Sustainability Series: Air Quality in the Home

Sustainability in Interior Design is something that needs to be focused on at the very beginning of a project.   It has become more important than ever to protect people, the environment, and the earth.    Interior Designers play a large role in selecting paint, wallpaper, area rugs, flooring, tile, furnishings, and appliances.  These items can have a large impact on the air quality in your home and everyone can benefit from the proper selection of materials. 

The GSA (US General Services Administration) says: “Sustainable Interior Design seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment and the health and comfort of people, thereby improving building performance.  The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments. Sustainable design principles include the ability to optimize site potential, minimize non-renewable energy consumption, use environmentally safe products, protect and conserve water, enhance indoor environmental quality and optimize operational and maintenance practices.”

That is a lot to take in, I know.  So, let’s start with focusing on one principle at a time.  I’m going to take a principle at random, but it may be a little more deliberate, because it is probably the easiest place to start.  The place to make the biggest impact in your home is the one thing you cannot see, air.   The air quality in your home helps to flush out toxins in the home that are emitted from almost everything manufactured.


One of the items mentioned that designers need to source that affects air quality is paint.  The VOC (volatile organic compounds) of a paint makes a big difference on the level of toxins released into the air.  As per the EPA “Volatile organic compounds include a variety of chemicals emitted as gases by a wide variety of products. They may have short-or long health effects They are emitted as gases by a wide variety of products such as fabrics, cleaning supplies and building materials may contain VOCs that people are exposed to when spending time indoors.”  So, you may be wondering: why are they in paint to begin with?  Actually, the compounds in VOCs are useful in preventing the growth of mold and mildew, help paint dry quicker.  The good news is as the industry develops, many manufacturers have developed low VOCs and Zero VOCs, so you really do not need them in the paint to be a performance product.

Types of Paints:

  • Emulsion – which are water-based paints with small polymer (1) particles with pigments inside, the particles are suspended in water. After it dries, the particles combine, producing the paint color on the wall. These have fewer VOCs.
  • Eggshell and Gloss - are more commonly used oil-based gloss or eggshell paint finishes which can cause problems. To eliminate the odor, baking soda left in the space overnight or activated charcoal can remove the odor.   These types of paint are great for rooms with less ventilation, like a bedroom.
  • Clay Paints - If you have an older home, this is great because they are breathable and let moisture in and out of walls. Casein paint made from milk proteins and white lime are also good for older homes. 
  • Mineral Based Paints - If you have a historical property, this is a great option because contain potassium or sodium silicates, which are very durable.

Here are a few paints that are recommended by our designers:


Zero VOC :   

  • Clare Paint  
  • Benjamin Moore Natura Paint                                                                    
  • Sherwin Williams Harmony                                                                                    
  • ECOS Brand                                                                                                    
  • The Real Milk Paint Company                                                                                


 Low VOC:

  • Clare Paint
  • Benjamin Moore Aura
  • Sherwin Williams
  • Farrow and Ball
  • Valspar Simplicity


      Furniture, and flooring, and area rugs

      These are other goods and materials that absorb VOC’s. Finishes that are applied to hardwood surfaces can potentially be toxic.  The first couple of years of a piece of furniture’s or area rugs life can be in a state of “off-gassing”, where the product releases gasses into the air.   

      We look for manufacturers that do/have the following:

      • made with renewable or responsibly resourced materials
      • green and organic certifications like FSC-certified
      • free of chemicals like retardants, formaldehyde, VOC
      • high quality construction
      • recycling or full-cycle programs
      • have programs to reduce the amount of shipping materials
      • look for goods made with bamboo, certified or salvaged wood, rattan

      Some companies that we source from do this:

      • Crate and Barrell
      • Pottery Barn
      • West Elm
      • Design Within Reach
      • ABC Carpet and Home


      Tips for great air quality

      One of the simplest things to start with is to improving air quality without having to buy anything new is this: As little as 5-15 minutes a day open your windows, move the air through your home. This depends on where you live, of course, please do not open the windows if it is -5 degrees outside.  There are other ways to move air around, especially in the winter.  Vent fans in bathrooms and kitchens help move air too. 

      • Pay attention if you have forced hot air in your home, you can attach a ventilator to the system. 
      • Check the filters on your central air conditioning
      • Check the filters on the vent fans, your dishwasher
      • Vacuum
      • Use non-toxic cleaning supplies