Joel-hirshbergMy guest today is Joel Hirshberg, Co-founder and President of Green Building Supply. He opened one of the nation’s first green building supply retail stores in 1991, followed by one of the first online green building stores in the country. Today Joel and I will discuss toxic-free flooring. When I asked him what he wanted to talk about he said, “Instead of talking about a lot of things wide and shallow, can we talk about one thing narrow and deep? And can I ask YOU questions?”So today we’re talking about flooring “narrow and deep” and he may ask me questions.  Joel has an extensive and varied background in building, in addition to selling toxic free building products. He’s a contributor to the US Green Building Council Green Home Guide website. He built a custom home modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright combined with Vedic Architecture. He’s an entrepreneur, real estate developer, custom home builder, retailer, teacher, sailor, husband, father and lover of knowledge and architectural design. www.GreenBuildingSupply.com

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Joel Hirshberg

transcript

TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Choosing Toxic Free Flooring

Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Joel Hirschberg

Date of Broadcast: October 27, 2015

DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and this is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic free.

It’s Tuesday, October 27th, 2015.

A little bit of overcast here in Clearwater, Florida. I think we might have a little rain, but no thunderstorms. It’s coming into winter. We only have thunderstorms in the summer as you probably heard if you have been listening to this show.

So today, my guest is Joel Hirshberg. He’s the Co-Founder and President of Green Building Supply and he has been working with green products for building almost as long as I’ve been doing my toxics work. He opened one of the nation’s first green building supply retail stores at 1991, followed by one of the first online green building stores in the country.

So he has a lot of information because he’s dealing with all kinds of building materials. And so when we were talking about what he was going to talk about, we talked about either he could talk about a lot of different products and say practically nothing or we could just choose one and say a lot to go narrow and deep instead of wide and shallow.

And so today, we’re going to be talking about flooring and how to choose nontoxic flooring, what’s toxic about flooring, everything having to do with flooring and we’re going to be talking about it deeply and we’ll really get into the subject.

Hi, Joel.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Hello.

DEBRA: How are you doing there in where are you?

JOEL HIRSHBERG: I’m doing good. We’re in Fairfield, Iowa and it’s cloudy. It’s 50 degrees here. So we’re looking forward to a beautiful fall.

DEBRA: Good. That’s good. I thought your website said that you were in Texas. Why did I think that? I guess that was wrong.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: I have no idea.

DEBRA: Yeah. Okay, I was just thinking about something else. I’m glad to hear that you are in Fairfield, Iowa. It’s a beautiful face. I’ve been to Fairfield, Iowa many years ago. Yeah.

So tell us how you got interested in working with building products and why nontoxic. Sorry, sorry, wait, wait. Let’s start over. Wait. Wait.

Let’s start over.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Okay. Go ahead.

DEBRA: Here’s the question. Let’s start with definition of green.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: That’s a question I ask to all of my own customers because it’s not an easy one to answer and everyone has a different opinion. And as you get into green products and nontoxic products, you start to hear all kinds of different things. I don’t have a one sentence definition.

To me, the most important priority is that it’s safe, it’s completely nontoxic. To me, that’s the ultimate definition of green, but it’s only one part of it. Of course, the other part is energy efficiency, low carbon footprint, sustainability.

These all go to comprise what I consider green and the products that we sell have various degrees of each and there’s light green, dark green, medium. I like to think that what we carry is primarily dark green type products, which basically means that there’s nothing hazardous.

That’s the greenest it can be and it’s ultimately safe.

DEBRA: I agree with that definition, but that’s not the common definition that I see. And when people hear the word “green,” it can be a little confusing because it can range anything from what you’ve described to a product that might be used to fill in cracks to have more energy efficiency that’s horribly toxic and yet, it can still be green because it’s helping to make the home energy efficient.

