The IAQ perspective: From a Green Design and Build Baby Boomer

Years ago, and I do mean years, a friend/client told me she was pregnant and needed to renovate a room in their home for their new baby. “Terrific” I thought. “I’ve got this.

I’d already been working for 10 years in  the ‘straight’ green building business, planning, designing and specifying for new builds and remodels. And I’d been in the ‘out there’ business of the world with the chemically sensitive, searching for the toxins-free products that would work for these folks each with their own unique needs.

Our nursery game plan was not hard even back then. We tore up carpet, sanded and refinished floors – without any stain, using water borne, low VOC clear coats. We painting with safe paints, and used safe, mostly all-wood furniture. The baby mattress was made of metal, wool and organic cotton materials and with a doctor’s letter, sold to us without any flame retardant. Any fabrics, including sheets and ‘baby bumpers’ were cotton and washed before fabrication and installation. The home’s HVAC system was clean, and there was a big window in the room for natural ventilation.

Done! I was confident I had done my best. We finished the job a month in advance of her due date to allow for any possible emissions out gassing. I completed the job, wished them well, and waited to hear from my friend to come see her new little blessing.

And so I did. I got word of her little boy’s arrival, and soon was invited to come say ‘Hello.’

I entered the new nursery and was shocked! I was immediately struck by the strong smell of plastic!! What had gone so terribly wrong? I looked around, and it was obvious. The room was full of all kinds of baby gifts and stuffed animals, rubber play things, and plastic baby toys for friends and well wishers.

This was prior to our discovery that there are serious health implications associated with BPA soft plastics and the flame retardants mandated on baby clothes and toys. We were then in a no-man’s land of chemical emissions brought into our best designed green and healthy project.

And yet still today, despite all types of green labels and certification, this scenario must get repeatedly countless times, all over the planet on even the most sustainably designed, highest labeled, green building projects.

And so we are reminded that the road to a healthy life is a complicated one. It takes our engaging of fine green design and build professionals, our own pro-active research into the fine print of that myriad of materials and products we bring into our homes, and every morsel of food or chemical we consume.

We continue to fight a tremendous battle to gain transparency from the thousands of companies that we support every day.

And so I conclude my story from long ago with a short list of what we have today that can get us started, and keep us up-to-date. These are some good resources for researching those better, safer, healthier, greener consumer products which we fill our green built homes.

Indoor Air Quality Resources:

Green Seal (for green and non-toxic products)

Energy Star Builder’s Guide to IAQ – Energy Star Indoor Air Package Brochure

Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home – US EPA’s guide providing information and guidance for homeowners and renters on how to prevent and deal with mold

Healthy House Institute -The resource for a better, safer indoor environment

North Carolina Radon Program – NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resource’s information on radon

The American Indoor Air Quality Council – Promotes awareness, education and certification in the field of Indoor Air Quality

US EPA Indoor Air Quality – Information about mold, air quality, asthma, and tips for how to handle mold in your home

Since 1998 Vicki Schomer has been an activist and spokesperson for the green design and building profession. She is an award-winning ASID interior designer, USGBC LEED accredited Professional, REGREEN co-author, a designer and consultant for sustainable planning, remodeling and green product specifying, and Realtor specializing in identifying adaptable, and “green-able” properties. 

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 57 of the 2016-2017 edition of the directory or as a pdf.