Sunday, November 17, 2013

Green is a Challenge

by Leann

This time I am not talking about the colors on the walls of the house we are building, I am writing about the journey. Houston, Texas, though I have many fond memories of life there, is a very polluted city. I have asthma and chemical sensitivities so it was not a good place for me. But when I
was younger (we moved there when I was 25) I knew nothing about pollution and the environment. Over the years I have had a very personal lesson in how much that can affect someone. I have MCS (multiple chemical sensitivies).

The air here in South Carolina is so fresh and the sky on sunny days is the bluest of blues. I love that. So when we started designing our home, I wanted it to be as "green" as possible. I have learned much about volatile organic compounds (VOCs), about formaldehyde, even about which fabrics have a
hydrocarbon based formula. For instance, polyester is a hydrocarbon. When I wear anything polyester, I get headaches and feel just awful. Acrylic, on the other hand, is not a hydrocarbon. I have no problem. The worst offender is Lycra, Again, a hydrocarbon synthetic and it's in EVERYTHING. Not only do I read food labels now, I read clothing labels.

But I digress. Building a house that is as "green" as we can afford (and believe me "green" is expensive) has been a challenge. Take insulation. The "pink stuff" that is so cheap now reads on the label that is formaldehyde-free. Great, right? What they do not say on the label is that the resins and binders in the pink stuff is NOT free of VOCs. We spent a lot of money on insulation that is no-VOC (it's made from sugar). But that leads to all kinds of decisions on venting and not venting and HVAC. These are things I never knew anything about. I do now.

The latest problem is the 14 interior doors. They aren't expensive, which
was a nice surprise, and the brochure we were given by the two places we were getting bids from talked all about how their hollow core doors (made of a BIG NAME BRAND composite that starts with "M") are all low VOC and formaldehyde free. Turned out the brochure wasn't exactly what these places order for you. One supplier  told us outright we were getting the "green" doors and one supplier listened to me and called the manufacturer to make sure that's what we were getting. The answer wasn't what we wanted to hear. The doors they supply are NOT the no VOC as advertised in the brochure. You have to ASK for them. They are special order. And they take longer to get. So, we thought we had time with the trim people already starting their work. But now we will be behind because we did order the "green" doors and they take two weeks. They have to MAKE THEM. We, of course, went with the supplier who took the time to call himself to check. The other supplier, who was 99% sure we were getting "green" doors made the call to the manufacturer only after
we insisted he call. Well, he was 100% wrong.

What do you think about all this? Have you ever been promised one thing and are given something "similar" but not what you wanted? I can only say I am glad that we are the kind of people who always do the research--especially because my health has already been affected by what we didn't know way back when. Better living through chemistry isn't always true.


Aurian said...

MCS sounds horrible Leann, and I hope never to get it. I am affected by the smog here as well, during the long dry summer my health was miserably. Once it finally started to rain, I felt much better as the air was rained clean. On vacation in Germany (only 3 days), we were up in the mountains and I had no breathing or nose complaints at all, heavenly. But both my boyfriend and I are city people, we work here and live here. To go somewhere outside the city, is financially not an option.
(p.s. and moving my thousands of books would be backbreaking)

Dru said...

That's called "bait and switch" and it's illegal.

Glad you're building your house to your specification. One of the things I like about this blog is that you learn something new every day.

Leann Sweeney said...

It has taken me years to figure out where my headaches and malaise come from and why. It is complicated. I am just glad we are making decisions based on what hasn't worked for me in the past and feel fortunate we are able to do that. Not everyone can. The changes in the environment may not affect the majority right now, but I wonder what the future holds.

Leann Sweeney said...

Yes, I was pretty upset when I found out. But I am grateful for the salesman who took the extra time to listen to what I was saying and research this on his own. He learned something, too! (and yes, those no-VOC doors cost more!)