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Posted on May 31, 2016 in General

How Common Product Profiles Help Inform Product Decisions

On the Products section of HomeFree, in addition to individual products, visitors will now see Common Product Profiles (CPs for short).

These Common Product Profiles describe the composition found to be most typical to products of that type. For example, a CP for “Fiberglass Batt Insulation” provides a breakdown of the ingredients in the paper facing on the insulation, any glue adhering that facing to the fiberglass batt, the fiberglass itself, and the binder keeping all of those strands of glass knit together. CPs also describe the potential health hazards associated with these ingredients.

Healthy Building Network (HBN) began creating CPs in 2014 through an initiative called the Quartz Project, a joint effort between HBN, Flux, Google, and thinkstep.  Together we created 101 CPs, describing building materials needed to construct a multi-story office building - from concrete, to drywall screws, to rooftop flashing.  All of this data is freely available from the Quartz Project website.  These CPs inform material selection in construction projects by allowing users to model the potential human health impacts of their material choices prior to installation.

HBN continues to create new CPs beyond the initial 101 profiles  Using the same methodology we developed for Quartz, our research team identifies the common chemical and material ingredients in additional interior finishes.  

In the Products section of HomeFree, you’ll see CPs for Linoleum and Luxury Vinyl Tile.  Each CP provides:

  • A description of the flooring.  Each CP attempts to describe the most typical formulation of a product type on the market, but keep in mind that less common -- but potentially more toxic -- formulations are out there.  When considering products for a project, be on the lookout for attributes that might deviate from common, and educate yourself about whether these differences might be better, or worse, than the average we’ve described.
  • The composition of the product. These are all of the chemicals and materials used to make a product of this type.  

  • A list of impurities.  These are often trace amounts of contaminants than can be naturally occurring (like minerals in mined rock), or evidence of chemical reactions required to make an individual ingredient.

  • An accounting of health hazards.  Both the intentionally added content in the product and any impurities, carry an inherent hazard profile that comes with them into a building when installed. For example, formaldehyde can cause cancer, and is associated with a slew of other health hazards, such as the onset of asthma, or mutation of genetic material in cells.

The health hazards in CPs are displayed with a color indicating the level of concern for each one.  Purple is the highest level of concern, followed by red, and then orange.  

Because very few products on the market are made with ingredients that have no hazards, you should expect to see hazards called out, even for products that are considered better options.  The trick is to compare hazards between products, and whenever possible, prefer the product with fewer and lower hazards.

Note: Individual chemicals and materials used to create CPs aren’t displayed in HomeFree, nor are impurities.  If you’d like to access that information, it is freely available at http://www.quartzproject.org/