The Air You Breathe Could Be Making You Sick – GreenBuild Day 2

I started my day with GreenBuild‘s Real and Relevant Solutions for Healthy Green Home Design; both speakers were excellent but Dr. Marilyn Black of Greenguard absolutely impressed me with her knowledge, awareness, credibility and commitment to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and the healthy home.

Her focus for the last 20 years has been IAQ and the levels of VOCs in homes and their overall impact on family health. Since the development of LEED, she and her team have also been measuring and certifying LEED homes for their IAQ. At present, she is working with 6 LEED homes that are in remediation for IAQ because of absurdly high levels of air contaminants such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde (a carcinogen), TVOCs (total Volatile Organic Chemicals) and Mercury. All at levels that range for 2x to 6x acceptable levels in a home.

Why is this happeneing? Though all of the root causes are not known, the common factors include:

1. Tightly sealed envelopes, including but not limited to soy based spray foam insulation.

2. Gypsum board and CFLs.

3. Wood floors adhesives and finish and kitchen cabinets with non-certified parts that contained UREA formaldehyde.

4. Systems that did not have good air exchanges.

In one LEED Gold home in Atlanta, there were also toxins from bamboo bedding, plasticizers from lights, ozone from an electrostatic air cleaner (irony?), ammonia from cellulose insulation, and terpene VOCs (lime) that were determined to be from green cleaners.

Was I stunned? Yes. Was I the only one? No. Did everyone in the session seem freaked? YES

What to do with this information?

1. If you are going to create an incredibly tight envelope for your home, you have to think about, plan and implement air exchange. Because LEED homes are sealing cracks they are blocking the natural air infiltration points. This is GREAT for energy management but not good for air quality. Indoor air pollution is residing in homes for a longer period than in the past.

2. Open the windows when the weather permits, let air flow through your home.

3. Install a central vac so particulates are exhausted outside of the home.

4. Make sure during the installation process that anything that is wet is allowed to dry FULLY before you bring in any absorbent product. Install carpets after your paint is dry. Install gypsum after foam insulation is fully cured. This prevents the dry product from absorbing moisture.

4. Most importantly, don’t bring VOCs into your home. Flush out the system before you move into the home. Contaminant control is the first step. Evaluate your cleaning products, cabinets, woodwork, paint, furniture, bedding, and so forth. Just don’t introduce VOCs into your home.

To be clear, this is a significant problem. From asthma to autism, the chemicals found in our homes our impacting our health and our childrens’ health. Rashes, flu-like symptoms, allergies, asthama or worse are occuring more and more frequently and the common root cause is the air we breathe.

We can manage this and we can win but we have to commit to stopping VOC emissions at home.

Get more information at Greenguard.

KDL | find me on Twitter: newscaster


One Response

  1. I forgot to mention one other item that was highly recommended. Builders doing LEED projects should increase their E&O insurance to at least $2M.

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