Q: I'd like to put in hardwood floors and I'm considering bamboo. What do I need to consider? I don't want faux wood, and I read that some bamboo is treated with formaldehyde.
— Asked by Murkey, Alexandria, VA
A: Although Google provides comparative pricing, product descriptions and basic specifications, most websites don’t tell us what is best for our specific needs. We always have to sort out one product from another and make the best choice we can with the information we’ve found. That assumes we know the right questions to ask. This article is all about the right questions to ask.
Q: We bought this desk for a home office. How can we deal with the smell it creates?
— Asked by Julie Reimers, Mechanicsburg, PA
A: Good questions and a very common problem. Particleboard furniture is often imported from overseas where restrictions on urea formaldehyde are not in place or not enforced well.
Generally speaking, furniture made with Melamine (the white panels) often contains an abundance of formaldehyde which off-gasses into the environment. That's changing, however, and there are some rare suppliers using formaldehyde-free Melamine, especially in California. If you know the furniture came from overseas, it's most likely not subject to the same standards as in the US.
Q: I am looking at "loose lay" vinyl plank flooring for my basement due to the ease of install. Is there such a thing as "green" vinyl? I want a flooring that is easy to install, economical and warmer; softer than ceramic tile. I want to be able to install myself, and the loose lay wood-look planks seems to be a perfect solution, but I do worry about off gassing.
— asked by Terry Edinboro, PA
A: Luxury vinyl flooring has recently become popular today due to its durability, price and unique looking surfaces. However, it is made of vinyl which is Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC. PVC has become known as one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced. Although vinyl may seem useful to us as flooring for a short time, we have to think long term as to how our decisions will affect our environment and future generations. If your answer is, “that matters to me," then keep reading.
Q: Can you recommend a source for healthy and natural carpet/rug padding? Most pads I have found contain either PVC or some kind of foam, and the "natural" rubber versions smell so badly that I wonder
whether they contain other chemicals. I read with interest your article on natural wool batting and down-proof ticking and would like the same level of information on rug pads. Thank you. — asked by R. Meyer
New York, NY
A: Your specific questions are answered below within the
context of underlayment in general. Due to the many considerations, it’s
helpful to have a general framework of understanding when choosing the right carpet pad.
Q: Some manufacturers state that their cribs' finishes are non-toxic.
What does that mean? Does it mean there are no VOCs emitted after the finish has been properly dried? If I do not smell any smell, does it
mean there are no VOCs?
—asked by Irina San Rafael, CA
A: In general, distrust of green labels is well founded as most are not accurate, reliable or third party certified. Chemically sensitive people can often smell VOCs better than others but many people can hardly notice a difference. It's always best to test for your own personal reactions, do research on the internet and consult with people who have experience with these products.
Q: I have finished dresser with VOC 2.1lbs/gal sealer--is this low? The sealer and lacquer are Valspar Premium WW Satin Lacquer and Valspar Sanding Sealer. Is it ok to put dry finished dresser in an infant's room? I'd like to avoid chemical off-gassing. Thanks! —asked by Elizabeth,
A: Wood sealers can be water-based or oil-based and both can contain volatile organic compounds. How much is acceptable to the government and how much is acceptable to you and your infant may be two different things. Most people wish to avoid VOCs altogether, if possible, as they tend to continue emitting nasty fumes for weeks, months or even years.
Q: We are trying to determine the best exterior paint criteria for selecting a paint manufacturer. Thinking of using an acrylic latex paint.
Exterior color is a dark color. Performance is an issue as well as cost but getting a grasp about the criteria is what we're after.
— asked by Daniel, Portland, OR
A: Good question Daniel. Given all the different brands of paint, it’s no wonder that choosing quality paint is challenging, even for professionals. Not only does each manufacturer create different lines of paint within each brand, but each application is so different it demands specialized knowledge that can only be discovered through good research and reputable paint companies. Where do you start?
Here are some basic rules of thumb for choosing the right paint. Below them is some technical paint jargon that will help you ask the right questions.
Q: Has anyone used Kelly Moore's zero voc paint products and had reactions to them? I used Kelly Moore zero VOC paint in my empty condo and 8 days later, after having fans running 24/7 with all windows/patio door open, I cannot be in there for 5 minutes without a severe reaction with headaches, nausea and brain-fog. I can't find out what is in the paint that may be causing this. Have you tested Kelly Moore's zero voc paint and/or do other people have problems with their products?— asked by Susan, Richardson, TX
A: While I have not used Kelly Moore's zero VOC paint, we receive countless phone calls just like yours from people using almost all brands of zero voc paint. “How can this be, they ask? I thought zero VOC meant it was safe and non-toxic?” Here are two possible answers.
Q: We are refinishing our white oak floors and want to use the safest
and most durable materials. Street Shoe? Bonakemi? Rubio monocoat?
We have boys and a dog and have not found anyone in our area who uses Osmo.
