Boron-containing chemical that provides fire resistance to materials such as cellulose insulation and provides decay and termite resistance to wood products. Borate is derived from the mineral borax and is benign, compared with most other wood treatments.



Compact fluorescent lamp. Fluorescent lightbulb in which the tube is folded or twisted into a spiral to concentrate the light output. CFLs are typically three to four times as efficient as incandescent lightbulbs, and last eight to ten times as long. CFLs combine the efficiency of fluorescent light with the convenience of an Edison or screw-in base, and new types have been developed that better mimic the light quality of incandescents. Not all CFLs can be dimmed, and frequent on-off cycling can shorten their life. Concerns have been raised over the mercury content of CFLs, and though they have been deemed safe, proper recycling and disposal is encouraged.


Cradle To Cradle

Term used to describe the recycling of waste materials and manufactured products into new products rather than permanently disposing of them (see cradle to grave). The concept and its societal implications was the focus of the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough.


Design-Build Firm

Company that handles house design and construction. Since both services are provided by the same firm, integrated design can often be more easily achieved.


Energy Star

Introduced in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a voluntary labeling program to identify and promote energy-efficient products to help reduce greenhouse emissions. Originally designed for computers and monitors, it has now expanded to include office products, major appliances, lighting, home electronics and more. New expanded programs now also include complete buildings such as homes, commercial and industrial buildings.


Engineered Lumber

Lumber made by gluing together veneers or strands of wood to create very strong framing members; stronger and less prone to warping than standard framing lumber and can be made from smaller-diameter trees, saving old-growth forests.



Chemical found in many building products; most binders used for manufactured wood products are formaldehyde compounds. Reclassified by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2004 as a “known human carcinogen.”


FSC-Certified Wood

The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization that certifies various forests around the world exhibiting good sustainability and management practices based on a specific management criteria. The wood from these forests is often quickly renewable using hybrid timber and advanced forestry methods. Other forests are simply carefully managed by limiting the impact on both the environment and the people and demonstrating a social benefit in the process.



Third-party certification program that identifies building products and materials which produce relatively low levels of emissions. GreenGuard is administered by the nonprofit GreenGuard Environmental Institute (GEI). Other GEI programs include the Children & Schools standard, which addresses emission standards for educational facilities, and the GreenGuard for Building Construction Program, a mold risk-reduction program that certifies the design, construction, and ongoing operations of new multifamily and commercial properties.


Green Seal

Independent, nonprofit organization that certifies a variety of products as environmentally responsible based on established criteria. Certified products include coffee filters, air chillers, paints and coatings, papers and newsprint, various cleaning products and services, windows and doors, and lodging properties.



Indoor air quality. Healthfulness of an interior environment; IAQ is affected by such factors as moisture and mold, emissions of volatile organic compounds from paints and finishes, formaldehyde emissions from cabinets, and ventilation effectiveness.



Light-emitting diode. Illumination technology that produces light by running electrical current through a semiconductor diode. LED lamps are much longer lasting and much more energy efficient than incandescent lamps; unlike fluorescent lamps, LED lamps do not contain mercury and can be readily dimmed.



Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The LEED program was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a system for rating new and existing commercial, institutional and residential buildings. It evaluates the overall environmental performance during the lifecycle of a building and provides a tangible methodology for analyzing the standards of a green building.



Medium density fiberboard. An engineered panel product that can be used for such things as cabinets and wall panels, while other MDF products can be shaped into moldings, ceiling tiles, flooring, interior doors and a variety of other uses. Exterior grades of MDF can be made into garage doors, sheds and other outdoor applications. A middle grade called “moisture resistant MDF” can be used externally but must be protected from water intrusion by sheltering.


Reclaimed Lumber

Lumber reclaimed by “deconstruction” of a building or structure. This lumber can be used for non-structural applications such as paneling and flooring and, if re-graded, can be used in structural applications. Major advantages include usually higher quality surface characteristics (it often came from tight-grained old-growth lumber), less cost than new lumber and reduction in landfill wastes (although it can easily be mulched). Major disadvantages are that it is fairly labor-intensive to clean up and, after many years of drying, is often very hard to nail. It may need to be predrilled, increasing installation cost.



United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Organization devoted to promoting and certifying green buildings. USGBC created the LEED rating systems.


Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)

Many of the products that we buy are made with materials that off-gas VOCs, usually in the form of formaldehyde gas, a by-product of hydrocarbon-based materials. Building materials such as particle board, plywood, adhesives, paints, varnishes, carpet, drapes and furniture are often made with formaldehyde products. Other sources include some you may not think of: tobacco, burning gas, perfume, cleaning agents, hairspray and even copy and printing machines. Degrees of exposure to VOCs can cause everything from mild symptoms such as irritated eyes, ears and throat to more severe reactions such as wheezing and lung, memory and anxiety problems. By using low-VOC products, exposures are reduced and indoor air quality is improved.

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