Selecting the right materials for renovation
By Alex Brooks
Houses are made of stuff, contain stuff and may, on occasion, stuff up. Paying a little extra attention while buying all that stuff could transform your home into a virtuous Green Palace.
The materials selected to renovate, decorate, build and clean a home with make a difference to its environmental footprint -- that’s a measure of the natural resources consumed, not shoe size -- according to Ecospecifier founder David Baggs.
“It’s not just the tiles you might choose in your bathroom, it’s the timber furniture you bring into the house, the paint on your walls or the synthetic backing on your carpet that you need to think about,” he says.
“All materials have an impact on climate change and biodiversity, then you need to think about the health and toxicity impacts of these things on your family.”
He suggests selecting renovation materials that are natural, easily renewable or sustainable – for example choose bamboo over hardwood – and don’t require large amounts of transportation before purchase.
Neco’s Jeremy Davies says people who renovate and build with organic and natural materials create homes without any tell-tale ‘new house smell’.
“That new house smell is actually a cocktail of noxious chemicals that are off-gassing from all the new materials in the house,” he says. “People who use tung oil instead of polyurethane varnish and milk paints instead of enamels end up with a house that smells of nothing but fresh air instead of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).”
University of NSW lecturer Kirsty Mate says the skill is to choose “low-harm” materials such as Forest Stewardship Council-certified timber, natural fibres and stone to build or renovate with – then when it’s time to buy new homewares or extra “stuff” to fill up the house, make sure it is chosen on the same low-harm basis.
“Avoid compressed timber boards like MDFs and particle boards, many of which contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen,” she says. “Anything stain resistant usually contains strong chemicals, so they might be worth thinking twice about.”
She recommends two websites for renovators and decorators – Good Environmental Choice at www.geca.org.au and Ecospecifier at www.ecospecifier.org – which rate materials on environmental criteria and allow home owners to make an informed choice before selecting something for their home.
“There are so many factors to weigh up that it can be confusing,” she says. “But sticking to the simple criteria – safe, non-toxic and durable – should see you through.”