—Asked by Shmuel, Takoma Park, MD
A: To my knowledge, there is no cross testing that shows which product is safest or most durable. However, I have used two of the three plus AFM Safecoat Polyureseal BP, AFM Naturals Oil Wax and Bioshield Aqua Resin Floor Finish and can provide some insight based on my experience.
In our house, our Labrador lived outside, so I can’t say how well these finishes would hold up to dogs, but we entertain 30-40 people each month in our home and had a normal teenage son. We do remove our shoes when we enter the house which helps immensely to keep out dirt and avoid scratching.
Q: What is the safest primer to use to get rid of tobacco smells in a home? We have been advised to use KILZ Original on the subflooring after ripping up our carpet and if that doesn't work to get rid of the smell, we were told to use KILZ on the walls. We have small children and don't want to expose them to something harmful.
—asked by Sarah Davis, Junction, IL
A: Eradicating smoke from cigarettes (or fires) in a building is one of the most challenging tasks on earth because it’s so ubiquitous and tenacious. Second or third-hand tobacco smoke leaves nasty nicotine residues in and on all porous and non-porous surfaces and spreads a noxious odor that affects one’s lungs for months or years unless properly abated.
Q: I want to replace my floors. I'm trying to avoid a lot of chemicals and I would like something eco friendly. The problem is the greener the product, the more expensive it is—most products are out of my price range. I've read that you can't put real wood on a concrete slab but I think the wood I have now is real. The carpet guy said it looks glued down. I read that laminate floors off-gas quite a bit and that they weren't eco-friendly, then I'm seeing floor companies that carry "greener" laminates that are made from recycled materials and use low chemical glues. I'm finding so much conflicting information that I am thoroughly confused. Help. —asked by Terry, Mount Holly, NJ
A: Your confusion is valid. Understanding the chemical nature of various flooring requires much research and skill. It seems you almost need a PhD in chemistry to decipher the cryptic language as well as the hype. There are several questions here; let me try to answer them in order.
Q: We have a radiant floor in our kitchen that now has a linoleum flooring. Will a bamboo floor work over the radiant heating system?
—Asked by Polly D, Concord, NH
A: The short answer is that radiant heat works well underneath certain types of linoleum, ceramic tile, stone, hardwood, bamboo, cork or carpeting as long as the floor temperature is not too high, the flooring is designed for radiant heat and is acclimated properly before installation.
Most flooring manufacturers require certain conditions prior to, during and after installation of their floors for their warranty to be valid over radiant heat. Now for the long answer.
A: Repairability is the new sustainability. Your question is a good one that requires a little background about sealers. There are basically two types of sealers: penetrating and topical. As the name suggests, a penetrating sealer soaks into the substrate (wood, concrete, etc.) and seals the pores from the inside. Once it cures, moisture cannot enter and thus you have a waterproof seal.
Q: I would like to put a sealer on our gypcrete floor before we move in because we don't have enough money to cover the whole floor. The heating is in the floor. Later we would like to install tile in some areas and click together wood like flooring in others. We live in Interior Alaska there for have the additional difficulties and have fewer places to shop for products in stores and when shipping the cost and freezing conditions come into concern.
—Asked by James Sharp, Healy, AK
A: Gyp-Crete, an underlayment manufactured by Maxxon, was not designed to be used as flooring by itself as it is too soft and porous. It’s a light weight concrete used primarily as an underlayment for sound control and fire resistance in multi-family buildings, but is also used in residential areas to smooth out rough subfloors or to provide a substrate for radiant heated floors.
Q: Is solid wood T-111 safe for interior use? Our cabin in GA has T-111 on the walls. My son, my husband and I get horrible allergies, sinus infections, and more recently bronchitis with a visit to the ER. I was reading about T-111 and the use of Formaldahyde. Could our cabin be making us sick? What testing can be done to determine the cause of our allergies? I believe it's the T-111. My husband is in denial and thinks the allergies are seasonal. However, we go outside and miraculously our allergies go away. Please Help!
—Asked by Cristina, Miami, FL
A: Could your cabin containing T1-11 make you sick—absolutely. Could it be something else such as a finish used or a sealer—absolutely. Read More
Q: What are the best green products to use when repainting kitchen cabinets? The cabinets are being stripped first because they've been painted several times.
—Asked by Angela Gill, Columbus, OH
A: That's a simple question, but the answer requires some basic info about strippers, paint and sealers.
Q: Our newly-installed kitchen sink has a terrible toxic smell. We suspect it's from the underside spray coating. What can we do? There is no padding underneath, as I've seen mentioned in previous posts. It's an undermount sink with white spray coating. Do we seal it? Try removing it? Concerned about what the spray is made from and releasing new toxins in removal process.
—Asked by Jonathan, Atlanta, GA
A: The spray coatings under many sinks are usually designed to help soundproof the sink. They are acoustical insulators. Although I have no way to verify what it is from your description, it is usually made of some type of high density spray foam or mass-loaded vinyl. In either case, the odor and toxic byproducts usually dissipate quickly.
