Renovate Right

There is a growing demand for lower-risk or no-risk building materials as well as those that are “green” and “energy efficient.” However, many factors come into play in making such choices such as the source materials, energy inputs during manufacture, the potential for release of toxic substances during and after installation, among many others.

Guides and rating systems are being developed and can be found on-line. One example is The Pharos Project ( that screens and ranks materials according to their impacts. It excludes building products from its approved list if they contain certain toxic substances.

During routine renovation and retrofit projects there can sometimes be no alternative to using products that contain toxic substances such as solvents or caulking that have strong odours. For containers with hazard symbols and warnings be sure to read the labels and carefully follow use and disposal instructions.

Some general guidelines when you are thinking about products to use in your home renovations and repairs: 

  • Choose hard flooring instead of carpeting. Hard flooring, such as wood, linoleum, vinyl, laminate, or tile, is easier to clean and to keep dust-free. 
  • Choose factory-finished wood instead of wood that has to be finished after it is installed in your home to reduce the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
  • Choose low VOC or VOC-free paints.
  • Compare products and seek those with the least hazard symbols or no hazard symbols at all. Products marked with the symbol for “corrosive” and the symbol for “poison” are the most likely to release toxic fumes when used.

Whatever products you choose to use, always seal containers well and keep them in a locked cupboard out of the reach of children. And read the label instructions every time you use or re-use the product.