March 10, 2017

Material Breakdown: Why Your Materials Choices Matter

Material selection and specifications is an intricate business in the design world. Designers heavily rely on recommendations and research before a final materials selection is made. CWG Interior Designer Meagan Miller takes us through 4 of the many, many considerations taken throughout a project- codes and guidelines, flammability, accessibility for all, and green design.

Codes and guidelines 

Codes and guidelines are an important consideration from the start. There are codes, rating systems, ADA requirements and guidelines that each designer must take into consideration when selecting materials for any project. The health, safety and welfare of clients must be on the minds of designers during the entire  design process.


Flammability is one of the biggest concerns for designers when specifying materials and surfacing. Residential fires claim at least 2,500 people per year in the United States alone. Fire safety codes stipulate resistance to flame. These codes are broken down into three classes. Classes A, B and C with Class A being the most stringent against flame development and C being the last. It is extremely important to select the correct class of material for any commercial and residential building products. There are many materials that can be used ensure that you are making any building safer as a result of a fire. While no practical building material is truly 100% fireproof, well-constructed houses and buildings can help prevent such tragedies by using materials that are relatively fire-resistant.

Accessibility requirements

Accessibility requirements are stipulated by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). These guidelines do not vary with jurisdiction; the same requirements apply across the nation. As designers our job is ensure that everyone even those with disabilities get the same luxury and enjoyment out of life. Slip resistant flooring, appropriate exterior and interior ramps, grab bars and ADA compliant furniture are just part of the many specifications that designers have to consider when designing for a client with disabilities. Having these requirements ensures those with disabilities will be able to maneuver throughout spaces easily and comfortably, have the appropriate room at seating spaces, and have the convenient use of the restroom, just to name a few.

Green design

Green design includes but is not limited to sustainable practices and materials, energy conservation, recycling, conservation of materials, water-use reduction, attention to toxicity and general occupant health. Material considerations are important, not just in the sustainable characteristics of the materials themselves but also in the assembly of the materials into building components that work together to create many creative and sustainable options. When choosing a “green” product you must not only consider the product characteristics but, also manufacturing, packing and shipping, preparation and installation, use and maintenance and eventual removal and disposal. It is easy for some companies to claim that their products are sustainable, when their sustainability percentage is small. Research and recommendations are important when choosing just the right “green” material.

Designers will also specify nontoxic materials that are harmful to the ecosystem. This includes volatile organic compounds and carcinogens. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are ten times more concentrated in an interior environment and it is an important to never overlook this aspect

As designer’s, it’s our job to balance all of the above elements while creating an aesthetic pleasing to our client. Material selections involve much more than paint colors, tile types and sizes, wallpaper and furniture materials selections. Material selections are a careful and well-thought-out process that is broken down with several considerations to take into account from the start.

What materials questions do you have for our designers?

Meagan Miller

Meagan Miller is an Interior Designer with CWG Architects, and her primary focus is to design spaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also environmentally sustainable. In her work she considers the environment first and foremost and has an interest in all project types. In her free time, Meagan enjoys photography, art, and going on adventures with her three young daughters