Q: Is Decorative Flooring, LLC (Decor Flooring)'s engineered wood
products a low VOC product. What is the E0 grade of
GB/T9846.1-9846.8.2004? Decor Flooring claims that all their Santos
Mahogany engineered wood flooring is E0 rated as per the standard
mentioned above. However, what does that really mean? Is this a low
VOC product? —Asked by Noble R. Abdullah, Spring, TX
A: This is a good question regarding the toxicity of an engineered wood product. Every manufacturer loves to show that their product has been approved by a rating agency. Nowadays, there are more than 200 labeling organizations offering green certifications. And most want money for their labels. When you research the criteria for how each label is awarded to see if the label is worth its salt, it reads like a long legal description on a tract of real estate.
Q: Can you rate or let me know where to find information on MasterCast engineered composite offered from USMarble in terms of low voc's, durability, etc.? I am remodeling a bathroom because of mold problems and have chemically sensitive family members. I want to eliminate grout lines and need a space-specific size shower. I need shower walls that are flexible in terms of cutting for sizing and do-it-yourself installation if possible. I have located a look that I want in the USMarble product line. An expert at this website has indicated that Swanstone products have some inherent problems.—Asked by Anita Baines, Damascus, MD
A: I must admit, this is a new product for me and I prefer not to judge any product unless I've personally tested it and have spoken directly with other homeowners who have used it extensively. However, I can give you my educated opinion based on my experience with cultured marble, Swanstone and what I've read and see on their website.
Q: Can you waterproof a basement and install a floor without using as
many scary chemicals as everybody else? Try to stay true green?
Not sure if the walls or floor get damp or wet. Want to install a
laminate or other floor in a basement. Maybe walls, sheetrock or
woodpanel. Not sure looking for most natural way to go.
—Asked by HelenJay, Manorville, NY
A: The quick answer is yes, there are some excellent non-toxic sealers that prohibit moisture penetration in concrete walls and floors.
Q: Oil Based to Water based? Hello, I would like to repaint my dining
room, however I have been informed that the wood-paneled walls in the
room have been previously painted with an oil-based paint. I am only
comfortable using water-based products in my house and specifically,
those with low or NO VOC's and chemicals. I am pregnant and have a
toddler as well. My painter has informed me that there is no way to
paint over oil-based paint without using an oil-based primer or some
similar product. Is this true? Any guidance would be greatly
appreciated. Thank you so much.
—Asked by Erica Pitman, Los Angeles, CA
A: Your painter is partially correct.
Q: Is bamboo flooring safer than hardwood for a desert environment? Dry and hot. I want something very durable.—Asked by Rche, Sahuarita, AZ
A: You have asked two important questions about durability and safety in bamboo vs. hardwood.
Q: Hola, Would a dual pane insulated glass but with no gas, provide any help against cold air? I am looking at an exterior door to our bedroom here in South Carolina. The door is full glass the manufacturer (echo) claims that their glazing, insulated glass will protect against cold air. Is this true without any gas between the panes. Secondly if the glass is glazed should I pay extra for Low e?
—Asked by Jerry H., Hopkins, SC
A: Yes, generally speaking, argon gas and low e will help provide more protection from the cold as long as: 1) it is located on the north or east or 2) you have radiant heat source inside your home.
Q: What is the best way to seal/encapsulate vinyl asbestos tile?
We just bought a home built in 1940, and the basement has wall-to-wall
vinyl tiles that we have been told by our inspector "definitely
contain asbestos." Most of the tiles are in perfectly fine condition.
There are a few that have some big chips in them (but don't seem to be
cracking or falling apart). There are also a few tiles that seem to
have some small "bubbles" on the surface (but are not cracked open).
I'd prefer to encapsulate them and then put a new floating vinyl floor
over them. However, I have seen many different theories for what to
use to encapsulate the VATs. Any advice on what to use to cover the
floor before laying new floor on top would be helpful.
—asked by Andrew Nacht, Union, NJ
A: This is a good question but a tough one to answer. In fact, the government prefers that you not deal with this issue at all, but rather hire a professional who is trained in asbestos abatement.
Q: I cannot live in my house due to offgassing from paints and primer applied over a year ago. They STATE they used Dunn Edwards primer. Painted with Behr Ultra Premium Satin, latex, and semi gloss latex. They said they had to use oil base to cover the wooden doors in the house. The house was painted during very cold wet days and probably did not completely dry. The off gassing and odor was terrible. The air testing shows ACETONE. They stated they used Kilz odorless oil base primer the second time. The painters did not let the KILZ DRY before applying the paint. They used Dunn Edwards' latex eggshell "Enso" (no voc) and semi gloss. The odor & off gassing was contained for about 7 days & then returned.
—Asked by Bonnie Parker, Tucson, AZ
A: I'm sorry to hear of your troubling experience. Although it is quite common, fortunately, there are solutions.