what color is green?

by Sheldon Wolfe, CSI, CCS, CCCA

Recycle9.wmf (9608 bytes)

most owners will be receptive to a reasoned argument to guard the health of their employees

Part 1 - sorting out the garbage

Part 3 - "green, green, it's green they say..."

Part 2 - the inside story

In last month's column I described my own way of classifying "green" issues into three categories. The first of these, site waste and recycling, is fairly straightforward. The materials already exist, are easily identified, and easy to segregate. Many decisions regarding waste materials have already been made, and various ordinances regulate handling, transportation, and disposal.

Materials in the second category present more problems, as they become a relatively permanent part of the facility. Because of their long life span, they are capable of affecting those who live or work in the building. Although these products are manufactured from raw materials, requiring fuel and sometimes-irreplaceable resources, these concerns are secondary to their impact on building occupants. Similarly, though they will someday become waste, disposal problems are less important than how they affect the interior environment.

indoor air quality

Fortunately, most building materials are effectively inert. They have no effect on us if we touch them, nor do they produce noxious fumes or odors. These inoffensive materials, which include concrete, masonry, metals, and glass, make up the bulk of a building.

Most of the problems come from finish materials such as carpet, particleboard, and other products with large amounts of binders or blowing agents. Adhesives and paints give off a variety of chemicals while they cure; some continue to release small amounts of gases for several weeks. Other substances are introduced by cleaning and maintenance products or by the occupants themselves after the building is occupied. Even if all of these issues are addressed, inadequate ventilation or moisture control will encourage growth of mold.

Last fall, in our series of chapter meetings addressing indoor air quality, we saw some horrifying examples of what can happen when we fail to adequately control the interior environment. Sick building syndrome has become commonplace, a recognized threat to our health.

Many green issues are subject to debate. Are the costs of sorting materials, transporting them to distant recycling facilities, and re-processing them less than the costs of producing new materials? Is it even possible to completely analyze the costs and benefit of sustainable architecture? In this respect, indoor air quality is almost a no-brainer.

It's time to review our product selections and start asking product reps how their products affect indoor air quality. Find out which chemicals are dangerous, if they are present, and if they can be controlled. Try to leave enough time between completion and occupancy for installation adhesives to dissipate. Always use the material least likely to cause problems. Most of the new low-VOC, low-odor products cost only a little more than the ones they replace, and most owners will be receptive to a reasoned argument to guard the health of their employees.

We now know that some products are harmful to building occupants. With this knowledge comes the obligation to avoid use of those products; any other choice is professionally indefensible.

Next month: Sustainable architecture

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1998, Sheldon Wolfe

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