A green building product better begin as a good product. Here’s what to look for before diving deeper into a product’s green claims.

While the industry has made real progress in providing us with green products and backing up their performance claims, product selection will continue to be one of the most critical challenges you will face in meeting your green missions—and that puts your business and reputation at risk.

As a former high-performance home builder, I know what this feels like. You’re stuck in a gray area between innovation and risk, caught between a commitment to build high-performance homes and your responsibilities to ensure those homes still perform their most basic functions without creating problems—or liabilities.

“Nobody,” builders often say, “wants to be the first to try out a new product,” and yet we’re driven to embrace change and improve the way we build. This dilemma puts pressure on every decision you make, whether it’s detailing a wall section, specifying ventilation equipment, or selecting finishes.

You have to find a reliable level of confidence in your decisions and balance the trade-offs associated with them. But how can you gain the confidence you need?

Here are the first 12 questions you should ask about any green building product you’re evaluating—before you make your selection:

  1. How will it perform its basic function as a building material or product?
  2. How does it compare with products I use now?
  3. Is it code approved? 
  4. Is it third-party certified? 
  5. Will it contribute toward project certification? 
  6. Is it available? 
  7. How will it affect my pricing? 
  8. Will it increase my level of risk or liability? 
  9. How will it improve the level of performance of my homes? 
  10. How will it contribute toward sustainability? 
  11. Will it require new sequencing or installation skills/trades? 
  12. Is it worth the investment for the benefits?

After answering these 12 questions, apply your own experience and expertise to filter out products that would put you outside your comfort zone in terms of unknowns and risks.

Only after evaluating potential selections for their application as viable building products can you focus on their green attributes and performance benefits and how they’ll integrate with the other elements of your green projects. At that point you can ask:  “What makes these products green?” “How can I avoid greenwashing?” and “How can I verify the manufacturers’ performance claims?”

This last question leads to third-party certifications, which we regularly cover in EcoHome. For more on how to navigate product certifications, check out “Keeping Them Honest: Searching for Truth Behind Green Product Claims.”

Article by Rick Schwolsky, Editor in Chief of EcoHome.

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