Is Green Construction Making You Sick?

The recent arrival of the green construction movement has ushered in a host of new concepts in both construction and design. Although the ideals of green construction are well intentioned, in practice, numerous safety and liability concerns come along with these trends. Some sources have even questioned whether sustainable practices and occupational safety can coexist.

There’s an assumption that green construction is safer and healthier, but that perception is not always true, said Matt Gillen, Deputy Director of the NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) Office of Construction Safety and Health. He also pointed out that green construction does not always equal sustainability, either. True sustainability is broader and should include safety and health. Unfortunately, green construction doesn’t always include these elements, as quoted by Laura Walter in Green Construction and Safety Don’t Always Go Hand in Hand.

In seeking to close this gap, there is a movement to revise the definition of sustainability and to have occupational safety considerations included as part of what it means to build green. The development of LEED credits to address various safety issues may well be what the green construction movement needs to continue its development.

Many property insurers are unsure how to properly manage risks posed by new green construction methods (See, Green Construction Wave Brings Green Liability). Seeking to address these safety issues through NIOSH’s vision is to have occupational safety and health recognized as a fundamental dimension of true sustainability, said Gillen. This could entail developing LEED pilot credits to address safety issues, adding safety and health language to existing credits or developing new safety credits.

This discussion also comes amid recent concerns that instead of being healthier, green construction materials and methods may actually be contributing to health problems. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has established numerous programs to properly address aspects of green construction and to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people working or living in green construction projects.

For example, by tightly sealing spaces (a measures taken by contractors to achieve high levels of energy efficiency), builders could inadvertently wind up creating problems with indoor air quality, moisture and fresh air ventilation. Likewise, “an improperly sized and installed high efficiency (air) unit is not efficient” said Todd Witt, HVAC Expert, as quoted by David Worthington in Could a Green Home make You Sick?.

Additional considerations when building a green home include:

* Demanding documentation of your home’s Manual J Load Calculation and Manual D duct design.

* Demanding fresh air ventilation and returns/jumper ducts in every bedroom.
* Demanding a static pressure test, interior pressure testing, and air balancing.

* Having the depth and density of your attic insulation inspected and having attic rulers installed throughout your attic.

* Eliminating traditionally vented crawlspaces and replace them with closed crawlspace construction.