I just want to make sure that our listeners understand at the outset that your version of green is in agreement with my viewpoint about things needing to not be toxic.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah, it’s become obvious that people who buy green products typically fall into two categories, one that want to and those that have to.

The people that have to are the ones that need something that’s completely safe. And those who want to, they do it because it’s cool, because it’s unique or that it’s something that’s energy efficient. It saves them a little money.

But you are right, there are many, many products that don’t have all of those requirements met. There just maybe one or two of them. And the goal is to find products that have all those characteristics.

DEBRA: I agree.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: And it’s a challenge, for sure.

DEBRA: Yeah, it is. Some years ago – how many years ago now? 1980. So I started doing my work and I wrote my own book and self-published it in 1982. First published book was in 1984. By 1990, the whole green thing, the whole environmental movement was just really coming up about having to have products. It actually started around 1987 or so.

And so I shifted my work from being focused on toxics to having to include all these other things. And when you go down a list and say, “Is this not toxic? Is this energy efficient, recyclable?” you go down the whole list of the green [screen?].

There are very few products if any that actually meet all those requirements and they’re not even designed to meet all those requirements and you can’t even get the information about all those requirements, which is one of the reasons why I pulled back and said, “The thing that’s most important both to health and to the environment is elimination of toxic chemicals.” And so that’s where I just landed because I can tell you…

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah. And that’s what you do so well. It’s to educate people on these things and pulling together different people like myself and others who you have in your network to talk about what it is that makes their products green and what’s happening in the world so that consumers can learn all the different ins and outs of these things because often it’s very, very challenging for people to do this research.

We talk to people who are building new homes and who are remodeling homes every day. They all, when they call me, the first thing they say is “I’m chemically sensitive or I’m completely frustrated because I cannot figure this out at all. It is way too complicated. I don’t have a PhD in Chemistry.” Neither do I by the way.

DEBRA: Neither do I.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: It’s just something that you don’t know who to trust. And it comes down to trust because you read stories, you read green labels, you read research articles and you also read what manufacturers say about their products and they’re all different, they’re all over the map in terms of what is really green. And some of it is green washing and some of it is light green and some of it is medium green and some of it is dark green.

Where do you draw the line? There aren’t any lines that have been drawn that everyone agrees on. That’s why it’s up to the consumer to always do their own homework and they do that by listening to your show.

DEBRA: Thank you and going to your website. So first let’s ask the question of how did you get interested in things being green?

JOEL HIRSHBERG: In the ’80s, my wife and I decided to build a house and we wanted a natural house that was built with natural materials. In the ’80s, the internet was barely coming alive and the only way to do research was to go there, to talk to people, to actually see things in person. That’s what we had to do.

We traveled around the country for five or six years before we actually designed our house and eventually, we found enough products that satisfied us and we built our house. It was a Frank Lloyd Wright style home built after his first Prairie home in 1901. It was a Willits House from Highland Park, Illinois.

Frank Lloyd Wright used a lot of natural materials even back in the 1900s. And it was not easy finding these materials. And eventually we finally built our house and we were able to somehow build it on a really tiny budget. But our friends who are building homes at the same time wanted to do something similar things. We happened to live in a community where people like eat organic food and meditate and they wanted to build a house with natural materials as well.

So we were asked to help them because we had already done the research. So we did and we did and we did and we keep doing it house after house. Finally, my wife said, “You really need to open up a business doing this because there’s so much demand for it.”

So I eventually did start offering it to people. I had another job and I was totally happy.

DEBRA: Wait, I need to interrupt you because we need to go to break and then we can talk more about this when we come back.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Sure.

DEBRA: You are listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Joel Hirshberg. He’s the Co-Founder and President of Green Building Supply and his version of green is that number one, it must be not toxic. So when we come back, we’ll talk more about our subject of today, which is flooring. Stay tuned.

= COMMERCIAL BREAK =

DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn and my guest today is Joel Hirshberg. He’s the Co-Founder and President of Green Building Supply in Fairfield, Iowa. But you can also go online at GreenBuildingSupply.com.

