- GreenSpec Insights
- Energy Solutions
- BuildingGreen's Top Stories
- BuildingGreen Talks LEED
After years of living with a nice-looking but rather uncomfortable daybed in our living room, my family and I went shopping for a new sofa. We explored a range of styles and configurations, trying to find something that looked good, would be cozy, durable, and fit in our rather small space. Oh, and we also wanted to avoid bringing toxic and ineffective flame retardant chemicals into our home.
According to the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and Environmental Building News, the polyurethane foam that makes almost all cushions so comfortable is infused with several pounds of persistent and bioaccumulative toxins that are supposed to help suppress fire. Including those ingredients might be understandable if they actually worked, but there is little evidence that they do. The tests that supposedly show that they work were done on samples that contained huge amount of the chemicals—ten times more than anyone actually uses.
So why do all cushions contain this toxic, ineffective stuff? Because the chemical companies that make it have managed to convince California regulators that it’s needed to reduce death and injury in fires. The tricks that they used to hoodwink the regulators are truly outrageous—check out the Tribune exposé or this summary for details. These chemicals are only required in California, but very few manufacturers want to deal with stocking separate inventory just for California, so they use the treated foam in all their products.
As much as I’m looking forward to relaxing on a more comfortable sofa, I just can’t see exposing my family unnecessarily to these chemicals, which can cause cancer, developmental and neurological problems, and impaired fertility. One particularly noxious chemical, chlorinated tris, is being phased out of use, only to be replaced by others with similar chemistry that have not been adequately tested, according to the Green Science Policy Institute.
The Institute does offer a helpful list of manufacturers who either avoid them entirely (by not selling anything in California) or who offer to make an untreated version. But so far we haven’t found the style and configuration we’re looking for on that list.
It would seem that offering untreated foam as an option wouldn’t be so hard, given that manufacturers routinely offer a wide range of fabrics and other options on their products. But most companies whose products we liked (and could afford) were unable or unwilling to fulfill this request. These included big national chains that sell online (Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, West Elm) and companies that sell through local distributors. I was disappointed to discover that even active members of the Sustainable Furniture Council (Rowe Brands, Lee Industries, American Leather), which posted a warning about these chemicals, have not been responsive to my pleas for a safer sofa.
There is hope. The California regulation governing this activity, Technical Bulletin 117, is in the process of being updated. The proposed TB 117-2013 can be met without the use of flame retardants.. As long as it doesn’t get torpedoed along the way, by the fall of 2013 the dependency on flame retardants should be gone. A year or two from now (depending on how long it takes the manufacturers to work through their existing inventory), I shouldn’t have to worry about the toxic load I’m inadvertently buying when I buy a new sofa.
In the meantime, I’ll keep looking asking those companies that make sofas I like if they can make me one without the toxins. I hope you’ll do the same, so they’ll get the message and make the switch sooner. And, whether or not you live in California, it’s easy to write a letter to help make sure that TB 117-2013 gets adopted on schedule—read about how to do that here.
We installed these in our new house and they work great. Excellent product.
With a little patience you can find the material information embedded in their pdfs. But it looks to me like some of the...
Bryan, the article above discusses mounting considerations relative to heating. I think it's up to you to weigh whether those considerations are..." More...
Bryan J says, "
Thanks Triston, but what do you think would be a suitable location for the inside unit, should I mount it up high, about 7 feet or mount it lower..." More...
Tristan Roberts says, "
Bryan, if you want to provide heating and cooling, and if doing so electrically is attractive, then I don't see any issue with using a mini-split..." More...
Bryan J says, "
I have been reading the comments on the mini splits, let me tell you what I have and what I'm looking to do. Any comments will help me. I have a..." More...
Margaret Tehan says, "
Hello Tristan and Kevin, thanks so much for your responses. As I was writing my question above and I was saying that the first order of business..." More...
Archives by Category
AIA Convention (18) [RSS]
Authors (7) [RSS]
Awards (7) [RSS]
Behind the Scenes (44) [RSS]
Books & Media (69) [RSS]
BuildingEnergy Conference (3) [RSS]
BuildingGreen Talks LEED (53) [RSS]
BuildingGreen's Top Stories (100) [RSS]
Bulletin (7) [RSS]
Case Studies (27) [RSS]
Colleges and Universities (2) [RSS]
Energy Solutions (277) [RSS]
Events (93) [RSS]
Google Earth/Sketchup (5) [RSS]
Greenbuild '07 (27) [RSS]
Greenbuild '08 (29) [RSS]
Greenbuild '09 (14) [RSS]
Greenbuild '10 (7) [RSS]
Greenbuild '11 (6) [RSS]
GreenSpec Insights (195) [RSS]
LEED (51) [RSS]
Living Future (5) [RSS]
Miscellania (41) [RSS]
Nature & Nurture (70) [RSS]
Op-Ed (65) [RSS]
Passive Survivability (7) [RSS]
Politics (32) [RSS]
Product Talk (103) [RSS]
Q&A (9) [RSS]
Resilient Design (11) [RSS]
Riversong's Radical Reflections (12) [RSS]
Science & Tech (30) [RSS]
Sticky Business (11) [RSS]
The Industry (97) [RSS]
Water Wise Guys (11) [RSS]