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Our health is intimately connected to our home environment; what we purchase and install in our
homes matters. Did you know that we spend more than 90% of our time indoors? Plus the level of
indoor air pollutants can be two to five times higher than pollutants measured outdoors, even outside
large and industrial cities. Studies indicate that there has been a steady increase in respiratory
conditions, from asthma to allergies to a variety of illnesses that link health concerns directly to the
indoor environmental quality of a home.
The interior finishes, furnishings, materials, and products used in our homes are polluting their indoor
air. Global organizations recognize that human health is being compromised by the homes we build and
live in, and important bodies of research point to the negative health effects of exposure to indoor
chemicals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “There are many potentially hazardous
compounds released indoors due to combustion, emissions from building materials, household
equipment, and consumer products.”
Ask questions! If we ask the right questions we can delve deeper into a product’s makeup and
ingredients. Here are straightforward Material Selection Rules for interior furnishings, finishes,
materials and products for your home or office that provide a base for conversations with
manufacturers and suppliers:
Material Selection Rules: *
1. If it stinks, don’t use it!
2. If they won’t tell us what’s in it, you probably don’t want what’s in it.
3. Just because almost anything can kill you doesn’t mean building products should.
4. If it starts as hazardous waste, you probably don’t want it in your building.
5. Avoid materials that are pretending to be something they are not.
6. Use carbohydrate-based materials when you can. (These embrace decay and transformation.)
7. Question materials that make healthy claims.
8. Pay more; use less.
9. If it is cheap, it probably has hidden (externalized) costs.
10. Regard “space-age: materials with skepticism.
11. Use materials made from substances you can imagine in their raw or natural state.
12. Question the generation of hazardous waste instead of where to use it in your building.
*Excerpt from the 2nd Edition of my book ‘Sustainable Residential Interiors’ with a big thank you to Tom
Lent (Healthy Building Network) and Robin Guenther (Perkins+Will) for sharing the list they developed
for the design community.
Additionally, ask for the following to evaluate a product:
• Volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions testing and certifications
• VOC content labeling
rd party certifications (Greenguard, FloorScore, Oeko-Tex, and many, many more)
• Multi-attribute certifications (Cradle-2-Cradle, SMaRT, and more)
• Health Product Declarations
Today we can avoid contributing to indoor air pollution from off-gassing toxic emissions that are
odorless and harmful to our health. We should not assume a material or product represented or sold as
healthy, eco-friendly, or green actually is unless it has been vetted through rigorous testing protocols.
Unfortunately, most products that are used in a residential environment have not been tested and
deemed safe. Making informed choices when purchasing materials, finishes, and products is essential to
minimizing our chemical exposure.
I encourage you to be a respectful skeptic. Become informed by asking a lot of questions about a
product’s makeup. If you need help, feel free to give me a call to support you in creating a healthy
interior by design!
Annette K. Stelmack :: 303.905.5836
Inspirit-llc ~ Healthy, High Performing Interior Design