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Windows, carpet chemicals, spray-foam, and LEED lawsuits: these are a few of your favorite things.

It's been a big year for green building. People are tightening up their buildings even as they tighten their belts. The retrofit market and multifamily housing have taken off in a big way in this new financial landscape.

The most-read Environmental Building News articles of 2011 reflect these new realities. Please check them out below and tell us in comments what you'd like us to cover in 2012! Don't forget that you can also get continuing education credits for reading many of these articles.

(NB: many of our most popular articles are available for BuildingGreen members only. You can check out affordable membership options here.)

Are our readership stats a window into your souls? Be sure to tell us in comments what you most want to read about in 2012.
  1. Better Choices in Low-Slope Roofing.There are big differences in environmental impacts of commercial roofing materials, but the biggest variable may be service life.

     

  2. Energy-Efficient Multifamily Housing. Now you can get LEED, Energy Star, and other labels for designing or retrofitting high-performance multifamily buildings.
  3. The Chemicals in Our Carpets and Textiles. The array of water-, dirt-, and mold-repellent chemicals added to carpeting and fabrics is dizzying. Which are causes for concern, and how can we minimize exposure?
  4. Measuring Energy Use in Buildings: Do Our Metrics Really Add Up? How much energy our buildings use matters a great deal, but figuring out how to measure that use and compare it from building to building is tricky. Here's a guide to key metrics and how to use them.
  5. EPA Takes Action on Spray-Foam Health Risks. EPA takes another look at spray foam after increasing consumer health complaints. The action plan leaves open questions about how far EPA will go to clamp down on these products, but it's safe to think of this as a shot across the bow from EPA for the SPF industry.
  6. New Plaintiffs Join Amended LEED Lawsuit. Instead of seeking to establish a broad class-action lawsuit representing building owners, taxpayers, and professionals harmed by LEED, the amended lawsuit focuses on the latter. The lawsuit was dismissed later in the year.
  7. Re-Framing Sustainability: Green Structural Engineering. Want to design the greenest building possible? Get a handle on the best structural options available to you, and invite a creative structural engineer to join your team.
  8. Solar Thermal Hot Water, Heating, and Cooling. By creating heat instead of electricity, solar thermal achieves three times the efficiency of photovoltaics at a lower price.
  9. Making Windows Work Better. How to choose curtains, solar screens, awnings, and storm windows? The options are dizzying, but the right choice can cut energy bills.
  10. Choosing Windows: Looking Through the Options. We ask a lot from windows: energy efficiency, aesthetics, durability, affordability, and more. Which window frame materials and low-e glazing options balance these choices best? This article explores all the options and decodes the performance labels we see when buying windows.

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Comments

1 Lately there is a lot of spec posted by keri rimel on 01/21/2012 at 06:41 pm

Lately there is a lot of speculation that spray foam insulation is not as inert as once thought and in fact, SPF may continue to off gas for many years. The EPA has also voiced their concern about the need for further research on the short and long term safety of SPF in residential use.

We are in contact with 30 other families in the USA and Canada who may be suffering from symptoms related to their SPF home (NOTE: schools and offices are using it too). Some families have moved out of their homes. Other families have removed roof decks and/or walls of SPF in hopes of reducing the chemicals and symptoms experienced in the home. Some families have no choice other than to remain in their home and rely on mechanical ventilation/filtration to help ease the chemical burden and symptoms, but find little relief.

After nearly a year of research, ventilation, lots of lab testing (chamber and air samples), and expert opinions, our family has begun tedious process of removing our SPF (roof deck and wall cavities). The removal is being performed by a local remediation company (the company has removed SPF in homes prior because of mold and moisture issues.

A detailed protocol created by our Certified Industrial Hygienist (other credentials include CSE, CIEC, CEICC, CIAQP, CIAQC) whom has experience (20+ yrs.) with isocyanates (Side A of the two part foam) is being followed to ensure safe removal (dust created from breaking the foam is a respiratory and dermal hazard).

We are hopeful that removal of the SPF along with soda blasting will remove and neutralize the chemicals associated with the application of the SPF. We will do more testing after remediation is complete to ensure a safe environment prior to resuming to build

According to the EPA the SPF should be cured (inert) and safe for re-entry 23-72 hrs after install. According to SPF companies, there should be no odor or off gassing after it is cured. Our home experienced something much different; a chemical smell has lingered and when we entered the home we experienced respiratory issues, headache, flu aches, muscle aches, throat, eye irritation and chest pain. On warm days, the smell and symptoms were more severe. Some visitors experienced the same symptoms while others do not. There is a varying degree of threshold levels, but almost everyone, after prolonged periods complain of eye, throat irritation.

A lot of lab work has been completed by a well known leader in product testing. Our chamber and air tests show a long list of chemicals that at even low levels, chronic exposure to most of the captured chemicals in our home will undoubtedly cause health issues after little or prolonged exposure. Frighteningly, our chemical profile from both the chamber and air testing mimics most of the other homes experiencing the same complaints with the SPF.

Is this all a coincidence that the same chemicals are found in homes with spray foam and the owners are experiencing the same symptoms?

Today we are much more sensitive to things that contain isocyanates and flame retardants. Renting a car, walking into REI, IKEA, and HomeDepot can cause eye irritation, burning throat and chest congestion. Even running on a refinished track or wearing a wetsuit can evoke our symptoms.

Other SPF homeowners have had severe reactions and illness thought to be associated with the chemicals from the SPF. Children of some of these SPF homes develop a chronic cough and asthma like breathing. Chronic low grade fever and autoimmune responses have also been observed. Muscle aches and mental confusion and chest pain are other symptoms and can be seen during exposure and/or develop after being in an SPF home for long periods.

Our SPF manufacturer/supplier is very aware of our complaints and concerns (and the complaints of the other homeowners), but the company continues to deny any sort of problem with their product. The contractor who installed the foam (in18 degree weather, with zero ventilation during install [two weeks], and allowed us and others to be in the home during installation) denies anything is wrong. Needless to say, like most of the other homeowners, we are left on our own to handle this because the science is not yet 'there'.

Do you have SPF insulation somewhere in your home (attic, wall cavities, crawl space)? Do you experience asthma like symptoms, chronic cough, headache, throat or eye irritation, nausea, skin rash, muscle aches, flu-ish, any new autoimmune issues since moving into or installing SPF? If so, do your symptoms decrease when away from the home OR during times of lower temperatures?

Another issue has been seen in older SPF in homes. Have you had SPF insulation for 1-8 years and recently notice a new chemical odor or the above symptoms? A family we know has removed SPF from their home after 6 yrs. because in June 2011 it started to smell and the family had to move out because of their related symptoms. Test results indicate the foam is decomposing and releasing the same chemicals that we have in our relatively newly sprayed home.

I hope our situation is a random, but if it is not and other homeowners with SPF are experiencing similar symptoms, it is important that information is being gathered and awareness is spread.


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