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 and furnishings.
The Healthier Homes team spends a good portion of our day debunking myths about healthy building and interior styling. And we’ve lost count of the number of times someone has come to us mistakenly thinking that green and healthy are the same thing.
Some people think that healthy home construction and design 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?
Building and decorating a healthy home 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.
The same principles apply to healthy interiors! Glues, foams and finishes used on furniture, mattresses, fabrics, rugs, decor, wallpaper, and lots more, equally impact people inside their homes. Being said, there's a dizzying assortment of home products, and that's why we started Healthier Homes.
Healthy materials are good for the planet, too! But not all green products are healthy for people.
The green homes movement is focused on environmentalism and conservation, which 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 been studied, and 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 the 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.
What are the advantages of a healthy home over a green home?
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.
Who doesn't love yoga pants - or form fitting underwear for the gentlemen in the room? The stretchy materials are spandex.
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, amazing outdoor rugs, and colorful Adirondack patio chairs. Recycled material is fantastic outdoors but that’s where most of it stops when it comes to healthy living inside. Nothing recycled plastic gets put into our homes.
Although not all green buildings or homes 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 countertop?
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 for generations to come.
Luckily, most building techniques and materials that are healthy for humans and animals are good for the environment as well. Healthy home 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 low- and no-VOC products are used in homes to reduce 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 healthy building jobs to ensure any runoff from the construction site doesn’t pollute the land and water around us.
Just as important is what goes into a healthy home when it's complete. Healthier Homes is founded on the principles that our sister company, JS2 Partners Healthy Home Builders, has been practicing for years.