Is Your Home Healthy and Green?

You can just smell it. After installing new carpeting, the air in your living room takes on a brash, chemical scent.


“Features such as carpets, paints, wood finishes, cleaning supplies, heating and air-conditioning systems, and fireplaces can affect our health, especially for children,” says Scott Steinmetz, regional claims and risk services executive for Fireman’s Fund.


If you are planning to remodel, redecorate, or build a new home, what should you consider to make your living space healthy and green?


“Fireman’s Fund is not only interested in protecting our policyholders from damage to their homes and property,” Steinmetz says. “We are also interested in educating them about the health benefits of having a healthier, and ‘greener,’ home environment.”


Breathing Easy

There’s growing evidence that indoor air can be more seriously polluted than outdoor air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since many of us spend more than 90% of our time indoors, health risks from airborne pollutants indoors may be much higher than you think.


When you are remodeling, consider installing hard-surface flooring to reduce indoor air pollution. If you decide to go with carpeting, find products that meet the Carpet and Rug Institute air quality standards for low emissions through its Green Label program. Also, look for carpet manufacturers with recycling programs; many will accept their used carpets for recycling or remanufacture. An estimated 5 billion pounds of carpet goes to landfills annually because its synthetic components prevent easy recycling.


Repainting as well? Request paints that do not use volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs. VOCs can emit unhealthy fumes. Low- or no-VOC paints are now widely available – cleaning products, too.


Other common sources of indoor air pollution include the formaldehyde used in cabinetry and insulation, as well as fireplaces that are improperly vented. Poorly installed or maintained heating and cooling systems and home appliances, such as gas ranges, stove hoods, or water heaters can also contribute to unhealthy air inside the home. Quality builders and contractors can source green and healthy products for you, and the U.S. Green Building Council provides up-to-date information on safer, greener products and building techniques.


Whether you are remodeling or not, radon gas is a special concern. It’s colorless, odorless and radioactive. Measuring the level of radon in your home is inexpensive, and the EPA provides guidance online for associated risks and corrective actions.


Conserving Energy

An important element of green building and remodeling is energy conservation. In California alone, if every household replaced five regular light bulbs with compact fluorescents, it would reduce power consumption by 6 million kilowatt-hours per year and reduce CO2 emissions by 2.3 million tons per year. That simple, collective act would be the equivalent of taking more than 400,000 cars off the road.


Other easy ways to reduce household energy consumption include programming your thermostat, plugging air leaks, and upgrading your appliances to ENERGY STAR products. New, energy-efficient windows can also significantly reduce energy used for heating and cooling older homes. And there’s some evidence that double-paned windows can also reduce fire damage.


If you are building a new home, work with your architect to design the house with energy consumption in mind. For example, maximize the benefits of natural daylight so you’ll need fewer electric lights. Also consider passive ventilation, which will promote the flow of fresh air throughout your home when you need it. And install energy- and water-efficient appliances.


Remodeling with Eco-Friendly Options

Whether you are updating your home or building a new one, you’ll be impressed at the array of environmentally friendly options available for flooring, cabinets, and home furnishings.


Consider bamboo flooring. It’s contemporary, durable and comes in a variety of finishes – and it’s one of the most sustainable building products on the planet. (Be sure to consult your flooring contractor to assure the bamboo product does not use formaldehyde in manufacturing.) Cork and eucalyptus flooring have similar eco-friendly qualities. Resources abound for other green flooring options, including reclaimed wood. Especially for historic homes, reclaimed wood can provide unmatched appeal.


If you prefer traditional wood, you can still go green by purchasing products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Flooring, structural lumber, cabinets, and a wide range of furnishings are available from FSC suppliers nationwide. You’ll rest assured knowing that these products are made from responsibly managed, harvested, and manufactured materials.


Cabinets, tile, plasters, and countertops are available with green advantages as well. Cabinetry without toxic glues and formaldehyde is widely available and can be finished with low-VOC paints and lacquers. Lead-free tiles are also available, with significant recycled content. And for countertops, the options cross all boundaries – from recycled glass, concrete or plastic, to finely made FSC-certified white-oak butcher block. Even wallpaper makers are introducing elegant grass-cloth products with more fiber, recycled backing paper, and nontoxic laminants.


Custom and mass-market furniture makers have also embraced green source materials and manufacturing techniques. Roche-Bobois, for example, has introduced a line of furniture that uses sustainably harvested wood and no hardware, glue, or stains.


Going Green with Fireman’s Fund

Fireman’s Fund was the first U.S. insurance company to include eco-friendly building options within their homeowner’s insurance coverages.


If you already own a green-certified home, the Certified Green Dwelling Endorsement covers you to rebuild with materials that carry the same green standards in the event of a loss.


If you would like to convert your home to a green one, the Green Dwelling and Personal Property Upgrade Endorsement will allow you to replace windows, flooring or appliances after a covered loss with energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly substitutes at no additional cost. The policy even covers methods of demolition and debris removal that are eco-friendly. So from start to finish, each home repair project keeps the environment in mind.


Going green at home is a great way to cover two important goals at once: safety for your family and making a contribution to a sustainable future. You might be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make your home a little bit safer and more energy-efficient.

10 Ways to Green Your Home

1. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Changing only five of the most frequently used light bulbs in your home can save you $100 per year in electric bills.

2. Program your thermostat. Keep your thermostat at 78 degrees or higher in the summer and 62 degrees or lower in the winter.

3. Plug air leaks. Common leaks occur around windows, doors and other wall penetrations.

4. Tune up your heating and cooling system. Arrange for a system tune-up at least every two years and clean filters monthly during peak usage periods.

5. Choose ENERGY STAR appliances. They’re certified to use less energy.

6. Switch to green power. Consider an investment in solar power or look into green options from your local utility service.

7. Buy local. Buying local products reduces the amount of fossil fuels required for transportation, as well as packaging.

8. Use low-VOC products. Paints and cleaning products are going green in a big way. Look for products that do not give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

9. Use wood alternatives or FSC-certified wood products. The Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC) certifies that wood products are sustainably grown, harvested and manufactured. And don’t forget recycled-content tile, countertops and other green choices.

10. Use rapidly renewable flooring materials. You won’t believe how elegant floors can be when made from bamboo, cork and other fast-growing, renewable plants.

This publication provides general information and/or recommendations that may apply to many different situations or operations.  Any recommendations described in this publication are not intended to be specific to your unique situation or operation and are not intended to address all possible hazardous conditions or unsafe acts that may exist. Consult with your staff and specialists to determine how and whether the information in this publication might guide you in specific plans for your situation or operations.  Additionally, this article does not substitute for legal advice, which should come from your own counsel. 


References to Recommended Vendors or third-party websites are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by Fireman's Fund® of the Recommended Vendors or the content of such third-party websites. Fireman's Fund is not responsible for the goods or services provided by Recommended Vendors or the content of such third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the goods or services provided by Recommended Vendors, or the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party websites. If you decide to use a Recommended Vendor or access third-party websites, you do so at your own risk.


These descriptions of coverage are abbreviated and are subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions of the actual policy, which forms the contract between the insured and the insurance company. Availability of coverages, credits and options may vary by state.