In the past, even Kermit the frog would have a difficult time being “green” when it came to remodeling his pad or building an environmentally responsible home. No more.
“You can’t believe how much it has changed, even in the last year,” says Gary Dorris, owner of Dorris Construction, who built his first green home in the Applegate last year. “The guys at the lumberyard know what you’re talking about now.”
“We’re seeing contractors and homeowners in here we’ve never seen before,” agrees Chris Bourne, one of five co-owners of Phoenix Organics, a five-year-old company in Phoenix that specializes in green building products, organic gardening products and bio-deisel.
One small example of the growth he’s seen is demand for non-toxic paints: in 2006, the company sold 400 gallons of non-toxic paint. In the first three months of 2007, they’ve already sold 560 gallons.
Not long ago, if you wanted to buy eco-friendly or non-toxic building supplies, you had to go to a specialty retailer like Phoenix Organics or Green Mountain Woodworks in Talent. Now the big-box stores are jumping on the green bandwagon and manufacturers are rushing to meet the demand.
Home Depot, located a scant mile from Phoenix Organics, recently launched an Eco Options campaign which makes it easier for shoppers to identify green products in the store. The Eco Options brands, identified by informational placards, are applied to products in five categories: sustainable forestry, clean indoor air, water conservation, energy efficiency, or what the mega-retailer calls “healthy home.”
Part of the reason for this explosion in green alternatives is that communities across the country are passing laws requiring energy-efficient or eco-friendly buildings. Part is that consumers are telling their contractors they want cleaner products.
As a result, building supply manufacturers have accelerated the development of environmentally sound building materials and are rolling out an ever-increasing roster of products. You name the remodeling need and most likely there is a green alternative to fit the task.
Much of the activity revolves around products that supposedly create a healthier indoor environment, such as low- and zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints, which are now available through most paint companies, including Sherwin-Williams and Miller Paint Co. Non-toxic adhesives and caulks are hot sellers, as are products that replace PVC or vinyl, and products without phthalate plasticizers, brominated flame retardants and fluoropolymers.
“These are compounds that most people had never heard of a few years ago, but that are raising serious concerns in scientific circles,” says Alex Wilson, author of Your Green Home and executive editor of Environmental Building News.
Some of this year’s best new green products, according to Wilson, are formaldehyde-free panels, including particleboard, medium-density fiberboard, hardwood plywood. Formaldehyde was reclassified in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen,” and California is expected to adopt stringent regulations that will, within a few years, eliminate panel products made with urea-formaldehyde binders.
Portland-based Columbia Forest Products Inc., North America’s largest producer of hardwood plywood, is leading alternative development with a soy-based binder.
One of the new products that Bourne likes is Paperstone, a countertop material made from 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper bound by resins made from cashew shells. He also raves about roofing made from recycled tires that comes with a 50-year warranty. A supplier of note is Eco Procote, which makes a range of soy-based products including concrete stains, tile grouts, paints and flooring.
One of the most popular newer products, Bourne says, is a natural earth plaster called American Clay. The product, made using a low-energy, low-waste process, can be colored with natural pigments, so no painting is necessary.
The list of green products goes on and on, from structural insulated panels (foam sandwiched between layers of particle board) to cork flooring and non-toxic carpeting. “Significant innovation has been happening in the carpet industry, where new green product lines are being introduced all the time,” says Wilson.
The flood of green is not without its problems.
There is no firm definition for a green product. Organizations are working to outline what is and isn’t green, but no single, simple classification system exists. In general, a green product is one that – to one degree or another – conserves energy and/or water, contributes to a healthy home environment, protects natural resources and is affordable.
But it’s not an exact science. Take windows, for instance. A low-energy, double-pane window may be green by design, because it saves energy, Bourne says, but the materials and procedures used to create them are not eco-friendly.
Paints advertised as non-toxic are a point of contention for some. The EPA allows paints to be sold as no-VOC if they meet certain standards regarding ozone depletion, but that doesn’t make them non-toxic for humans.
“So-called ‘greenwashing’ happens frequently, as manufacturers exaggerate environmental claims about their products to appeal to the growing demand for green building products,” says Wilson. “As green building has become bigger business, this problem has worsened.”
Such debates will continue as the green building industry matures, but one thing is for certain, green-conscious consumers in the Rogue Valley have never had more options.