Green home building and healthy home building are where the future of construction is headed. In fact, a lot of people think green construction is the same as healthy, which isn't exactly the case.
This is a common misconception, simply because many have not yet heard of healthy home building, but are familiar with the concepts of sustainability, conservation and recycling. This blog post outlines some important things to consider from both building camps and explains some fundamental concepts behind green home building and healthy home building.
As construction professionals, we spend a lot of our time out in the field. And frankly we've lost count of how many times someone has come to us mistakenly thinking that green and healthy homes are the same thing.
Green building is about using the Earth's resources efficiently. Healthy building is about creating a space that promotes human health and well-being.
In a nutshell, healthy building eliminates the use of harmful materials inside a home to create a wellness supporting living environment. While green building focuses on reducing the negative impacts of construction materials on the earth's environment. Both are very important to improving the lives of humanity, with two very different sets of goals.
And while there is some overlap between the two, they are not the same thing. Put simply, if you're thinking about building, remodeling or even decorating a home, don't get caught up in the myths about what you need to use (or not use) to make it happen. Do your research, keep a clear head, and make sure you're getting the best information before you start construction. Your family's health (and your wallet) will thank you for it. At least, that's our philosophy at JS2 Partners Healthy Home Builders.
So first, what's the difference between “green building” vs “healthy building”?
Most of us know that it's important to eat healthy and exercise regularly in order to maintain our health. But did you know that the buildings we live and work in can also have a significant impact on our health?
Healthy building is an emerging field that focuses on using materials and methods that put occupant health front and center. As healthy home builders, our primary goal is to promote healthy living for a home’s occupants, which includes people, animals, and even plants.
Healthy buildings are constructed with nontoxic materials for everything from what’s inside the walls to the visible surfaces around the interior. Things like flooring, glues, paints, cabinets, insulation, and more, are chosen because they don’t emit dangerous chemicals into the air. The goal is to use design and construction methods which have a positive impact on the wellbeing of the family and pets that live inside. Plus, things like weatherproofing and waterproofing around a home are optimized, so the people inside can play, relax, cook, sleep and work with maximum productivity. What's not to love about being confident that your space is built to make you feel good?
As healthy home builders, our goal is to promote a wellness focused living environment using beautiful, quality, nontoxic construction materials and principles.
So where does that leave green?
What is green building philosophy?
Green and sustainable are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different.
Green building reduces the impact a home has on the earth's environment from the time it's built to when people live there. Energy efficiency is often a top priority.
Sustainable building reduces the impact of a home on the surrounding natural environment. Often reclaimed and recycled materials are used and water conservation equipment is installed.
Both green building and sustainable building are important for reducing our environmental impact, and they take different approaches to doing so. However, lessening the carbon footprint during construction is a priority for both - something we should all be mindful of in our daily lives.
As home builders, it's our duty to respect our planet by lessening the amount of waste throughout the build process. We do this through repurposing materials like lumber scraps from framing that can be used as wall bracing for heavy cabinets and shower glass. Plus a lot of what is taken down during demolition of a property can be recycled, like metal from HVAC components, rebar and old plumbing pipes.
So what’s green living got to do with healthy living?
Short answer, not as much as most would assume. Some people think that healthy home construction requires the use of straw, hay, clay, hemp, or a myriad of other bio-based products, many of which have not been adequately reviewed for performance and probably won’t pass local building codes.
Sadly, many companies that manufacture these alternative building materials claim they are non toxic when they can actually harbor their own unhealthy substances, and even mold.
Of course, we love and respect Mother Earth. And much of what we do as healthy home builders is right in line with the cleanest, most sustainable, best building practices by default. But when it boils down to the most important aspects of any build project, the health and wellbeing of homeowners and pets is the primary goal in a healthy home. More on this in a moment.
Are green buildings unhealthy?
In terms of indoor environmental quality, research by Current Environmental Health Reports shows that, on average, green buildings had reduced amounts of harmful substances like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) compared to their traditionally built counterparts. Green buildings are actually not considered unhealthy, but it's important to note that wellness is not the primary goal either.
This is where healthy building standards take the movement towards sustainability a step further, by building to eliminate harmful VOCs in indoor air.
Where these studies lack is their oversight of factors that specifically make for a healthy home. For example, lesser-known factors that often get overlooked are things like acoustics, which scored lower in green buildings. This means the study's occupants living in a green home were less satisfied with the structure’s noise control. And, as discussed in the book Healthier Homes, noise pollution is just one factor out of many that many don’t think about affecting human health. Natural light, and enough lighting, are other necessities that often get put on the backburner. Remember, the goal here is to reduce background stress levels, not raise them.
It's not just the construction process that can have an impact on the environment - the materials themselves can be labeled as sustainable, too.
Earthen homes are made out of natural materials like hay and straw. While these materials are renewable and therefore sustainable, it doesn't mean they are good for your health. They can be prone to mold growth and don't keep things like high levels of humidity out of a home.
Stachybotrys chartarum, a type of black mold, produces some nasty mycotoxins in humid conditions on hay and straw. These vapors can cause severe illness, so it's important to be aware of the potential problems with earthen materials before using them in construction.
Then there's the use of recycled plastics which often smell like synthetic fragrance from recycled laundry soap bottles. So while green buildings may have some benefits over traditional ones, it's important to consider all aspects of what makes a healthy home before making any green assumptions.
Why healthy building is better for people and pets
It’s clear that sustainability and being green has a large place in our lives -- which means respecting Mother Earth for the sake of the world today and for generations to come. This is why doing our part for sustainability and going green is a group effort.
This is where healthier living becomes an individual choice. Here, you have the opportunity to curate your own wellness-driven living environment within your home. You get to stock your fridge with your favorite organic foods. You have the opportunity to choose natural beautiful furnishings, rugs and décor that are free from VOC lacquers and glues. Here, you have the power to create your own clean and relaxing space.
And best of all, you'll reap the benefits of positive wellbeing and an enhanced quality of life. Ultimately the choice is yours. And the benefits of a healthy home are truly life changing.