Okay, so go on with your story about how you got interested in this and what happened. How did you get into it?

JOEL HIRSHBERG: How we actually started our business wasn’t by choice. We were actually forced into it by local people and a community of 10,000. And as a result, we started to offer different products.

And one of the things we discovered was that people started calling us with questions and problems that they had and we had our own problems at our own house, which forced us to find newer and newer products. That’s what we continue to do today.

What I developed was – I was like everyone else. It was really hard to find information back then. So it’s even harder.

DEBRA: Yes, it was.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: It’s much easier now, but still you have to know how to understand it properly. There are currently SDS sheets available right now and EPD sheets, Environmental Product Declarations. There’s a lot of information, but you still need to know how to read it.

And I learned how to read this. It took me years to finally get through it and figure it out because people are asking me and I was interested in it, but it wasn’t what I have been trained to do. So I had to do it from the ground up and learn about these chemical terms, which is what I help people with every day in understanding.

They call me up with a product and we try to figure out what’s in it because that’s one of the most important things. What’s in the product? How do you know what’s in it? You go to the MSDS sheet and you read and if you are lucky, they’ll tell you something, but most of the time they don’t.

DEBRA: And I just want to interject for our listeners who don’t know how these work that the MSDS sheet, Material Safety Data Sheet is now called Safety Data Sheets if you see that instead. But they are designed not for consumers. They are designed for folks who are working with these chemicals. So they actually know.

For a long time, I thought there must be some big massive list of the chemicals and if these chemicals are in your product and you have to list them on the MSDS. But there isn’t. It’s just up to the manufacturer to decide which chemicals need to be listed. And so there could be all kinds of other things that you think are toxic that the manufacturer doesn’t think that are toxic and that are not on the MSDS.

And so I use them not to say this is what’s in the product. But if the manufacturer thinks that something is toxic enough to list, then you know it’s in there and that would be something that I would not probably get exposed to.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah. They’re all voluntarily done as well. There’s no one to check these things to make sure they’re accurate. Also, if it’s not on the Toxic Substance Control Act list, then they’re not required by law to list it unless it’s a “known hazard.” And there are just not that many known hazards that are even listen out of the 86,000 chemicals that are out there.

So manufactures can pretty much put on there, only the things that they feel are important and that they are liable for. But there are a lot of proprietary ingredients that they don’t have to list. If it’s a trade secret, they don’t have to list it.

So that’s why when you read, this is the only information consumers really have. And it wasn’t even created for consumers. So what you end up doing is you get one of these and you read it and then you go, “Okay, now what? I don’t understand it. Is it telling me the full story?” So really the only way to know is to test, to test for your own sensitivities, to try out.

Now, who’s got time to do that? Well, I had time to do that because back in the early days, there wasn’t that much going on and so we started testing different products to whether they perform well and I will weather, which was very challenging and whether it was safe to breathe.

I am not chemically sensitive, but we have lots of friends in this community who are and we call them yellow canaries. And those people who are very, very sensitive were helping me find products that were safe. In other words, I would try a product and I would test it out myself. If I like it, great, I’ll give it to them and then let them test it in their own home. If they liked it, then I knew, boy, if this people liked it, then probably everybody else will too.

And since then, over the years of selling products to lots and lots of chemically sensitive people, I learned what is safe and what works.

DEBRA: Yes. Yes, that’s very true.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: That’s my ultimate way testing around. It’s not what the government says because the government has standards that are not that high as we all know and they keep changing. They are getting better, but compared to European standards, they’re quite a bit lower.

And the reason we test products is because we have learned that when you test something yourself and you know from experience what it does, you can talk about it in a much better way. So I use all the products myself and that’s how I learned about them.

DEBRA: Wow.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: And it took a long time to get there.

