News Brief

Healthy Building Network Launches Online Forum

The forum invites affordable housing designers to join HBN experts and others to ask questions and share information on material health.

healthy and hazardous paints

The HomeFree website uses 'stoplight' colors to rate products, such as paints, from the healthiest to the most hazardous.

Infographic: Healthy Building Network
The Healthy Building Network’s HomeFree database recently launched an online forum on healthy building materials—an idea exchange that brings together practitioners in affordable housing with HBN’s researchers.

“It is a great place to ask individual questions and be able to get more specific information from the Healthy Building Network team,” said Jess Blanch, an Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow with Capitol Hill Housing in Seattle.

The forum builds on the HomeFree database, which compares the toxicity of products using ‘stoplight’ colors to identify healthy and less healthy choices. For example, under cabinets and millwork, the site rates solid wood as green—the healthiest—and standard formaldehyde resins as red, at the bottom of the healthy scale. The health assessments come from HBN’s extensive chemical material library, the Pharos database.

Anyone can use the site and participate in the forum, as long as they register.

HomeFree is “interpreting data in a way that people who aren’t technical experts can absorb and understand,” said Gina Ciganik, HBN’s CEO.

HBN’s goal is to get healthier products into affordable housing. “And then, ultimately, people are healthier because they are not exposed to toxic chemicals, especially children,” said Ciganik.

HBN has used HomeFree to help six affordable housing demonstration projects choose healthier building materials.

Liberty Bank Building in Seattle

Liberty Bank Building in Seattle is one of HomeFree's six affordable housing demonstration projects.

Rendering: Mithun
The Liberty Bank Building, a 115-unit building for low-income households in Seattle, is one of the demonstration projects. When the design team from Mithun used HomeFree to compare flooring for Liberty Bank, they learned the vinyl that had been chosen did not have phthalate plasticizers, a class of chemicals associated with endocrine disruption and other health concerns. “To know that we are spec’ing a product that is as green as it can be, within our price point, that’s really helpful for us,” said Jess Blanch of Capitol Hill Housing.

Leigh Avenue Senior Apartments in San Jose, California, designed for low-income and formerly homeless seniors, is another demonstration project. Hilary Noll, now with Mithun, was the design director on Leigh Avenue for First Community Housing. Noll says HomeFree helped the project assess the feasibility of incorporating solid surface countertops instead of plastic laminate plastic. Compared to going to the web or to the manufacturer, “you are getting something that has been through some level of evaluation from your peers [in affordable housing],” said Noll. “So, it is a more trusted way.”

HBN hopes HomeFree’s new online forum will be an additional place to leverage the knowledge of HBN experts and others who build and renovate affordable housing.

Published August 2, 2017

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