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Toxic-Free Future’s Healthy Materials Matrix

A simplified guide to choosing clean building materials for multi-family housing

Building Category Material Chemical(s)  of Concern Recommendations Cost Impact
Flooring Composite wood flooring Formaldehyde (causes cancer, eye, nose and throat irritation, and difficulty breathing) Require No Added Formaldehyde products. $
Flooring made with PVC PVC (production and disposal of PVC creates known human carcinogens and PVC membranes may contain Orthophthalates which are hormone-disrupting plasticizers) Require non-vinyl flooring. $
Carpet Heavy metals (can be found in fly ash), Orthophthalates, PFAS (“forever chemicals” with significant life cycle concerns and a range of health hazards including suppression of the immune system, raised cholesterol, and cancer), PVC Require products that are PFAS-free and do not use vinyl or PU backing or fly ash.  Choose no added antimicrobial agents. $
Walls Wall coverings Orthophthalates, VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds; have a variety of health effects including headache, nausea, eye, nose, and throat irritation, organ damage, and cancer) Do not use vinyl and choose wall coverings low in volatile organic compounds (VOC). $
Paint APEs (Alkylphenol Ethoxylates; cause hormone disruption), VOCs Require APE-free, low-VOC content/emision, no PFAS paints. Use paint without antimicrobial health claims. $
Fixtures Windows and doors made with PVC PVC Require non-vinyl windows and doors. $$
Doors and cabinets Formaldehyde (causes cancer, eye, nose and throat irritation, and difficulty breathing) Use solid wood or no-added formaldehyde composite, and opt for a plywood over other composite wood where possible. $
Roller Shades Orthophthalates Require phthalate-free and no PVC/vinyl products. $$
Countertops Formaldehyde, PFAS Choose mineral or stone-based countertops that do not need to be sealed after installation, such as porcelain slabs, quartz, or some natural stone. Avoid laminate and plastic countertops including cultured marble and solid surface. Specify no added antimicrobial agents. $
Applications Sealants – indoor use Cyclosiloxanes (cause hormone disruption), Isocyanates (cause asthma), Orthophthalates, VOCs For caulk-type sealants, select pre-compressed polyurethane joint seal, phthalate-free acrylic and latex sealants. $
High-performance coatings Bisphenols (cause hormone disruption), Isocyanates Use epoxy-free and isocyanate-free products. $
Insulation Thermal Insulation Batt insulation Formaldehyde Choose fiberglass batt insulation; if using mineral wool batt insulation, select formaldehyde-free. $
Rigid board insulation HFRs (Halogenated Flame Retardants; are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic) Require products with no halogenated flame retardants (HFRs).  $
Acoustic insulation Formaldehyde Choose unfaced formaldehyde-free products. $
Blown-in insulation Blown-in insulations are generally good options from a material health perspective. They typically avoid the chemicals of highest concern in insulation: Formaldehyde, HFRs, and Isocyanates. Use blown-in wood fiber, blown sheeps wool, blown fiberglass, blown mineral wool, or loose fill cellulose. $
Foamed-In-Place Insulation HFRs, Isocyanates Ban use polyurethane spray foam insulation.  
Structural Interior Vapor Permeable Barrier HFRs, VOCs Require products with no halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) and low VOC content and emissions (<50 g/L VOC content in the base paint and colorants, aligned with CARB and SCAQMD limits, and low VOC emission certified according to the CDPH standard) $
Exterior Sheet Waterproofing: Thermoplastic Membrane Roofing PVC, Orthophthalates Require TPO or EPDM membrane roofing. $
Exterior siding Crystalline Silica (causes cancer when generated during on-site cutting) Require siding with no Cystalline Silica; this includes wood or metal siding $$
Sealers – outdoor use  PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons; cause cancer as well as heart defects, immune suppression, reduced growth, and reproductive effects) Do not use coal tar driveway and parking lot sealers. $
All Products – Ingredient Transparency Transparency of the content and known toxics in a product is critical so that we can avoid building homes with hazardous chemicals. To maximize transparency, require the use of products that have publicly disclosed inventories characterized and screened to 1,000 ppm or better, such as Declare Label of HPD. $

About this guide

This guide was adapted from the healthier materials section of the Master Specification tool, a resource created by the Housing Development Consortium’s Exemplary Building Program. Gladys Ly-Au Young, principal and co-founder of Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young Architects, was the primary driver of the Exemplary Building Program’s inclusion of the healthier materials section in the Master Specification Tool. The full Exemplary Building Program steering committee collaborated on the development of the healthy building material section, with insights, guidance and reviews from Toxic Free Future and Healthy Building Network.