Checklist for Environmentally Responsible Design and Material Selection

Sam Martin provides MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers with a comprehensive checklist for environmentally responsible design and material section.
By Sam Martin
June/July 2000
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A helpful checklist for environmentally responsible design and material section.

Checklist for Environmentally Responsible Design and Material Selection

The following checklist was adapted from Environmental Building News.

Eco-Friendly Design

  • Smaller is better: Optimize use of interior space.
  • Be energy-efficient: Use high levels of insulation, high-performance windows and tight construction.
  • Use renewable energy: passive solar heating, daylighting and natural cooling.
  • Optimize material use: optimum-value engineering and advanced framing.
  • Design water-efficient, low-maintenance landscaping.
  • Make it easy for occupants to recycle waste: recycling bins near the kitchen, under-sink compost receptacles, etc.
  • Gray water: Water from sinks, showers or washers can be recycled for irrigation.
  • Durability: Spread the environmental impacts of a building over as long a period as possible.
  • Make sure the structure is adaptable to other uses, and choose materials and components that can be reused or recycled in the future.
  • Avoid potential health hazards: Follow recommended practices to minimize radon entry into the building.

Eco-Friendly Materials

  • Avoid ozone-depleting chemicals in mechanical equipment and insulation: CFCs have been phased out, but their primary replacements-HCFCs-also damage the ozone layer and should be avoided where possible.
  • Use durable products and materials: Because manufacturing is very energy-intensive, a product that lasts longer or requires less maintenance usually saves energy. Durable products also contribute less to our solid waste problems.
  • Choose low-maintenance building materials: Where possible, select building materials that will require little maintenance (painting, retreatment, waterproofing, etc.) or whose maintenance will have minimal environmental impact.
  • Choose building materials with low embodied energy: Heavily processed or manufactured products and materials are usually more energy-intensive.
  • Buy locally produced building materials: Transportation is costly in both energy use and pollution generation.
  • Use building products made from recycled materials: Recycled materials reduce solid waste problems, cut energy consumption in manufacturing and save on natural resource use. A few examples of materials with recycled content are cellulose insulation, Homasote™, Thermo-ply™ exterior sheathing, floor tile made from ground glass, and recycled plastic lumber.
  • Use salvaged building materials: Reduce landfill pressure and save natural resources by using salvaged materials like lumber, millwork, certain plumbing fixtures and hardware.
  • Seek responsibly harvested wood supplies: Use lumber from independently certified, well-managed forests. Avoid lumber products produced from old-growth timber unless they are certified. Don't buy tropical hardwoods.
  • Minimize use of pressure-treated lumber: Where possible, use alternatives such as recycled plastic lumber.
  • Avoid materials that will off-gas pollutants: Solvent-based finishes, adhesives, carpeting, particleboard and many other building products release formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air.
  • Minimize packaging waste: Avoid products with excessive packaging, such as plastic-wrapped plumbing fixtures or fasteners that aren't available in bulk.

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