Interior Finishes

Products new and re-invented for healthier interiors

The Aquarius line of recycled glass tiles from Interstyle are hard wearing, easy to maintain, and have no emissions
by Jim Taggart

“The ideal is a future where all materials in the built environment
are safe and replenishable and have no negative impact on human
and ecosystem health.”

Jason McLennan - Cascadia Chapter CAGBC Living Building Challenge

We’re not there yet, but the recent rapid growth in the green building movement, heightened awareness of the health benefits of better indoor environmental quality, and the prospect of more stringent environmental legislation, have encouraged the manufacturers of many traditional finishing materials to reformulate and re-engineer their products to achieve lower levels of toxicity and off-gassing of VOCs.
At the same time, new materials and products have begun to emerge [or re-emerge] that, because of their naturally benign environmental characteristics, are inherently more sustainable. Still others have taken a new look at the processes of production and consumption, creating closed loop manufacturing systems and new products fashioned from materials previously considered waste.
The environmental issues surrounding materials are numerous and complex. In addition to health and toxicity [which are the primary focus of this article], they include embodied energy, pollution and resource depletion - all of which merit consideration when selecting and specifying interior finishes.
The science of environmental chemistry was pioneered by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry [MBDC] and is the foundation upon which the company’s Cradle to Cradle protocol and assessment system is based [see SABMag Issue 6]. In simple terms, Cradle to Cradle design seeks the elimination of toxic materials from manufacturing products and processes, and models human industry on the integrated cycles of natural ecosystems in which the waste from one organism or process becomes the food for another.
While the C2C system continues to gain traction, and has secured the support of major manufacturers such as Ford and Nike, it has not yet established a significant presence in the area of construction materials and products. This may soon change,
however, with the recent ruling of USGBC to award a Design Process and Innovation credit under LEED for the incorporation
of C2C products.
The issue of toxicity of interior finishes in building materials is also addressed in the Cascadia Chapter of CaGBC’s Living Building Challenge [LBC], which seeks to take green building beyond the LEED checklist approach. The LBC identifies a ‘Red List’ of materials that must be avoided to minimize the impact of buildings on human health and the environment. In this regard, the LBC documentation
references the PHAROS 15 protocol created by the Healthy Building Network, a US-based organization that works in the building sector to move the industry away from materials that incorporate the range of toxic chemicals now determined by broad consensus to be the highest priority because of their high toxicity and global impact. The current Red List includes several footnotes that acknowledge the realities of current practice - for example, continuing to permit the use of mercury in fluorescent lamps because of the considerable energy benefits they offer over incandescent fixtures. Ideally, research will eventually find a non-toxic alternative or perfect a replacement technology, eliminating the need for the toxic metal.
According to Jason McLennan, at present it is almost impossible to calculate the total environmental impact of materials used in the construction of buildings because of the complex interrelationships and the necessary trade-offs between the environmental issues. So, in addition to looking for third-party verification of manufacturer’s claims, it is still necessary for specifiers to rely on intuition and experience, either their own or that of others.
To this end, an informal survey of some of the leading practitioners whose work has appeared in the pages of SABMag resulted in the following list of recommendations of innovative, environmentally responsible interior finishes. SABMag will be formalizing this kind of information exchange in a Green Products Bulletin Board which will appear shortly on our web site.

Wall and Ceiling Finishes

American Clay Plaster is a natural clay plaster for interior walls and ceilings. Its ingredients include clay, marble dust, natural pigments and in some cases, oyster shell fragments. It is manufactured by American Clay Enterprises, LLC, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Armstrong ceiling tiles are manufactured in a closed loop system that uses between 20% and 80% recycled content, . The company has also launched WoodWorks® Ekos™ Walls, a wood wall system that has no-added formaldehyde and no detectible formaldehyde emissions. The panel consists of wood veneer and an acoustical, mineral fibre substrate of 78% recycled content that delivers light weight and acoustical benefits. Designtex designs and develops textiles and textile products for wall coverings, furnishings and architectural panel systems using products and processes that are Cradle to Cradle certified. FELT studio offers design/build service for interior partitions, wall coverings etc. that use industrial felt made entirely from wool.

Floor Finishes

Armstrong Marmorette and Forbo Marmoleum are major manufacturers of linoleum made from solidified linseed oil, rosin, wood and cork flour, and limestone. Dinoflex rubber flooring contains mostly rubber millings recycled from old car tires.
Certified wood flooring is becoming more available. Two examples are EcoTimber and Woodland that supply no added formaldehyde engineered flooring and solid wood flooring. Interstyle in Burnaby, BC makes recycled glass tiles.

Manufacturers of commercial carpet have made great progress in recycling their products and reducing emissions. Their products are being certified under the Sustainable Carpet Assessment Standard [SCAS or NSF - 140-2005] which certifies carpet products for the environmental effects of their lifecycle, from manufacturing to reclamation, and renewable energy use. Among the main manufacturers are: Beaulieu, InterfaceFLOR, Tandus, and Shaw Commercial.Division, a Cradle to Cradle certified company.

Other products of interest include: Nature’s Carpet products are all made of wool; some are more natural than others [e.g. the 'deepest green' carpets include natural hemp backing, natural rubber latex core, no pigments and no added moth-proofing or other protective agents]; manufactured by carpet mills in Greece and Australia. Whisper Wool Premium flooring underlayment is made of 100% sheep wool, and is manufactured by Nature’s Acoustics Inc.

Paints and Coatings

Major manufacturers are making strides to reduce the emission levels of their products. The US-based Master Painters Institute has the MPI Green Performance Standard and an Approved Products List that takes into consideration not only VOC emissions, but durability performance as well. A visit to the MPI website reveals all of the products on the Approved Products List. Products available in Canada that appear on the list include: ICI Dulux Lifemaster; PPG Architectural Coatings Inc.; Sico ; Benjamin Moore; Cloverdale Paint; General Paint. Information on these company web sites provide specific brands of low-VOC paint.
Other products of interest include: AFM [American Formulation and Manufacturing] Safecoat makes interior primer, flat, eggshell, semi-gloss paint, and clear finishes and sealers from non-toxic ingredients, especially formulated for people with chemical sensitivities. Boomerang, a division of Laurentide, uses reclaimed post-consumer paints that are by default low VOC.
OSMO hard wax oil product for finishing floors and furniture is manufactured in Germany from natural vegetable oils and waxes, and distributed in Canada by Raincoast Alternatives. Yolo colorhouse paints are formulated by Yolo and manufactured in Texas. They contain no red list chemicals.

Countertops and Cabinetry

Traditional combinations of particle board and plastic laminate are being replaced by formaldehyde-free MDF, certified solid wood, and a variety of durable and environmentally benign surfaces for countertops.
Products of interest include: Environ Biocomposites strawboard panelling. Strawboard is a product manufactured from wheat straw, North America’s most abundant renewable resource. It is 30% lighter in weight than medium density fibreboard, contains no urea formaldehyde, emits no VOC emissions and meets the ASTM E84 Class 3 or C designation for flame spread and combustion. Ice stone countertops manufactured by Ice stone LLC are made of 100% recycled glass.
Taylors Recycled Plastic Products, Inc. produces recycled plastic sheeting primarily from post-consumer recycled plastic
as a replacement for plywood in non-structural indoor and outdoor applications. It comes in square-edged 4×8 sheets. Squak Mountain Stone is made from crushed recycled glass, shredded recycled paper, fly-ash and natural pigments.

Jim Taggart MRAIC is Editor of SABMag
Read the related sidebar: Screening the Toxics out of Building Materials


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