Building Materials

buildingmaterialsCertain materials can be harmful to health if present in a home environment. Unfortunately, a strict consideration for the health implications of building materials is not always possible. We want to be able to feel safe and comfortable in our homes. Knowing that your health is not being adversely affected by your own home is an important step in the right direction.

The components of the house that have been shown to have a considerable impact on health are:


  • Traditionally constructed with a single pane of glass on a wood frame held together with putty, windows today are constructed with various frame materials such as wood, metal, plastic and synthetic compounds. Doors are usually constructed from solid wood, metal, plastic, wooden sheets, and a combination of wood types such as wood fibers and panels.
  • Windows and doors can pose as health hazards because of the potential for out-gassing, the release of gas trapped in a material.  No window or door is 100% inert. However, the effects of out-gassing are not usually quantifiable, but can contribute to health complications.


  • The floor of any building obviously constitutes a large surface area. Constant contact with flooring makes it ideal as a place for bacteria, dust, and contaminants to culminate. Carpeting exacerbates this issue since it retains more material than a smooth floor.


  • Collectively, the walls and the ceiling of any building take up the largest surface area of a building interior. Therefore, they can potentially contribute the most to indoor pollution than other components of the house.


  • The kitchen and bathroom are complicated rooms that require extensive planning and thought in order to create a healthy environment, primarily because of the wide array of unhealthy materials available. Many kitchens and bathrooms contain formaldehyde and chemicals from construction materials. In a new house, it is an aspect that should be addressed early, preferably during the beginning of construction. However, changes can still be made to improve upon existing kitchens/bathrooms.

  1. Check with your city or local historical society to find documentation on your house.
  2. Get a copy of the building permit, which will reveal information such as original dimensions, construction dates, names of architect, contractors, etc.
  3. Contact a contractor to examine and determine building materials.



  • Aluminum windows with insulating glass are the preferred choice.
  • Metal/solid hardwood doors are healthier alternatives to softwood or hollow core doors.


  • Do not use carpeting.
  • Bare concrete is a low-cost healthy floor material that, with careful planning, can be aesthetical pleasing.
  • Ceramic tile and solid wood are both good choices if installed properly. Stains and the finish must be chosen with care.
  • Terrazzo and marble are excellent materials for flooring but they tend to be the most expensive option.


  • Fabric/paper/vinyl wall coverings are poor choices.
  • Painted dry-wall can be healthy if done properly.
  • Plaster walls and ceilings are great choices that have minimal out-gassing.
  • Solid wood and metal coverings can be good if installed over airtight surfaces, which prevents the move of moisture into living spaces.
  • Ceramic and porcelain panels are excellent but expensive options for a healthy wall.


  • Countertops: Plastic laminate, stone, artificial stone, ceramic tile, wood, and metal are all possible countertop material. These materials must be properly installed to avoid emissions.
  • Cabinets: Low- out-gassing wood cabinets, solid wood cabinets, steel cabinets, and custom-made cabinets are healthy options. Avoid particle-boards, wood constructed out of wood chips and shavings.
  • Kitchen sinks: Artificial stone, stainless steel, porcelainized steel, and porcelainized cast iron are all healthy and well-tolerated materials.

Contact a qualified contractor for installation. Work with them on what materials would most suitable for your home and budget.

Behind the Walls
Innovation Center
One Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02142