DEBRA: To be able to say that, to be able for somebody who is looking for nontoxic products, especially building materials to be able to go some place and know that the owner has tested all the products. That’s pretty unusual.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah, it is. And we have all of our staff tested too. The first thing they do when they get here is we do go through all of the products and have them use every single one of them in their own home as well as in our basement where we have a testing ground.

We’re not underwriters’ laboratory and we don’t have that sophisticated equipment where we can actually test formaldehyde content and VOC content. But we have noses and God gave us noses so that we can smell and know what’s good for us and most people have very good noses, but we’ve learned that a lot of people don’t.

Contractors for one don’t have very good noses.

DEBRA: No, they are all burned out by all those toxic chemicals.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: They’re burned out. That’s right. And so whose nose are you going to trust?

DEBRA: Your own.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: So you have to trust your own nose. Your nose knows most of the time. But you still like to verify the things that have been approved. And that’s why having green labels are a good thing, but green labels often are not complete either. They have lots of different criteria for what allows them to grant somebody a green label.

And then the question is if they’re third party certified or not or was it somebody’s statement about it, which manufacturers do all the time.

They do [inaudible 00:21:03] and say whatever they want to say and you don’t know if it’s true or not.

So it becomes a great deal of challenge for people to figure out. I guess when we come back, we will talk about how this relates to flooring.

DEBRA: Yes, we will.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Okay.

DEBRA: I have to give you a job on this show. You can be the announcer. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Joel Hirshberg. He’s the Co-Founder and President of Green Building Supply, which is an actual retail store in Fairfield, Iowa and also online at GreenBuildingSupply.com. We’ll be right back.

= COMMERCIAL BREAK =

DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Joel Hirshberg. He is the Co-Founder and I’m not on my page with all my notes here. He is the Co-Founder and President of Green Building Supply, which is a retail store in Fairfield, Iowa and also online at GreenBuildingSupply.com.

I actually was in Fairfield, Iowa many years ago, maybe 20 years ago. I think it was maybe before that because I don’t think your store was there then. So it was maybe in the ’80s. It was in the ’80s. Maybe that was when you were traveling around.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Right.

DEBRA: Anyway, when I knew that you actually had said in your bio that your house was built on principles of Vedic architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright. Did I get that right?

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yes.

DEBRA: And one of the people that I met in Fairfield, Iowa was Tony Lawlor. You probably know him.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yes, I do.

DEBRA: He has a great book called the The Temple in the House and he probably has other books since then. I still have it on my shelf and I still have it sitting here on my desk and I am just thinking about things to do to my house and I think it’s good to be reviewing all these things that I know from the past. But anyway, I guess it would be interesting and exciting to be able to incorporate these principles in building, which is a totally different show, so let’s get to flooring.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah.

DEBRA: Say hi to Tony.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah, okay. He isn’t here anymore, but if I see him, I will.

DEBRA: Okay.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Anyway, there’s a lot to consider when you are considering installing a new floor or replacing an old floor or tearing out your carpeting. And what to put in is always the question.

There are a lot of things on the market. There is wool carpeting. There is cork. There is bamboo. There is hardwood. There’s linoleum and there’s vinyl.

We don’t sell much vinyl because it’s PVC-based. But we prefer the natural type products, which are about as green as you can get on a flooring, linoleum made by Forbo Marmoleum if I’m allowed to say brand names.

DEBRA: You can say anything you want.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Okay. It’s one of the greenest products, but so are cork and so are bamboo and so are hardwood. And everyone wants to ask me, “What’s the difference and how are they different?”

There are clearly difference in how they look and cost-wise, they are all pretty much in the same range, from $4 up to about $6 to, $7 or $8.

So they are all in that general range. But which floor for you to pick for your house depends upon a lot of things.

The first question about safety is one that we always try to knock out of the box right away by letting people know that we’ve tested our products and we sold them to chemically sensitive people for years and years and years. That’s how we know they’re good.

