change paint now? She suggested putting real vanilla extract in the pant (about 1/4 tsp per gallon) to reduce odors and before we move in, set out bowls of white vinegar to absorb indoor air pollutants. I haven’t been able to find research supporting this technique, but I thought it worth a try.

Lighting and Appliances – The choices of lighting are endless and very much subject to taste, but as far as being “green” we had to make sure that at least half of the bulbs in the house half the be CFL (compact florencent lamps). The same is true for appliances, the main factors in these decisions in first purchase as many Energy Star Rated appliances as are available, such as dish washers, refrigerators, freezer, and clothes washer. The rest is based on our needs and budget. We ended up with mostly GE appliances based on the consumer reports reviews, utility, and price.

So that covers most of the choices we had to make. The remaining details, such as doors, built-ins, and hardware are all a matter of choosing from the builders options. But soon it will all come together to create a home.

I’ll keep you posted!