Issaquah’s zHome partners share project insights

July 12, 2011

By Staff

This month’s zHome interview is with Patti Southard, program manager for King County GreenTools, the county’s green building program.

What do you do for your organization?

I provide technical assistance to the county’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design and Built Green programming and work with nonprofit organizations, such as the Cascadia Green Building Council and Built Green to institutionalize green building and climate change strategies countywide. As a former business development director for Green Depot (formerly the Environmental Home Center) and Duluth Timber Co., I also have more than 10 years of experience developing markets for green products.

How do you define a green building material?

What makes a product green can vary depending on the material, but it typically has one or more of the following attributes:

  • Is manufactured using recycled material, and/or sustainably managed and renewable resources.
  • Is salvaged, refurbished or remanufactured material.
  • Is manufactured with locally available components, which saves energy and transportation resources.
  • Does not contribute to poor indoor air quality, meaning the material emits few or no carcinogens, toxins or irritants, and have minimal to no emissions of volatile organic compounds.
  • Does not pose health risks to employees during the manufacturing process.
  • Is manufactured to be durable/long-lasting, yet can be easily repurposed or recycled at the end of its useful life.
  • What is unique about zHome’s materials?
ZHome has taken a holistic approach, integrating materials that address health, durability, are sustainably harvested and are made with recycled content. All of zHome’s finishes and adhesives are low VOC (volatile organic compounds) and low toxic. This is especially important with energy-efficient homes, because you want to circulate healthy air with no product off-gassing and no toxicity. Sick building syndrome is often caused by “efficiently circulating” unhealthy air in a building that is sealed tight.

Materials were also selected for durability. For example, the recycled content roofing material has a 30-year warranty, whereas the typical Pacific Northwest roof has a life span of 15 years. ZHome also uses a panelized wall system, which allows for disassembly of the homes at the end of their lives. We went beyond the requirements of a Built Green 5 Star project (the highest level), by requiring deep green material selection and high amounts of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood (meaning the wood comes from sustainable managed forests), recycled content products and proper recycling of construction waste. Another noteworthy attribute of zHome is that we designed with structure as the finish. For example, the floors on the first floor are concrete and we left beams exposed.

What’s your favorite new green material?

One of my favorite products in zHome is not new; it is a great old gem — linoleum. Linoleum is available in contemporary colors and patterns, and is made of rapidly renewable materials, such as pine ash, cork and jute. Linoleum will outlive any vinyl flooring at a cost-competitive price. They don’t call it “your grandmother’s floor” for nothing!

What are the most important considerations when choosing materials for your home?

First, purchase products with more than one environmental attribute in mind. For example, look for long-lasting, low-toxic materials that can become something else in the future. If we evaluate materials this way, we end up with a lot less in our landfills. And it’s common sense that if it’s not healthy for the planet, it’s also not healthy for humans.

Second, make material decisions based on the core values of your household, such as buying local, but keep in mind that with most decisions there are trade-offs you’ll have to make. In zHome, we used a gorgeous FSC-certified wood decking called Tigerwood that has a lifecycle three times that of cedar. We wanted to find a locally made decking material, however we could not find something sustainably harvested that would last 30 years. On the flip side, zHome has many other locally manufactured products going into the project, so we felt good about that decision.

The wonderful thing about zHome is that it will show people what is possible and educate them about the different choices available, but also about the trade-offs. Like with any green building project, zHome is not perfect in every product selection, but it demonstrates many of the best green material options and what you should look for when remodeling or building your home.

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