What's the difference?
Simply put, different goals for different homes. While green reduces harmful impacts on global resources, healthy eliminates the harmful consequences of most modern day construction.
The Healthier Homes construction team spends a good portion of our days out in the field debunking myths about healthy building. And we’ve lost count of the number of times someone has come to us mistakenly thinking that green and healthy buildings are the same thing.
Some people think that healthy home construction requires the use of straw, hay, clay, hemp, or a myriad of other bio-based products, many of which have not been adequately reviewed for performance and probably won’t pass local building codes.
Even worse, many companies that manufacture these alternative building materials claim they are nontoxic when they can actually harbor their own unhealthy substances.
This misconception is obviously troubling. So, before we get into which method we think is better, we’re going to explain the difference between green and healthy.
What do “green” and “healthy” really mean?
Healthy building involves using materials and methods that put occupant health front and center. The primary goal is to promote healthy living for a home’s occupants, which includes people, animals, and even plants.
Healthy buildings are constructed with nontoxic materials for everything from what’s inside the walls to the visible surfaces around the interior.
Flooring, glues, paints, cabinets, insulation, and much more are chosen because they don’t emit chemicals into the air and do have a positive impact on the wellbeing for the family and pets that live inside. Healthy building practices include methods to increase the weatherproofing and waterproofing around a home, so the people inside can play, relax, cook, sleep and work with maximum productivity.
Healthy materials are good for the planet, too! But not all green products are healthy for people.
Green building is focused on environmentalism and conservation, on the other hand, can be broken down into two subcategories: green and sustainable.
Green building aims to reduce the impact a structure has on the environment from its construction and use. As a result, these types of buildings are often designed to be as energy efficient as possible.
Sustainable building looks to reduce the environmental impact of a structure throughout its entire lifecycle, which also takes sustainable sourcing and demolition into account. As a result, these buildings are sometimes made using “natural” or reclaimed materials.
It becomes apparent that the primary goal of green and sustainable building is minimizing environmental impact. Any occupant health goals are secondary, at best—which is often times the opposite of the goals for healthy building.
Does that mean green buildings are unhealthy?
Not necessarily. The health impacts of green buildings have not yet been adequately studied, but initial findings suggest that green buildings are usually better than structures built using traditional construction methods and materials. In terms of indoor environmental quality, research by Current Environmental Health Reports shows that, on average, green buildings had reduced amounts of harmful substances like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) compared to their traditionally built counterparts.
But these studies do not always account for every factor that makes for a healthy home. Acoustics, for example, scored lower in green buildings in several studies, which means participating occupants were less satisfied with the structure’s noise control. And, as we discuss in our book Healthier Homes, noise is a type of pollution that affects human health and adds to stress levels.
Another example is the building materials themselves. Some companies specialize in earthen homes, for example, which are constructed out of natural materials such as hay and straw. These may be green and sustainable, but studies have shown that these earthen materials are often contaminated with mold.
Stachybotrys chartarum, a particularly problematic type of black mold, can produce illness-inducing mycotoxins in humid conditions on hay and straw. Not something we want in furniture or the walls of our homes.
Why is healthy building better?
Let’s take the example of plastic. Nearly everyone on the planet uses plastic daily and depends upon its use for everyday conveniences. Thank goodness for plastic bottles of water that quench our thirst. Thank goodness food can be stored in airtight plastic packaging, so we can pick up quick, sanitary meals on the go.
And let’s not forget the children’s toys which require assembly with what appears to be hundreds of tiny screws. Thank goodness those screws are individually packaged and labeled in those clear tiny plastic bags.
We are very happy that we can recycle plastic into things like outdoor picnic tables, park trash cans, kid’s swing sets and colorful Adirondack patio chairs. Recycled material is fantastic outdoors but that’s where it stops. Nothing recycled plastic gets put into our homes.
Although not all green buildings are unhealthy—the “green-ess” of a material has nothing to do with the affect it will have on a family’s health, wellbeing and quality of life. Simply because you don't know where it's been in its past life.
We’re all about reduce / reuse / recycle / repurpose, however the use of recycled plastic products has no place inside of a healthy home.
That is unless you’re okay with the lingering scent of petroleum-based laundry detergent fragrances inside your house for many years to come. Still thinking about installing that terrazzo style recycled plastic countertops?
A healthy home focuses on your family and the planet.
It’s clear that sustainability and being green has a large place in our lives, and respect for mother earth is something we should all be doing for the sake of the world today and generations to come.
Luckily, most building techniques and materials that are healthy for humans and animals are good for the environment as well. Our methods for insulating a home, for example, rely upon creating true thermal breaks without allowing moisture to accumulate within the building envelope. This keeps mold from developing while also reducing energy consumption.
By way of utilizing only non toxic construction materials, healthy building means that our low- and no-VOC products used in our homes actually reduces the amount of chemical emissions that would otherwise result from using standard building materials. You’ll only find natural and biodegradable cleaning products and eco-friendly pest control on all of our jobs to ensure any runoff from our construction site doesn’t pollute the land and water around us. And we source natural, beautiful, nontoxic furniture for our homeowners for years. As Healthy Home Builders, JS2 Partners is doing its part to keep both indoor and outdoor spaces, air and water clean. It is our hope that more builders in the future adopt our model of building.
When it comes down to priorities, would you rather live in a home designed to protect you, your family, and your pets—or a house where your health and safety is a secondary goal?
Let us know your thoughts about green vs healthy in the comment section below!