Avoid These Materials If You’re Passionate About Sustainable Design

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Undertaking an interior design renovation or similar endeavor opens doors to a world of exciting things: fresh colors, new-to-you furniture, and an unending selection of patterns, materials and textures to choose from to make your home a dream. If sustainability is a priority in your latest design overhaul (and we hope it is!), use this post as a resource to plan your next project with both your health and the planet’s in mind. 

From sustainable siding alternatives to eco-friendly home insulation options, keep reading to learn which materials to avoid and which to use if you’re passionate about sustainable interior design.

Avoid: Plastic & Vinyl Siding

Photo via The Village Host

What To Avoid

While traditional siding is an extremely affordable material for the exterior of the home, it’s definitely not the most sustainable. Most often, siding or vinyl is made of a synthetic material called PVC which is designed to inexpensively cover the exterior of the home and resemble the texture of wood.

Sustainable Siding Alternatives

KWP engineered wood siding (which uses 100% pre-consumer recycled materials) is one of the most eco-friendly siding alternatives. It will give you a similar look to traditional siding, without the hefty price tag of stone, brick or stucco.

If your budget allows, we recommend using natural materials in the construction of the exterior of your home. Here are some of the most common sustainable materials for a home’s exterior:

  • Stone
  • Brick
  • Stucco
  • Recycled steel

Avoid: Traditional Insulation

Photo via Four Seven Five

What To Avoid

Traditional home insulation exists in a few different forms: 

  1. Most commonly, you’ll find fiberglass insulation, which is composed of plastic fibers that are held together by tiny shards of glass. This is the cheapest and most common type of insulation found in homes.
  2. Spray foam insulation, which is a shaving cream-like substance that is sprayed into nooks and crannies, dries after application and is composed of synthetic chemicals—most often a petroleum by-product. 

Sustainable Insulation Alternatives

Instead of fiberglass insulation, look for one of the following:

  1. Cellulose Insulation – Made from roughly 70-85% post-consumer recycled paper. The remaining percentage is made up of fire retardants (usually boric acid or ammonium sulfate).
  2. Natural Fiber Insulation – There are many natural options available for insulation made from recycled materials including cotton, sheep’s wool, straw, hemp and more. Check with your interior designer or builder to learn about the options that are available to you! 

Instead of spray foam insulation, look for one of the following:

  1. Soybean-based spray foam – Since traditional spray foam is made from petroleum and plastics, they’re known for containing an off-gassing chemical called MDI. Soybean-based foam does not contain MDI. 
  2. Castor oil-based Icynene – Another sprayable foam insulation made from castor-oil extracted from the castor plant that does not contain MDI. 

Avoid: Laminate Countertops

Photo via East & Gray Interiors

What To Avoid

Steer clear of laminate countertops as much as possible. Although they are the cheapest option, they are made from plastic that has been fused with particle board. Quality countertops are hugely important for resale value, so it’s worth the upfront investment to pay more for quartz, marble or granite if you can swing it! 

Sustainable Countertop Materials

Quartz is a great option, but it’s important to note that quartz isn’t totally natural. Quarried stone is ground up and infused with roughly 5% polymer resins during the manufacturing process of quartz in order to create a more durable, stain-resistant material for kitchens. We still highly recommend quartz to clients, especially those with heavy-use kitchens, but if you’re passionate about avoiding synthetics, this material may not be the right choice for you. Instead, look for marble, granite, or natural stone as excellent choices for sustainable countertops! 

Be conscious not to replace your countertops too often! Natural stones like marble and granite are finite resources. This means once we have mined all the quarries of natural stone throughout the world, there will be none left. Therefore, we recommend putting extra time and care into the selection of your countertops. Be sure you select a pattern and color you’ll love for years to come so that those countertops can stay in your home for a very long time, and not frivolously be changed out just 5 or 10 years down the line. 

Avoid: (Most) Box Store Furniture & Decor Brands

Photo via Edgework Creative

Sustainability goes beyond simply using natural materials. It takes sourcing, production and longevity into consideration as well. A simple mindset we use to make day-to-day purchasing decisions more sustainable is to simply ask ourselves:

“Is this item made of quality materials that will last for years, or was it made cheaply and meant to be discarded when it falls apart or goes out of style?”

If you find that most things you buy fall in the latter category, consider reframing your purchasing mentality. While buying higher quality items up front is more expensive, it will save you more in the long run when you don’t have to discard and repurchase similar pieces over and over again. 

When it comes to interior design, we think about quality over quantity all the time—everything from furniture and decor accents to built-ins and structural elements can be more eco-friendly if we know where to look. 

Sustainable Furniture Alternatives

We often encourage clients to opt for custom made or locally manufactured furniture when possible instead of buying from a bulk supplier. Although custom or locally-made pieces can be more expensive, these items are often better quality and are able to be created to your exact specifications—size, color, materials, etc.—so you’re more likely to love them for years to come.

The goal is to have pieces that will last for decades or longer—just like the wonderful craftsmanship that went into building most antique and vintage furniture that makes people reminisce over the quality of how well things were made “back then”. 

Bulk suppliers contribute to deforestation due to the mass-production of furniture. Plus, they often use cheaper materials, resulting in lower quality pieces that won’t hold up well over time. This means you’ll be replacing them more frequently, which continues the cycle of waste, costing you more money, time, and headaches in the long run. 

Eco-Friendly Certifications To Look For 

For Materials – Did you know that many synthetic fabrics are laden with chemicals and toxins? Many of these chemicals are known to cause a host of health issues from asthma, fertility issues, neurological deficits, developmental delays and cancer. But how can you avoid this?

Photo via Easy & Gray Interiors

Look for materials with an Oeko-Tex certification. This is one of the world’s best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful substances. Find this, and you can feel good about the materials you’re exposing to your family! 

For Wood – Another great certification to look for when buying furniture or sourcing materials for your home is the Forest Stewardship Council’s FSC certification. Per their website, “this certification ensures that wood products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.” 

Purchase Locally or Domestically Whenever Possible 

Big box stores churning out bulk, lower quality items to meet furniture demand and rapidly changing consumer tastes are often contributing to deforestation, especially throughout Central Africa. Instead, try to purchase pieces from sustainable local or domestic businesses. Here’s a few ways this can make a difference: 

  • Cuts down on the CO2 emissions resulting from shipping
  • Supports local jobs and the community
  • Supports fair wages and healthy working conditions
  • Enables the consumer (you!) to know more about the story of the product

Never underestimate the power of consumer purchasing behavior! When enough people choose to support only businesses and companies that operate with sustainability in mind, other companies are incentivized to follow suit! 

Have you incorporated any of these sustainable materials into your current home? Let us know in the comments!

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Interior Designer Andrea Durcik Columbus Ohio

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Traveling, animals, and all things design encompass Andrea’s life, fueling her creative energy every step of the way.

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