HEALTHY BUILDINGS Alternatives to Toxics in Construction

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					       HEALTHY BUILDINGS: Alternatives to Toxics in Construction

                       Alternatives to Vinyl (PVC) Products
Alternatives to PVC exist for all design and                    are both durable and affordable, although
construction applications. While there are                      heavier. Recently other durable non-chlorinated
environmental considerations with every material,               plastic siding options have been introduced as
none of the listed alternatives cause the highly                well, most notably, acrylic (e.g., ICI Acrylics)
carcinogenic dioxin emissions that result from                  and polypropylene (e.g., Alcoa).
PVC. All of the alternates described below are
currently commercially available. The specific                  • Electrical Wiring
products and manufacturers listed here are                      Alternative wire sheathing and insulation plastics
examples, not a comprehensive listing and listing               include halogen-free, low-smoke polyethylene
here does not imply an endorsement.                             and linear, low-density polyethylene (LLDPE).
                                                                Importers of halogen-free (non-PVC) cables
• PVC Piping                                                    include Siemens PLC and Multi-Contact USA.
Alternative pipe materials include cast iron,                   Some of the California manufacturers of
vitrified clay and plastics such as cross-linked                halogen-free wiring include Bay Associates, Inc.
Polyethylene and HDPE (High Density                             (Menlo Park), Calmont Wire and Cable, Inc.
Polyethylene). Cast-iron pipes have a much                      (Santa Ana), Barcel Wire and Cable Corporation
lower thermal expansion coefficient than PVC                    (Irvine), and JIC Industrial Company, Inc.
pipes, which makes them preferable where                        (Milpitas).
temperature fluctuations are common. Iron pipes
are just as durable as PVC, although they can                   • Vinyl Roofing Membranes
corrode over time and are heavier. Vitrified clay               For flat roofing systems, cost effective alternative
pipes have the lowest thermal expansion                         halogen-free membrane materials include thermo-
coefficient of all pipe materials, and are more                                                         s
                                                                plastic polyolefins (e.g. Firestone’ UltraPly
durable than PVC pipes, especially resisting                    TPO) and EPDM (Ethylene Propylene Diene
deterioration due to chemical reactions. Like                   Monomer) membranes (e.g., Stevens Roofing
iron, clay pipes are heavier. Polyethylene is the               Systems). Alternative flat roofing systems
least expensive plastic material for pipes and is               include low slope metal roofing. Pitched roofs
very light and flexible. It does have a high                    have environmental advantages over flat roof
thermal expansion coefficient that must be                      systems since they are generally more durable,
accommodated when used in environments with                     and there is more potential for reuse and
large temperature fluctuations. ABS is another                  recycling of materials such as slate or tiles.
PVC-free plastic. It is less desirable, however,
due to higher cost, a much larger thermal                       • Vinyl Flooring & carpet
expansion coefficient and a number of other                     Alternative flooring materials include linoleum,
environmental problems.                                         bamboo, ceramic tile, carpeting with natural fiber
                                                                backing, wood, cork, and slab flooring. Natural
• Vinyl Siding                                                  linoleum provides the closest natural replacement
Alternative siding materials include wood, fiber-               for vinyl, sharing its water resistant properties
cement board, polypropylene and acrylic siding.                 while being made of more environmentally sound
Vinyl siding can yellow, fade, and become brittle               materials than any of the plastic options. Natural
over time, whereas wood is more durable. Wood                   linoleum is now distributed by both Armstrong
however, is more expensive and has to be painted                (DLW Linoleum) and Forbo.
or stained. Fiber-cement board siding and
shingles (e.g., James Hardie Building Products)

                          HEALTHY BUILDINGS, 528 61st Street, Suite A , Oakland, CA 94609
     A project of Greenaction, Center for Environmental Health and the San Francisco Department of the Environment
Several manufacturers are making chlorine free                  • Vinyl Windows & Doors
polymer flooring products (e.g., Ethylene                       Alternative window & door materials include
Styrene Interpolymer from Dow Chemical and                      wood, fiberglass and aluminum windows. Vinyl
polyethylene Stratica from Amtico), which do not                windows have a higher thermal expansion
crack as easily as vinyl for corner applications.               coefficient that can lead to water leaks and other
                                                                maintenance problems. They can become brittle,
Ceramic tile is more durable than vinyl flooring,               yellow, and can develop cracks over time with
is readily available, and can be manufactured                   exposure to sunlight. They are also more prone to
from natural clays or from recycled materials.                  impact damage than timber and more difficult to
Bamboo and wood flooring are also good                          repair. Wood windows require maintenance;
alternatives to PVC if care is taken to prevent                 however, they are more tolerant of poor fitting or
water damage. Bamboo flooring comes in                          abuse. An example of a supplier of sustainable
standard planks that are harder and more durable                wood windows and doors is EcoTimber
than standard red oak and many other hardwood                   (Berkeley, CA). Aluminum windows can be
products. Suppliers of bamboo flooring include                  more expensive than vinyl; however, they do not
EcoTimber, Smith & Fong (Plyboo), Bamboo                        require painting like wood windows. They can
Accents, and Bamboo Hardwoods.                                  carry a heavy energy penalty unless using a
                                                                thermal barrier. Another alternative is fiberglass
Carpeting often comes with PVC backing as                       window frames and doors which are also
well as a host of other indoor air quality                      maintenance-free and more energy-efficient than
problems of its own. There is a wide range of                   aluminum.
natural fiber alternatives to vinyl carpet backing.
For example, Naturlich Flooring supplies a wide                 • Resources
range of natural fiber carpets with jute and other              Many of these materials and others are described
natural fiber backing.                                          further    with    contact     information      for
                                                                manufacturers or distributors in the following:
• Vinyl Wall Coverings                                          • Architectural Resource Guide
Alternative wall covering materials include                         $35 in CD or book form from
natural fiber, non PVC plastics and a variety                       Northern California ADPSR
of blends. An example of a polyethylene wall                        P.O. Box 9126, Berkeley, CA 94709
covering that has similar properties to vinyl is                    (510) 273-2428
Xorel, a product by Carnegie. Fabric and natural          
fiber alternatives include sisal, cotton, rayon,                • Environmental Building News
linen, polyester, grass cloth, jute, hemp, burlap,                  28 Birge St., Brattleboro, VT 05301
straw, and yarn. Innovations In Wall Coverings,                     (802) 257-7300
Inc. has just released a wood fiber/polyester           
blend called Allegory. Other alternative materials              • Interior Concerns Resource Guide
used for wall coverings are wood and wood                         P.O. Box 238, Mill Valley, CA 94942
veneers, clay coated paper, and marble. Some of                   (415)389.8049
the suppliers of wall coverings made from these         
varied materials include Design Materials, Inc.
(KS), Blumenthal (CT), Knoll Textile (NY),
                                                                Sample green building materials and more
Maya Romanoff (IL), Larson (IL), Hirshfields,
Inc. (MN), Grass Cloth Imports (IL), Sloan                      references may be found at the:
Davis, Inc. (IL), Seabrooke Wallcoverings (TN),                 • Green Resource Center
and Thybony Wallcoverings (IL).                                     2000 Center St. #120, Berkeley, CA 94704
                                                                    (510) 845-0472

                                                                                                     (January 2000)

                          HEALTHY BUILDINGS, 528 61st Street, Suite A , Oakland, CA 94609
     A project of Greenaction, Center for Environmental Health and the San Francisco Department of the Environment

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