Sustainable and Healthy Interior Design is Here to Stay

Today, of the more than 50 new buildings going up in New York City with a cost of $25 million dollars or more, every single one of these structures are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified projects. LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based collection of national standards for developing sustainable buildings and interiors.

Developed by the USGBC (United States Green Building Council), there are four major categories of LEED standards including a category for residential projects. The USGBC also offers a comprehensive system of professional accreditation and training.

According to the USGBC, the environmental impact of the residential sector is quite significant. There are more than 120 million homes in the United States, and about 2 million new homes are constructed each year. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the residential sector accounts for about 22% of the total energy consumed in the U.S. and 74% of the water. Indoor air pollutants can be four to five times higher than outdoor levels. Twenty-one percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are contributed by the residential sector. The considerable impact on the environment and human health issues created by homes greatly necessitates a shift towards more sustainable and healthy residences.

Green home building addresses these issues by promoting the design and construction of homes that have much higher performance levels than conventional homes built to minimum building code standards. Green homes are healthier, more comfortable, more durable and more energy efficient. And of course, they have a much smaller environmental footprint than conventional homes.

Green homes rely upon established and proven design features and technologies that do not have a significantly large cost. Many green measures will cost slightly more upfront, but reduce long term costs, particularly those features that involve energy and water efficiency. In many cases, these reductions in operating costs will more than offset the additional up-front costs of a green home. The home building industry is beginning to recognize the value of healthy homes and environmentally responsible projects. The LEED home rating (points-based) system provides a basis for quantifying the benefits of green homes, thereby facilitating a wider adoption of this more sustainable approach to home building.

LEED for homes represents a national consensus standard for green home building developed and refined by a diverse cadre of national experts and experienced green builders. This rating system uses eight different resource categories to measure the overall performance of a certified green home including:

  • Innovation and Design Process (ID) – Team design, durability planning, design charrettes, innovative and regional design issues are utilized.
  • Location and Linkages (LL) – Site selection, environmental impacts, preferred locations, infrastructure, community resources, public transit and access to open spaces are all reviewed.
  • Sustainable Sites (SS) – Site stewardship, landscaping, shading of hardscapes, surface water management, non-toxic pest controls and housing density are explored.
  • Water Efficiency (WE) – Water reuse, irrigation systems and reduction of indoor water use are examined.
  • Energy and Atmosphere (EA) – EnergyStar™ home with third party testing, water heating and refrigerant management of ozone depleting chemicals are checked.
  • Materials and Resources (MR) – Framing waste factors, advanced framing techniques, selection of environmentally preferred products and documentation of waste management with the goal of reduction of waste sent to landfill.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) – High performance fireplaces, control of moisture, outdoor air ventilation, exhausting of air, supply air distribution, supply air filtering, contaminant control, radon protection and garage pollutant protection are all addressed.
  • Awareness and Education (AE) – Basic occupant manual is developed, homeowner is trained with multiple walk-throughs and the public is made aware of local LEED homes and their benefits.

Residential interior designers have the opportunity to design, re-design or re-furnish homes with environmentally friendly products and materials that can actually have a healthy impact on clients and the planet. The following are some basic sustainable design practices residential interior designers are now considering as they incorporate sustainable practices into their work:

  • Make a more ecologically sound choice of wood from a supplier who can verify through a chain of custody that the original trees came from an ecologically sustainable forest managed under guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Specify “green” paint and other finishing materials that have documented levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or chemical emitting materials, that are the lowest levels possible, and the rate of their emissions — or dissipation — is as fast as possible.
  • Specify paints and finishes that do not contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
  • Specify sustainable fabrics that support the use of materials from rapidly renewable, post-consumer or post-industrial sources.
  • Use rapidly renewable flooring products such as bamboo or linseed-based linoleum to help reduce the amount of land and resources dedicated to producing construction materials.
  • Specify energy-efficient appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators with the EnergyStar™ rating, as well as lighting packages
  • Design around standard product sizes to reduce material waste.
  • Consider the recyclability of all materials used to redirect their “next life” away from landfills.
  • Some products once referred to as “natural” are now known to have toxic qualities. For instance, pesticides are used to grow cotton and some wool is cleaned with dangerous chemicals during processing. With the help of new government labeling requirements, better tools and information about these products are becoming more available to interior designers as well as a new vocabulary that can be useful to investigate materials and products for interior projects.

There is absolutely no question sustainable and healthy home building and interior design practices are here to stay. The real momentum now is being generated from end user consumers asking for these specific services and materials from their architect, interior designer and builder/remodeler. Professional interior designers can specify and recommend gorgeous sustainable and healthy materials, but it always returns to the consumer who must ultimately request and drive the process towards a cleaner and healthier planet.

For more information on LEED projects and procedures, please visit the U.S. Green Building Council’s web site at You can also contact a LEED certified consultant in your area for further advice.

Please feel free to contact us via telephone at (317) 357-0155 with any questions about this material or to request more information about our services. Visit the It’s YouTM section on our website at to learn more about the Jeff Sheats Designs, Inc. interior design process. We are your partners in interior design.