But people often say, “Is it CARB-2 compliant?” It’s the California Air Resource Board Phase Two rules for formaldehyde content and there are some companies that have claimed that their products are CARB-2 and then it turned out later that they were not. So you can’t always trust what the label says.

Case in point, I think you’ve probably discussed this on one of your past talks, maybe not. It was about Lumber Liquidators.

DEBRA: Lumber Liquidators, yes. We haven’t talked about it on the show, but I wrote about it in my blog.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Okay. I won’t spend any time on it, but it suffices to say that the whole point of it was they basically said that something was CARB-2 and they have just recently admitted that they were lying. And they have filed a guilty charge. They filed sanitary guilty and paid a $10 million fine and they’ve got four or five class action lawsuits to come.

But CARB-2 only deals with formaldehyde and that’s usually what’s in the glues, in the adhesives. And most floors have adhesives in them nowadays. The adhesives are used to bind the top layer with the middle layer with the bottom layer of an engineered floor and an engineered floored has these different components to it, the top layer of cork or bamboo or linoleum and then the middle layer could be hardwood or softwood or even an MDF and the bottom layer could also be cork or it could be hardwood.

That composite product has usually something that has to bind it together. And the use of formaldehyde and adhesives have been very common everywhere and especially in China. But in the US, they are now switching over to new types of adhesives that do not contain as much as or do not contain urea-formaldehyde. They may contain phenol-formaldehyde, which is considered nontoxic.

But you can’t just stop at CARB-2 because CARB-2 only deals with formaldehyde. Proposition 65, which is also a California rule deals more with false organic compounds. And the VOCs are off-gassing or emitted from the surface or the finish of the floor.

Someone might tell you that the product complies, but does it comply with the VOC levels of Proposition 65 or better. Proposition 65 doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in it. It just means that it has achieved a level that satisfies the government’s requirements. And for you, as an individual who might not want any smell or whatsoever, they might still find something that complies with Proposition 65 not to be suitable.

So again, the only way to know is to really test and usually what we do for testing is we tell people to buy our sample, take it home and then isolate it in a room such as a closet or an automobile or something where it’s confined and there’s no smell and then let it off-gas for hours and hours ideally under the sun because if you let the sun shine through the window of your car, it will heat up the car and the heat tends to accelerate the off-gassing. So the emissions of anything that might be in the wood will start to come out and be noticeable, more noticeable than normal, especially in a small space.

If you try to do this test on a big space, you will never get there. You will never really know for sure although we do have people who sleep with their products. They take it home and they put it in their bed and sleep with it. That’s one way they know. There are a lot of other ways

I’m sure, putting it in a glass jar and putting it outside in the sun.

But whatever way you use, we really strongly recommend it to everyone. Especially if you’re very sensitive, you need to test every single thing you purchase.

DEBRA: I completely agree with that.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: You really can’t rely on the government. You can’t rely on the labels. You can’t rely on the manufacturers. And I tell them they really can’t even rely on what I say because I have done my own testing and we’ve had a lot of good experience, but still you may be that one in a thousand who just doesn’t like something about it.

DEBRA: Yeah.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: So that’s why testing is so important. Once you get past the safe part of this, then the next question becomes what’s the situation in your house. How are you going to use this floor? Who’s walking on this floor? And what’s the condition of your floor? If your subfloor is made out of concrete or if it’s made out of wood, that will have a different impact or that will allow you to make a different…

DEBRA: I forgot all about the break.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Okay. Here comes the break.

DEBRA: It was so interesting what you are saying. Anyway, we have a break and when we come back, we’ll hear more about flooring from Joel Hirshberg who is the Co-Founder and President of Green Building Supply in Fairfield, Iowa, also online at GreenBuildingSupply.com.

We’ll be right back.

= COMMERCIAL BREAK =

DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Joel Hirshberg. He’s the President and Co-Founder of Green Building Supply in Fairfield, Iowa and there’s a store there. And online, you can find him at GreenBuildingSupply.com.

