As the industry moves toward greater transparency, builders need to choose their materials wisely. And that means doing a little bit of homework.

Design firm Perkins+Will has offered to share its cliff notes with a free online transparency database that identifies building material substances that are known or suspected to cause harm to humans and the environment. Launched in November, the database is the result of more than two years of review of governmentally published scientific papers.

Among the site’s many useful tools is a Precautionary Materials list, which the firm says was created to encourage the building product marketplace to become more transparent and to “further empower people to make informed decisions about specifying, maintaining, and disposing of the products in their buildings.” The list covers 25 different substances and provides key information, including where the substance is commonly found, its origin, a Health Effect Summary, and alternative material options.

The Web site also includes an “asthma list,” a “flame retardants list,” and a library of other useful resources, including a downloadable white paper entitled, “Fly Ash in Concrete.” The design firm says it intends to continually update the site as additional resources become available. In fact, the current Precautionary Materials list is an updated version of a truncated list originally offered by the firm in 2009.

“The Precautionary List is a living document, intended to provoke critical thinking related to the materials we use in the design industry,” Chris Youssef, healthy materials expert at Perkins+Will, said in a statement. “Ultimately, it is our hope that our newly updated site will be a catalyst for change and enhance transparency in the building market product marketplace.”

The database can be accessed at