Creating a Healthier Basis of Design

This guide is intended to support you and your organization to include healthier material requirements and preferences into your Basis of Design (BoD) or material guidelines. If you are looking to update technical specifications, you can use the HomeFree Paint and Flooring Specifications and the HomeFree General Spec Guidance. The specifications also include some example products that meet the healthier materials criteria.

Step 1. Include HomeFree’s General Guidance about Healthier Materials

HomeFree’s general product guidance provides a quick reference to essential material health considerations and recommendations. Including these in your BoD will speed up your material vetting process and serve as an education tool for users of the document.

Check HomeFree for healthier material guidance for the product category or categories of interest.
  1. Check the HomeFree products page and select the product category of interest.
  2. Read the General Guidance bullet points at the top of the page. Discuss these recommendations with your team and consider adding each of these to your BoD as requirements or preferences.
  3. Include a requirement or preference for product types that are ranked green, light green, or yellow on the Hazard Spectrum.
  4. Direct users to HomeFree for additional background information.

Pro Tips: You can find more information about why these recommendations are important via the “Read more” button and the drop down menus for each product type on the Hazard Spectrum.

If you are reviewing a large number of different categories, you may want to check the HomeFree General Spec Guidance. This includes high level specification guidance for flooring, paint, drywall, insulation, countertops, cabinetry, millwork, and doors.

Step 2. Prioritize Products with Content Transparency

Demanding content transparency from manufacturers is the first step to transforming the material industry to safer options. Expressing your preference for materials with transparency about product content and health hazards demonstrates your organization’s commitment to a safer environment for all.

Set organizational goals or requirements for content transparency. Check existing and future approved products against these goals. Consider the following:
  1. Does the product have a Health Product Declaration (HPD)? Check the HPD Public Repository. You can search by manufacturer or product name, or use the available filters.
  2. Does the product have a Declare Label? Check the Declare database. Search by product name or manufacturer, or filter by manufacturer.
  3. If the answer to both is no, is there a different product with transparency that could be used?

Pro Tip: Use the HomeFree disclosure request template to ask manufacturers to disclose product contents if they haven’t already done so.

Step 3. Benchmark and Expand Your Healthier Materials Selection

HBN Hazard Spectrums encourage a step-up approach to healthier material selection. By ranking your current preferred materials based on their common health hazards, you’ll be in a better position to find safer materials.

Place each product on the Hazard Spectrum to see how it ranks from a material health perspective. Consider other types of products higher on the Hazard Spectrum that you could use.
  1. Place a product on the Hazard Spectrum by matching the main product attributes that are called out on the Hazard Spectrum - typically the product type. Pay attention to any additional attributes that may be called out in some cases.
    For example: Vinyl flooring is ranked differently on the spectrum depending on the presence or absence of phthalates and recycled content, so in addition to identifying the product as vinyl flooring, you may also want to collect information on whether it contains phthalates or recycled content. This information may be provided on a product web page or data sheet, or you may need to check with the manufacturer for additional information. Specific tips are linked in the Additional Resources section below. If you do not have this additional information, you can instead assign the range of color rankings to your product - for example, vinyl flooring can be red to orange on the Hazard Spectrum.
  2. Consider whether there are any product types ranked higher in the Hazard Spectrum that you could use, and prioritize these in your BoD. Work toward taking steps up the Spectrum to safer products. Prefer green, light green, and yellow ranked materials whenever possible.

Pro Tips: Check the product against any additional healthier materials criteria from the General Guidance bullet points that you include in the BoD. Common additional criteria are: low VOC emission certification per the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) test method[1] and avoiding products marketed as antimicrobial that claim or imply a health benefit.

Some product categories on HomeFree have online courses on vetting products or information request letters you can use to ask manufacturers for more information. See the Related Resources section of each product page for more information, or look for additional links below.

[1] Programs that certify the CDPH Standard Method or a variation of the standard include GreenGuard Gold, SCS Indoor Advantage Gold, and Berkeley Analytical Clear Chem. Additional certifications including the CDPH testing for paints are: Master Painters Institute (MPI) X-Green and GreenWise Gold and for flooring: Resilient Floor Covering Institute FloorScore and Carpet & Rug Institute Green Label Plus.

Extra Credit: Why Materials Matter

Consider including context around the healthier materials goals of the organization and why materials matter. See below for some example text about the importance of material health that could be included in a BoD.

Educate partners who use the BoD about why your organization is prioritizing material health, and why they should too.

Example Language on Why Materials Matter:

The average person spends up to 90% of their time indoors. Most people think that the chemicals used in building products are strictly regulated or tested for their impacts on human health, but that is not the case. In fact, it is difficult to get clear and reliable information about product ingredients and their potential health impacts on building occupants, workers, and the communities in which they are manufactured or processed. Buildings, both old and new, can contain chemicals of concern that have impacts throughout the supply chain. From lead poisoning to asthma, our health can be impacted by the materials used in our buildings. This Basis of Design includes preferences or requirements that align with the healthier material guidance of Healthy Building Network (HBN)'s HomeFree initiative, to help ensure transparency about product content and that less toxic products are used.

See the HomeFree website for more information: https://homefree.healthybuilding.net.

Additional Resources

Information Request Templates: Email templates for use when working directly with a manufacturer or with your local product representative to find products that meet HomeFree content transparency and healthier material recommendations.

Additional Product Vetting Guidance: These resources walk through the steps you can take to vet a specific product against the HomeFree healthier material recommendations.