The dry cleaning business is among the most-frequently chastised consumer industries for its use of harmful chemicals, but were you aware that many of those same toxins are released into the environment by landscapers and masons? Stone-sealing solvents expel volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which not only deteriorate indoor and outdoor air quality, but when misused, also can contaminate public water supplies.
One of New Jersey's premier landscaping firms is leading the way toward eradicating the use of these products. Beginning this fall, Cipriano Landscape Design will finish its stone patios and outdoor kitchens exclusively with water-based sealants. "They are an excellent substitute for the previous VOC products," says Chris Cipriano, president of Cipriano Landscape Design. And not just because they're less toxic. "The water-based sealant is more versatile and can be used both indoors and out on natural- or man-made surfaces," Cipriano explains. With the VOC-emitting chemicals, there was some guesswork involved in how they would react with the materials they were sealing. Since water-based substances are safe for all surfaces, a stone's finish and texture no longer are factors in determining whether the sealant can be used.
So what does this mean for the homeowner? Unprotected masonry is both a practical and an aesthetic concern since it is subject to staining, fading and water corrosion, as well as ice damage. Unlike silane/siloxane solvents, the new sealants can be used anywhere and are safe enough even for use in outdoor kitchens.
Having installed 75,000 square feet of natural stone in the past five years alone, Cipriano recommends the water-based sealers be reapplied annually. It's also best to have the work done professionally, especially over large areas. "In larger applications, it requires several people to properly apply the sealer," Cipriano explains. "Overlapping the sealer often causes streaking, and inexperienced applicators will often track the sealer or get it into places it doesn't belong."
Five states including New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware currently have VOC regulations in place. But real change occurs when businesses are proactive and employ the more environmentally friendly products available to them, Cipriano says. "With the numerous products out there full of chemicals and toxins, it's really important to become aware of what's being used and to eliminate those that are dangerous," he says. "If we can eliminate 80 percent of the VOC-based products that we and other landscapers use, it would make a tremendous difference."
Cipriano Landscape Design is no stranger to conservation. The company already has spent more than $250,000 over the past three years updating its fleet of vehicles. That, combined with new fuel-management practices, has enabled the firm to cut its fuel consumption in half. Cipriano Landscape Design also incorporates into all of its projects soil conservation techniques recommended by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "We recycle 90 percent of the organic soils on job sites and incorporate soil stabilization techniques that protect natural resources," Cipriano says.
Making these types of changes is a win-win all around--for the business, its clients and the environment. But ultimately, they're just a natural part of the company's philosophy. "I always treat a client's house as if it were my own, and my employees as if they were family," Cipriano says. "I don't want these products used at my house exposing my own family to harm. I owe the same consideration to my employees and clients."
He adds, "If these small changes can reduce future health risks, then it's an easy choice to make."