Choosing Green Materials and Products
The opportunities to reduce the environmental and health impacts of our homes span from big decisions, like location, to seemingly small decisions, like paint and light bulbs. The products we use to clean, light, furnish, renovate, and build our homes must be a part of the greening process. Reducing our environmental impacts requires thinking and learning about not just how we use products, but where they came from and where they're going. Consider factors like:
- Energy used to make, ship, and use a product;
- The product's contents and the sources of its raw materials;
- Emissions during manufacturing the product and the level and type of toxins in the final product; and
- The product's durability (lifespan) and recyclability.
These are just some of the impacts a product has on the environment from "cradle to grave" during its "lifecycle." The five main stages in the lifecycle of a material or product are: raw material acquisition, manufacturing, distribution, use, and end-of-life management. Attributes of a product at different stages of its lifecycle to consider may include:
Waste and materials:
- Reduced waste
- Biobased content
- Recyclable or reusable components
- Energy efficient
- Low embodied energy
- Uses renewable energy
- Water efficient
- Water reuse and recycling
- Responsible stormwater management
Other environmental & health impacts:
- Enhanced indoor environmental quality
- Reduced environmental impact over the lifecycle
- Reduced or eliminated toxic substances
- Sustainable development, smart growth
This section focuses on the decisions individuals can make to choose materials that reduce the most
significant environmental and health impacts throughout a products lifecycle. For additional information
on reducing the use of toxic products and materials in your home, click here.
For information specific to reducing and managing waste in your home,
Reclaimed Building Materials
Building construction uses large quantities of natural resources; in fact, construction activities use 60 percent of the raw materials, other than food and fuel, used in the entire U.S. economy. And the nearly 170 million tons of annual building construction, renovation, and demolition derived wastes (commonly referred to as C&D materials) account for nearly 60% of the nation's non-industrial, non-hazardous solid waste generation.
Salvaging building materials and reusing them saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing the need to extract and process raw materials and ship new material long distances; it also reduces the economic and environmental impact from waste disposal (for example, greenhouse gases generated from waste decomposition, the need to build new landfills or the emission of air pollutants from waste incineration). Also, some salvaged building materials are rare and sought-after, such as marble mantles, antique fixtures, old growth hardwoods, wide-plank lumber and knot-free, fine-grain wood.
You can reduce the environmental footprint of your home by incorporating salvaged materials into the construction or renovation of your home. Nationally, hundreds of building material reuse stores sell high-quality salvaged building materials for construction and renovation projects, including lumber, flooring, cabinetry, bricks, doors, windows, fixtures, and iron work. Materials are salvaged mostly from remodeling projects, pre-demolition salvage, and the growing practice of deconstruction-the selective disassembly of buildings to reuse and recycle parts. Most stores are open to the public. The Building Materials Reuse Association's Web site contains a directory of member reuse stores. Habitat for Humanity operates many reuse stores around the country and their reuse store directory can also be found on their Web site. There are also online marketplaces for these materials, such as PlanetReuse.com and AmericanBuilderSurplus.com.
For more information on using reclaimed building materials, see EPA's resource guide on lifecycle construction:
Buying recycled-content materials helps ensure that the materials collected in recycling programs will be used again in the
manufacture of new products. Examples of construction materials that can be readily found with recycled content
- Drywall (many utilize recycled paper and post-industrial gypsum)
- Insulation (including cellulose, mineral wool, fiberglass, and recycled cotton insulation)
- Plastic lumber
- Kitchen countertops
- Glass tiles
- Landscaping materials
- Carpet and carpet padding
Recycled content products are often labeled with percentages of postconsumer and recovered material. If a product is labeled "recycled" because it contains used, rebuilt, reconditioned, or remanufactured parts, the label must say so - unless it's obvious to the consumer (e.g. when purchasing used building materials at a used construction materials resale store).
For information on recycled-content construction products, visit EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) Web site. The CPG program is part of EPA's continuing effort to promote the use of materials recovered from solid waste. EPA provides a list of designated products and the accompanying recycled-content recommendations. EPA has already designated or is proposing to designate a number of building construction products, such as carpet, floor tiles, insulation, patio blocks and other landscaping materials, and roofing materials. Note: When reviewing these product lists, bear in mind that some of the products are designed for use in commercial or industrial buildings, rather than for homes.
For a complete list of EPA's recommended construction materials and for additional information on these materials, go to:
EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program
EPA launched the EPP program to help the federal government "buy green," and to stimulate demand for green products and services. Environmentally preferable purchasing means adding environmental considerations to buying decisions, along with traditional factors such as performance and price. Environmentally preferable products are those that are considered to be "greener" overall than their conventional counterparts.
EPA's EPP Program has summarized information about popular environmentally preferable products and services, including environmental attributes to look for, procurement guidance, tools, case studies, and other useful resources. Although geared towards the federal government (and its own institutional, mainly non-residential, buildings), this program can also help consumers identify environmentally preferable products and places to buy them.
For information on environmentally preferable products, including building and construction materials,
carpeting, and landscaping materials, go to:
For the complete database of standards and contract language for environmentally preferable
For Model Green Product Specifications, go to the Federal Green Construction Guide
for Specifiers -
PLEASE NOTE: Linking to these lists does not constitute "endorsement" of these products or companies on the part of the EPA.
Additional Guidance on Residential Green Building Products
EPA has developed guidance for many green building products:
For guidance on flooring, carpets, cabinetry, and countertops, see the kitchen, bathroom, and/or living areas sections of this Web site.