Okay, go on about flooring.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Okay, we were talking about the first place to start when looking for a green floor is to look what’s in it and what’s on it. And those things are usually found and most manufacturers will tell you what they think is in it, but we still think the people should test that on their own.

After that, there are a number of things that you need to look at as where you are going to be applying this floor. Is it going on a concrete subfloor or a plywood subfloor? Or what is your subfloor? Sometimes, it’s not level. Sometimes it’s not dry. There are a lot of conditions that influence what you should buy.

In general, floating floors or engineered floors as they are often confused terms back and forth, are very suitable for just about any type of floor. That’s because they float. They don’t really levitate, but they literally sit on top of the floor.

They’re not glued down. They’re not nailed down. They sit on top of a pad, which is usually eighth of an inch thick, which has a vapor barrier built into it or not. Sometimes it does depend upon what your subfloor is.

In different parts of the country, people use different things. They have different subfloors and therefore, they may prefer to use a different type of floor. But the question of your subfloor is always the primary or secondary question after health. And that is do you want to glue it down?

In Florida, everybody glues their floor down. In other parts of the country, they nail things down. In other parts, they do a lot of floating floors. And floating floors are getting more popular mainly because they are easy to install, much faster than a nailed down or glued down floor, much less expensive and a lot of people prefer to do it themselves, the DIY type product.

So almost every type of floor now, almost everything is available in a floating type system and usually these are coming in [inaudible 00:41:14], three or five inches wide by three to eight feet long. And they click together and they snap together and they float over your subfloor.

And probably the most critical part of installing floors is the humidity content of your house. A lot of people don’t think about it at all. In fact, if you ask someone whether they have a hygrometer, they will say, “What’s a hygrometer?” No one has hygrometers. They have something that will sense the temperature, but not the humidity.

DEBRA: I have a hygrometer.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah, that’s good.

DEBRA: I do because I live in Florida where it’s very, very humid. And when I first moved here, I wanted to know how humid it is.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Well, manufacturers of flooring all have requirements that are very similar and there are standards within these wood flooring industry for humidity content. It needs to be somewhere between 35% and 55%. And that’s really important. If you don’t have that, then your warranty for your flooring is usually void.

DEBRA: Wow.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: So it’s important to have a hygrometer to make sure that you can measure and know what your humidity levels are in your home. If they are too high, then you do something to lower them by using a dehumidifier or turning on the air conditioner. If they’re too low like in southwest part of the country, then you have to get something to humidify the air. But that is a requirement for all flooring. It doesn’t matter what types you get.

So choosing the right floor is a question that really a lot of it has to do subjectively with what you like the looks of it.

But probably after housing, the number one question that people ask is how durable is it? How long will it hold up? And durability is a challenging topic to talk about because durability doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody. When you ask somebody what it means to be durable, “Well, it lasts a long time or it doesn’t scratch so easily. Or when my cat or dog pukes on the floor, I can clean it up easily.” If they accomplished those, they’re durable.

Well, another definition of durability is reparability, how easy it is to repair. And nowadays, floors, typically floors in the United States have either polyurethane finishes or aluminum oxide finishes or UV cured acrylics.

And now, most commonly they are using oils and wax. And oil and wax finishes are becoming very, very popular. In fact, in Europe, 80% of all floorings are oil and wax. So it’s coming to the US big time and it’s going to happen. And it used to be this way, 50 or 60 or 70 years ago.

That was what people used. It’s all wax.

DEBRA: They would wax their floors.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yeah, they did. And what happened was back in the ’70s, somebody came around pushing polyurethane and saying, “Hey, this will make your floor more durable.” The truth is it doesn’t make your floor more durable. It puts a finish, a plastic coding on your finish that makes it a little easier to clean. And you don’t have to maintain it quite as often as you do in oil.

