Is your house making you sick? According to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over 30 million homes in the United States have significant physical problems that place the occupants at risk for illnesses, such as respiratory illness, asthma, lead poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning and cancer.
The leading culprit is indoor air pollution caused by mold, mildew, contaminated dust, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). That fresh paint smell is actually the smell of VOCs that can cause headaches, loss of coordination, nausea and damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Formaldehyde which is found in pressed wood and plywood products can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing, and skin rash. Mold and mildew worsen respiratory illnesses and can cause asthma. Carbon monoxide poisoning resembles the flu and can kill you. Lead poisoning leads to the loss of intelligence, leaning difficulties and developmental delays in children. Asbestos can cause cancer.
Designing a new house to be healthy is much easier than correcting problems in an existing older house. New houses that meet green building standards such as United States Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes or Earthcraft Homes have a third party confirming that the house is dry, contaminate free, and appropriately thermally controlled. This is achieved through strategies such as; advanced insulation, sealing the outside walls, roof, and crawl space, using formaldehyde free wood products, VOC free paints and coatings, hard floors, improved drainage for roof, wall and foundations, correctly sized heating and air-conditioning systems, and detached garages.
Houses built before 1978 should be checked for lead paint and friable asbestos. If either is found it should be removed by a licensed professional. To reduce mold and mildew; seal both exterior cracks and heating and air-conditioning ducts, repair leaky faucets and pipes, and replace carpet with hard floors such as wood, tile, vinyl or linoleum.
Carbon monoxide detectors are essential in protecting from the “silent killer” that is colorless, tasteless and odorless. Houses with attached garages need an intact seal on the door between the house and garage. Malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances are also a source of carbon monoxide. Vent-less gas fireplaces are a bad idea and are outlawed in Canada.
The Center for Disease Control, the Department of Energy, EPA, HUD and the United States Department of Agriculture all have healthy home activities. For more information go to www.hud.gov.