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New Green Building Materials

With the green building movement gaining ground, there are more products and technologies available than ever before. Do you have any guidance on the latest offerings?

Vincent Standley:
Green building products have expanded in the marketplace and, with home construction still booming, there's more reason than ever to tame the excess with compact design and recyclable, Earth-friendly materials.

The Basics: FSC-Certified and Reclaimed Lumber

Since 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has certified more than 120 million acres of forest worldwide. This accounts for about 1 percent of all forests. The numbers are small, but the presence and availability of certified lumber continues to grow. Mainstream chain stores like The Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement Centers are selling more FSC products each year. For instance, The Home Depot sold $15 million worth of FSC certified lumber in 1999, $225 million in 2002, 350 million in 2003. We're also seeing a rise in specialty green building stores like Eco-Lumber Co-Op and the Environmental Home Center that offer a full range of FSC-certified and reclaimed wood products. The breadth of FSC and reclaimed products is growing as well, with basic framing lumber being sold at prices competitive with conventional lumber

Engineered Lumber

Green engineered lumber products are composite materials made with wood chips and other wood waste. They offer the additional advantage of being both stronger and less prone to warping than conventional lumber. Recently, formaldehyde-based adhesives have begun to be replaced with soy-based adhesives. This year Columbia Forest Products has converted two of its factories from using urea-formaldehyde based binders to using an 87 percent soy binder.


From straw to sorghum, paneling is being manufactured from a wide variety of organic materials. Kirei is a Japanese product made from the sorghum waste fiber. It is formaldehyde-free and costs about $7 a square foot.

Agriboard, Biofiber, and Woodstalk are straw-based paneling products.


Wheatboard, made from stems left-over from harvesting, has been gaining in popularity. Now Citilog uses formaldehyde-free wheatboard cores with FSC-certified veneers made from North American hardwoods and South American tropical woods to create kitchen cabinetry easy on the lungs and the environment. See also Neil Kelly Cabinets, which feature wheatboard casing with FSC-certified doors and drawer faces.


Cotton insulation made from pre-consumer recycled denim scrap makes an efficient insulator with no impact on indoor air quality and, according to Building Green, negligible pollution during manufacture. Of the two brands available, Bonded Logic treats their insulation with a borate flame retardant and InnoTherm is reported to use a mix of borate and ammonium sulfate, both healthier alternatives to brominated flame retardants which accumulate in our bodies.

Bamboo Flooring

Over the last several years, bamboo flooring has emerged as a great alternative to conventional wood flooring. Bamboo is rapidly renewable and durable. Many species of bamboo reach maturity in three to six years, where hardwoods like maple and oak take 50 years or more. It is also harder than most hardwood flooring. Unfortunately the adhesives used to manufacture bamboo laminate usually contain formaldehyde. As with plywood, though, new adhesive technology has made possible many formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring products.

Formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring:

Lastly, when the dust has settled and the carpenters have left, you'll want to brighten things up with a layer of paint. But paints can offgas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as the known carcinogens and neurotoxins benzene, toluene and formaldehyde. You can now find zero- and low-volatile organic compound paints just about anywhere paint is sold, and even better, the cost is comparable to conventional latex paints. Over 25 brands of low-VOC paint are on the market, including AFM safecoat, Air Care by Coronado, and Ecological Paint by Innovative Formulations.

American Clay's Natural Earth Plaster is a no-VOC wall coating that comes in 32 colors and provides a warm, durable surface. Made of clay, recycled marble dust, non-toxic mineral pigments and boric acid to eliminate mold, Natural Earth Plaster is designed for interior use and can be applied to most surfaces excluding oriented strand board and other materials liable to expand and contract.

This article has been reprinted courtesy of The Green Guide. It was first published in September 2005.

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