But it still scratches and if a dog or a cat pukes, it will eventually go through it if it’s not cleaned up quickly. So you have to maintain your floor no matter what. It doesn’t matter what finish you have. So you can buy a cork or a bamboo or linoleum or any type of floor and you still have to maintain it. Even tile and ceramic tile needs to be maintained.

So those are some of the considerations.

DEBRA: I want to ask you a question because we only have five minutes left.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Yes, I know, of course.

DEBRA: Could you just go back over these finishes on the floors again and just give us a little summary of how toxic each of them are?

JOEL HIRSHBERG: That’s good. Thank you for asking that because polyurethane is typically – we sell polyurethanes, water-based polyurethanes.

But water-based polyurethane doesn’t mean that it’s nontoxic. It just means it has a water base instead of an oil base. An oil-based is toxic primarily because of the solvents contained in them. Water-based products, polyurethane still have solvents in them. They may not be the same solvents, but most of them are still petroleum-based and most of them still off-gas. So just because something has one type o f a finish or another doesn’t mean that it’s safe. Again, you got to do your homework.

Most products have polyurethane or aluminum oxide and aluminum oxide is a very, very durable type of finish that is sometimes used by itself, but usually used underneath polyurethane. They will use both together with another. And they are typically used on bamboo floors and hardwood floors nowadays because they’re really tough.

If you have a dog, a Labrador retriever, they can still scratch the floor. So that’s why we recommend layer colored floors because they show scratches less than dark colored floors.

But an oil floor that has an oil and wax finish on for example – before we get to the oil and wax, the other type is the UV cured acrylic. UV cured means in the factory it’s cured so that it doesn’t off-gas in the residence.

The problem with polyurethane is they often continue to off-gas in your home for months and months. People always ask, “How long will it off-gas?” It’s really hard to tell because humidity plays such a big part in it. And also if you have your floor re-sanded and finished in your home by a professional who comes in and sends it and recoats and refinishes it, the finish that they use could off-gas for years. Some people say…

DEBRA: Sorry, I have to interrupt you. We only have two minutes left. So I want to know about the oil and the wax. How toxic is that?

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Okay. The oil and wax are not toxic at all. They don’t have, at least the ones we sell, they don’t have anything toxic in them.

It’s mainly linseed oil and linseed oil does smell for several weeks usually, but eventually it goes away and there’s nothing toxic in it.

DEBRA: Good. So wow, that was a lot of information. So now that we have a minute and a half left, is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

JOEL HIRSHBERG: Well, I guess my closing remark would be that anybody who’s interested in installing some new floors needs to really review all the different options besides just the price and besides what’s in it. You have to look at every aspect of it and there’s a lot to know about it.

So do your homework and feel free to call us if you have any questions. But it’s not as simple as buying clothing. Clothing, you can throw it away if you don’t like it or it’s not such a big expense. Buying flooring is a major investment and it has to be done.

It’s something that lasts. Ideally, it’s sustainable and it’s something that will go last as long as your house. You can [inaudible 00:49:04] many times…

DEBRA: I lived in a house that was built in 1940s. So that’s 60 to 75 years ago. And I still have the original hardwood oak floors and they still look great and I think I need to oil them and polish them.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: And that’s the most sustainable way to keep the floor. That’s more sustainable than buying a floor and throwing it away in 10 years and then buying a new one.

DEBRA: Yeah.

JOEL HIRSHBERG: So that, we really like that approach to flooring. It’s the most sustainable way to do it. But it’s not everybody.

Sometimes you buy a house and you just can’t stand the floor, you want to take it out, put in something new.

DEBRA: Thank you so much, Joel. You’ve given us so much information. And again, Joel’s website is GreenBuildingSupply.com. And you can also go visit him in Fairfield, Iowa if you are going that way. And I’m sure we’re going to talk to you again. It’s just great that you have the whole nontoxic perspective that we all want.

You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. Be well.