As part of our HomeFree program, Healthy Building Network partnered with Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) on a pacific northwest demonstration project at their Liberty Bank Building. The partnership provided information and research for CHH to explore and select healthier, alternative materials, and led to a renewed, organization-wide commitment to health and their creation of a Healthy Homes Initiative.

CHH was already committed to building high quality sustainable housing, although using HomeFree guidance gave them an opportunity to update and expand their approach to materials beyond their current materials practice, as well as Washington State-required Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard (ESDS). Jess Blanch, Design Associate and Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow at CHH, said, “Working with HomeFree helped us to understand how to think about health and materials in our buildings. It gave us insight to evaluate what we are already doing, and narrowed our lens on a few things we could improve.”

Materials choices: The play by play

HomeFree provided resources and support to focus on several materials of interest including insulation, flooring, and countertops. This helped the Liberty Bank project team, including architect Mithun and general contractor Walsh Construction Co., to identify and understand chemicals of concern in the materials, and make informed choices based on HomeFree’s product hazard spectrums for flooring and countertops.

The strategy for reducing toxics in flooring incorporated multiple approaches, including substitution and elimination of products. Several alternatives were considered:

  • Based on health concerns, the project team decided to eliminate carpet from the apartment bedrooms.
  • The ground floor common area will have ground and polished concrete with no additional sealants.
  • Healthier flooring considered for the project included a laminate floating flooring that accommodated adhesive-free installation.
  • Owing to budget and schedule, the team chose a new-formulation sheet vinyl—Armstrong Rejuvenations Sheet Vinyl,* and luxury vinyl plank—Armstrong Vivero Best Luxury Vinyl Plank,* that meet HomeFree recommendations to be free of ortho-phthalates, free of undisclosed recycled content, and that did not make health claims about antimicrobials.

Countertop substitutions will help protect residents’ health as well:

  • The base bid countertop, a plastic laminate material that included NAUF (No Added Urea Formaldehyde) wood products and Low or Zero VOC adhesives and sealants, was replaced with a healthier option, LG Hi-Macs,* a solid surface material with a GreenGuard Gold certification, installed with Low or Zero VOC adhesive.
  • An added health benefit of the solid surface material is that it does not require a surface sealer, which would need to be reapplied as an ongoing maintenance activity.

Learning about healthy materials was only part of the project’s success. Getting creative with specifications and schedule ultimately led to more healthy materials being used.

  • The project team incorporated healthy material options into the project documents as add alternates, along with the base bid products. This proved to be an effective strategy for maximizing the inclusion of healthier material options while safeguarding the budget. Choices were made as the project progressed and contingency funds became available.

Changing practice: A new Healthy Home initiative

CHH’s participation in HomeFree inspired them to create a company-wide Capitol Hill Housing Healthy Homes Initiative. According to Blanch, the demonstration at Liberty Bank Building led to a larger effort across the organization. “A real benefit is the expansion of this partnership beyond Liberty Bank Building, being able to bring the lessons learned into new construction projects, but also across our operations—renovation, maintenance, and unit turns.”

To develop the initiative, CHH obtained a Washington State Department of Ecology Public Participation Grant, which allows CHH to integrate health into its organization in the following areas:

  • Reducing waste and toxics in construction and operation of CHH properties
  • Implementing design and operations standards
  • Facilitating resident and staff education and engagement

The program will have a lasting impact, and lead to healthier homes and working conditions for residents and employees alike across its portfolio.

How could HomeFree impact your housing project?

We invite you to explore HomeFree and find out. Healthier buildings mean healthier lives. And healthier affordable housing brings health equity to communities who are often most at risk. With HomeFree, you can make a difference.

About Liberty Bank Building

When completed in early 2019, the Liberty Bank Building will be a 115-unit affordable housing community providing homes for low-income individuals and families, veterans, and people with disabilities. The design incorporates art and architecture to honor the history of the neighborhood and the Liberty Bank formerly located on the site. The 101,000 s.f., 6-story building includes studios, and 1- and 2- bedroom apartments. Learn more about the Liberty Bank Building project on the HomeFree project website


*Neither HBN nor its HomeFree program endorses or certifies products. The specific products noted have not been reviewed or recommended by HBN. They are included for informational purposes, and demonstrate choices made by HomeFree users based on multiple factors including cost and availability, utilizing HomeFree guidance to make healthier material choices within project contraints.