Healthy Affordable Building Products
If we want to transform our practice and use healthy, sustainable materials and products, we need new tools and resources to make a substantial change at scale. That is why, among the tools and sources of information that Healthy Materials Lab (HML) includes within its 'Resource Library,' is a virtual product list dedicated to 'Healthy Affordable Building Products.'
The building products in this list have been installed in well researched healthier affordable housing buildings across the United States, and were identified through Health Materials Lab's Case Studies. The categories cover the building products most commonly used in affordable housing construction today. This product list will cumulatively increase over time.
Together with publications, references, guides, and case studies made available by HML, resources such as the list of 'Healthy Affordable Building Products,' have the potential to better the quality of life. Particularly for those most impacted by inexpensive building products and materials and embedded toxic elements–people who live in low-income, and affordable housing projects and who do not have the ability to choose these materials for themselves.
For each of the product categories currently featured in the list–Flooring, Paint, Drywall, Insulation, Countertop (materials), and Cabinetry– HML introduces users to some basic, but crucial guidelines and specifications. The list helps designers/architects and developers narrow down their selection to the 'kind of' products and materials' they should be seeking while helping them understand more holistically, the ingredients, certifications, and disclosures specific to each product.
These broader guidelines are an excellent stepping stone for those who are designing and building and are instrumental in facilitating knowledge development when it comes to long-term healthier material choices, rather than one-off or one-time selection to meet certification goals on a project. The specifications and guidelines are followed by product listings which not only describe typical data such as size, color, and certifications but critically include a breakdown of material and chemical components in each product.
Each product category is further broken down into sub-categories–some of which are familiar, while others represent emerging, innovative and alternate materials/products. On the whole, the list sparks an awareness in its users, rather than just providing data, and offers designers, architects, and developers a choice of healthier, innovative, well-documented and installed products. The kind of broad spectrum knowledge that is imparted here is also useful for designers, as the particular types of products keep evolving and the list keeps growing over time. The category 'Insulation,' for example, boasts subcategories and healthier alternatives such as Cork, Denim, and Cellulose, in addition to well-known materials such as fiberglass and mineral fiber, etc.
We encourage our readers to explore the links embedded throughout this article and begin to use the list of 'Healthy Affordable Building Products' as a resource for informing their material choices, particularly in projects that have the opportunity to make a large impact and affect those most vulnerable.
In addition to the 'Healthy Affordable Building Products' list, we encourage readers to delve into another resource offered by HML and Parsons School of Design– The Donghia Materials Library. The Donghia Healthier Materials Library is a resource for students, educators, practitioners, and researchers around the globe to explore material samples, evaluative tools, and the opportunity for in-person support. The Library is housed within Parsons School of Design at The New School and can be found online in the Resource Library here.
Note to readers: The cover image for this article is an eco-panel by ReWall, created from 100% recycled material, that features in HML's product lists and library.