For general guidance on building and construction products -
For extensive guidance on carpets - http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/epp/pubs/products/carpets.htm
ENERGY STAR® qualified products - http://www.energystar.gov/products
WaterSense® labeled products - http://www.epa.gov/watersense
Making smarter building material choices during renovation or new home development is a key way that you can
help green your home. In addition, everyday decisions about household products (e.g., furniture, furnishings,
appliances, electronics, and other goods) can also green your home and lifestyle. Keep in mind that sometimes
it takes a little work to make the greenest choices. Different green goals may conflict with one another, and
just because a product is advertised as "green" doesn't mean that it really is the most environmentally
friendly choice. But the more you learn and the more questions you ask, the better equipped you will be to
find greener products. Below are some strategies to help you make smarter material choices.
Salvage and reuse material
- Salvaging building materials and reusing them saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by
minimizing the need to extract and process raw materials and ship new material long distances; and
reduces the economic and environmental impact of waste disposal (for example, greenhouse gases
generated from waste decomposition, the need to build new landfills or the emission of air pollutants
from waste incineration). Also, some salvaged building materials are rare and sought-after, such as
marble mantles, antique fixtures, old growth hardwoods, wide-plank lumber and knot-free, fine-grain wood.
The Building Materials Reuse Association's Web site contains a directory of member reuse stores. Habitat for Humanity operates many reuse stores around the country and their reuse store directory can also be found on their Web site. There are also online marketplaces for these materials, such as PlanetReuse.com and AmericanBuilderSurplus.com.
For more information on using reclaimed building materials, see EPA's resource guide on lifecycle construction:
Choose durable products and materials and maximize their lifespan
- Choose durable items (including clothing, tires, furniture, luggage, appliances, and electronics) that
are less likely to wear out or break prematurely. Although durable products sometimes cost more initially,
their extended life span often offsets the higher cost and saves money over the product's life. Also keep
building materials maintained and repair broken goods whenever possible, to maximize their useful
Buy locally or regionally produced materials
- Using locally produced or salvaged materials reduces the demand to ship materials typically sourced
and manufactured long distances from their ultimate use. This helps support the local economy as well
as reduce air emissions.
Consider reusable products
- Instead of using disposable products, consider using reusable products such as cloth napkins,
dishcloths, rechargeable batteries, refillable containers, and washable utensils. This can save you
money, as well as reduce the environmental impacts related to producing, transporting, and disposing
of single-use products.
- "Close the loop" by choosing products that have recycled content. These materials perform as well if
not better than virgin materials and buying recycled content products helps sustain the market for
Choose sustainably grown/harvested materials
- Choose sustainably harvested wood and materials made of a rapidly renewable resource (
e.g., bamboo flooring, wool carpets and bedding, bamboo fiber clothing), agricultural waste
materials (e.g., strawboard), or organically grown materials (e.g., organic cotton bedding).
Use less-toxic products
- Use less-toxic and non-toxic cleaning products, personal care products, and pest control products.
If you have to use a toxic or hazardous product, read the instructions on its label carefully, and use
the smallest amount necessary. Protect Your Health.
Choose products with minimal packaging
- Packaging materials account for a significant amount of the trash we generate, and consume
resources and energy to produce. Consider buying items in bulk or those with minimal packaging.
Choose recyclable products
- Identify items and/or packaging that can be recycled, and then be sure to
recycle them! Our landfills are full of recyclable products that were discarded.
Choose energy-efficient appliances and electronics
- Look for the ENERGY STAR® label on home appliances and electronics,
including refrigerators, room air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes washers, dehumidifiers, TVs,
DVD players, stereos, computers, monitors, and cordless telephones. ENERGY STAR® products meet
strict efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the
U.S. Department of Energy.
Choose water-efficient fixtures and appliances
- WaterSense® and
programs sponsored by EPA, have identified
high-performance, water-efficient appliances, fixtures, water systems, and accessories that
reduce water use in the home and help preserve the nation's water resources.
- Remember, many products (and most packaging waste) can be recycled into new products. Although the
recycling process uses some energy and raw materials, it generally uses less than manufacturing virgin
products and also avoids environmental issues related to disposal.
- Borrow, rent, or share items used infrequently - - Before you buy seldom-used items, like certain power tools and party goods, first consider renting or borrowing them.
Manufacturers are increasingly making environmental claims about all types of products,
including building products. Unfortunately, some claims are misleading, unverified, or downright untrue.
When manufacturers make unsubstantiated claims about the environmental attributes of a product, it's called
"greenwashing," and consumers need to be on the lookout for it. Here are some tips to help:
Just because something is packaged like a green product doesn't mean that it is.
Don't be taken in by natural looking scenes and "green" branding.
Read labels carefully and look for the environmental attributes discussed in this Web site,
such as recycled content (the higher the percent, the better, and post-consumer is better
than pre-consumer), low or no VOC, or reduced toxicity or non-toxic, and sustainably harvested
(for wood products). The word "natural" has no legal meaning and is not a reliable indicator
of environmental attributes
"Recycled" means that the product was made with recycled content, whereas "recyclable" just means that
the product can be recycled. Recycled is preferable.
If the product has a green label, research the label if it's one that you trust, especially for big purchases.
- Consider shipping distance. Transportation emissions are a big factor in considering how green a product is, especially for heavier products. A locally or regionally produced product with no environmental claims may be better for the environment than a product with a green label that traveled a long distance.
For more information on evaluating environmental marketing claims, go to: