Thursday, April 7, 2011

Guest post: Sustainable buildings & health

Today I get to shake things up a little on this blog by posting a guest article by Krista Peterson about the linkages between personal health and our built environment. Krista is recent graduate of the University of Central Florida (go Knights!), writer, and health & safety advocate. She's keen on encouraging others to recognize that pursuing an eco-friendly lifestyle is not just good for the environment, its good for our own health and well-being. And thanks to her providing today's post, I have some extra time for a bike ride this sunny spring day. R.

The most immediate benefits of sustainable, or green, buildings are undeniably obvious- it is better for the environment than previous building methods. Sustainable buildings generally reduce three types of waste that seriously contribute to our planets environmental woes, building waste, emissions waste, and water waste. But sustainable building is not only better for the environment, it’s also often is far safer for the inhabitants.

Unbeknownst to most of their inhabitants many buildings are built with materials that not only are not sustainable but also can contain environmental toxins. One of the most common examples is lead-based paint. As recently as the early 1990’s it was common in Canada for the outside of residential homes, as well as most businesses, to be painted with lead-based paint, even though it was known to be extremely damaging to the environment. The lead in the paint however, can also cause serious harm to people and still is one of the leading sources of lead poisoning. With sustainable building, rather than using harmful lead-based paint, most developers use a type of non-toxic paint made from natural mineral compounds called Silacote.

Many homes have been built using urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) that creates a relatively high indoor concentration of formaldehyde. And in fact, some houses built before the 1980’s might also be insulated with asbestos, a material known to cause mesothelioma cancer. Instead, green building construction workers have pioneered the use of soy bean-based foam as insulation because soy-based materials release no volatile chemicals or toxic emissions when used as insulation and are resistant to mold and mildew. Soy-based foams also significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, because they are able to be filled into the wall using pressurized water alone and offer such good quality insulation.

Ultimately, sustainable buildings immediate benefits of helping to save our planet are clearly not the only benefits associated with sustainability. In fact, sustainable building might end up being nearly as important to improving our health as yearly check-ups to the doctor, or a healthy diet!

Krista Peterson

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