The green building movement is having an important impact on the installation of hardwood flooring. Tim Gibbons, president of Oncommunications, explains the green building phenomenon and its impact on wood flooring installers.

There's probably no trend faster growing or having more impact on the hardwood flooring business than Green Building, a momentum-gaining movement with serious implications for an installer's physical and financial health.

So what is Green Building? The short story: It's a cooperative government and private-sector led movement to create and maintain healthier residential and commercial indoor environments, while minimizing operational and maintenance costs.

And one of its driving organizations, United States Green Building Council (USGBC) comprises the nation's foremost coalition of leaders from across industries working to promote new and existing buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.

Members of the USGBC, representing every sector of the building industry, include one of the flooring industry's pioneering manufacturers - BonaKemi USA.

"At Bona, we believe it's vitally important to stay ahead of issues affecting our industry, and especially those issues having impact on an installer's physical and business health," said BonaKemi USA president and CEO Ron Peden. "We plan to have a very active role in USGBC's efforts to promote better indoor air quality."

While USGBC leaders nationwide are pointing to poor indoor environments as a major health risk, wood floor refinishing customers are quickly catching on. "Today, more and more homeowners are demanding that indoor air quality issues become a bigger priority in both new construction and remodeling," said Carl Smith, CEO of GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, a leading, independent, non-profit organization that oversees the GREENGUARD Certification Program for low-emitting interior products.

"Thinking green and buying green have gone mainstream...and consumer demand for better indoor air quality will continue gaining steam as the health benefits get the attention of a broader range of homeowners."

As an American National Standards Institute Accredited Standards Developer, GREENGUARD establishes acceptable air quality standards for indoor products and testing protocols.

Smith believes we'll see an ever-increasing number of manufacturers realizing the benefits of including emissions testing in their research and development and quality control programs. Why? Because customers are demanding greener products. And what "green" means to the homeowner can mean a different kind of "green" for the installer.

That homeowners today are demanding environmentally healthier products for their homes can represent a huge business opportunity for an installer already using products such as environmentally tested and certified low-VOC waterborne wood floor finishes and dust containment equipment.

"There's never been a better time for wood flooring businesses to increase profits, and profit margins, by selling environmentally tested and certified products and services," said Peden. "Homeowners are willing to pay more for a healthier indoor environment." The move by companies such as BonaKemi to test and certify products also addresses stricter EPA regulations. New environmental control measures already have taken effect for a broad range of industries and sources, including architectural coatings such as wood floor finishes and paints, emissions for automobiles, portable fuel containers, consumer products, mobile equipment repair and refinishing, solvent cleaning and adhesives.

Last year, new air quality regulations for VOC levels went into effect in many U.S. states, including Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. As a contributor to ground level ozone pollution and health and safety problems for installers and customers, high VOC level solvent-based finishes can cost contractors not only their good health, but money.

In states where new laws were adopted, contractors and installers can be fined up to $500 per gallon for use of noncompliant products. States and air quality districts will only become more stringent as they find ways to meet EPA standards. According to Gerald Thompson, Bona director of R&D and regulatory compliance, as of July 2006 in the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), the VOC level for the Clear Wood Finish category will be reduced to 275 g/l VOC. This new law also eliminates the existing quart exemption for this category.

Many wood flooring industry experts believe these new regulations actually represent a business opportunity, allowing wood flooring contractors to significantly grow their residential and commercial business, where more and more architects, building owners and facility managers are specifying independent, third-party-tested products that have earned indoor air quality certification.

That's where the USGBC's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Program comes in. The LEED Program is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. The LEED system allows every component of a building, including indoor air quality, to be evaluated and business decisions to be made that save both natural and financial resources.

"So whether pursuing residential or commercial business, it's important wood flooring finishers and installers use environmentally tested and certified products because that's what consumers and specifiers are demanding," said Smith. "And that's why a corporate first-mover such as Bona went through the long, arduous testing process to have its Bona Environmental Choice System™ product line of waterborne finishes and dust containment equipment environmentally tested and certified by GREENGUARD."

Bona was recently awarded GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification for the Bona Environmental Choice System featuring low-VOC waterborne products and dust containment equipment.

While everyone welcomes the financial benefits, others point to an even more important benefit - good health.

Refinishing hardwood floors with low-VOC, waterborne products and sanding with dust containment equipment creates a healthier work environment for the installer, according to Marilyn Black, PhD., of Air Quality Sciences, the third-party indoor air quality company used by GREENGUARD to scientifically test the Bona Environmental Choice System.

"It's important to know that while some products seemingly meet indoor air quality requirements because their off-gassing performance might benefit the outdoor environment, they aren't necessarily ideal for installation indoors," Black said. "That's why wood flooring installers should work with products that have been third-party tested and certified." Air Quality Sciences performs annual retesting on products, too, ensuring that any updated formulas continue to meet their requirements.

Because they are healthier for people and the environment, and virtually odorless and nonflammable, low-VOC waterborne products clearly seem to be the industry's future. "High VOC level products represent the wood flooring industry's past. Water-based systems are its present and future," Bona's Peden added. "We must be prepared for the time that states and air quality districts completely regulate high VOC level products out of the industry, and existence."

While wood floor finishing products are one issue, dust is another.

Dust associated with refinishing hardwood floors is not only unhealthy for wood flooring contractors, but also presents a cleaning nightmare for home- and business-owners that can linger for months or even years.

Recent advancements in dust containment technology prevent the infiltration and permeation of dust into drapery, furniture, cabinets, air ducts, air conditioning units and all household appliances. And by using healthier products, it's believed installers will have more satisfied customers who will refer more business. One such consumer is Ellen Pruitt, a Georgia homeowner who recently experienced dust containment sanding and low-VOC waterborne floor finishing services.

"The waterborne finish and dust containment system is top-notch, truly amazing," said Pruitt. "They were as advertised...there was absolutely no airborne dust to breathe, no harmful fumes. And no messy clean up."

Using a dust containment system is the fastest, most efficient way possible to contain unhealthy airborne dust in the wood floor sanding and finishing process. And industry experts say by using dust containment equipment, there is no deterioration of indoor air quality or cleaning hassles.

Whether it's homeowners aiming to maintain good indoor air quality for the health of their families or specifiers considering their options for the next big project, Green Building plays a major role in the physical and financial health of an installer's business. "More manufacturers need to embrace the responsibility for better indoor air quality performance," said Peden. "At Bona, one of our most valuable initiatives is our commitment to the Green Building movement and how it affects future business success of hardwood flooring businesses."