Selecting a Green Design Material – 12 Questions to Ask First

A green interior design material, finish or fixture must first be a good product. Here’s what to look for even before considering a product’s green claims.

Selecting the right eco-friendly finishes and materials is one of the most important challenges you will face in building your green home. Manufacturers have given us so many new choices and options to choose from that it now becomes a question of what is right for MY home?

As an interior designer committed to green interior design, this is something I deal with on a daily basis. There is a huge gray area between materials and products that are cutting edge technology and the risk of whether they will hold up over time as promised. You might feel that by building an eco-friendly home and you will have to sacrifice something like style, luxury, comfort or saving money. Fortunately, if you do your homework that doesn’t have to be the case. Quality green building products will give you a home that is comfortable and functions well – without problems or extra expense.

“Green interior design is always about making choices, compromise, and setting priorities,” is what I tell my clients. “It’s never going to be ‘perfectly green’, so you have to decide what matters to you.” You want to feel confidence in your decisions and have the information you need to weigh the trade-offs associated with them. Still, how do you know what is the best choice for you?

Here are 12 questions I recommend you ask your builder and designer about any green design product you’re considering-before you make your selection:

  1. How well will it perform its basic function as a building material or product?
  2. How does it compare with products I am considering or have used before?
  3. Does it meet code for my intended use?
  4. Is it third-party certified, or is it just a claim by the manufacturer of being eco-friendly?
  5. Will it contribute toward project certification, i.e. LEED, Green Build, etc.?
  6. Is it available now (or will it be when I need it)?
  7. How will it affect my budget?
  8. Is there any question about it’s safety or performance?
  9. Will it improve the level of energy efficiency, water conservation or indoor air quality of my home?
  10. How will it contribute toward sustainability?
  11. Will it require special installation skills or adaptations to the building?
  12. Is it worth the investment for the benefits?

After answering these 12 questions and talking with your building team, you should be able to determine if the material, finish, product or fixture fits within your comfort zone and meets the your environmental goals for the project. You should also ask, “What makes this a green design product?” and “Can you verify the manufacturers’ performance claims?” Then you can focus on the product’s green attributes and how they will integrate with the other elements of your green home.

Building a green home can be very rewarding, once you work through the layers of documentation and research to determine the best solutions. Working with a knowledgeable, experienced design and building team will make it much easier and more enjoyable.