Healthy home trend trumps green initiative

healthy home
Effects of Living in a Healthy Home (infographic from haywardhealthyhome.com)

Green building practices have been the trend for new homes over a decade.  Housing experts have touted the benefits of green building as environmentally friendly and money saving.  Health experts have also proclaimed the benefits of green home designs.  However, a revealing exposé in Remodeling Magazine discusses the health dangers of living in a green design and/or energy efficient home.  There is a healthy home trend that is trumping the green initiative.

The need for a healthy home

To describe how a green home’s air can become dangerous over time, Marisa Martinez uses the analogy of opening up the air-tight sealed bag of clothes from last summer and getting a whiff of the stale, plastic air (Breathing Easy: An Introduction to Healthy Homes; remodeling.hw.com; June 22, 2017).  Martinez discussed how builders and home owners have focused on reducing environmental impacts of their home and neglected the health effects from the new building directives.

Green building and efficient home designs focus on reducing system operating costs by increasing the structure efficiency, thus reducing the impact to the environment.  One of the outcomes of such a building design is having an air tight home.  The air-tight feature is to ensure that there is minimal energy loss from escaping air.  Owners and occupants of green homes are becoming ill because homes are air-tight.  The lack of proper ventilation and the decreased breathability of a home can make the inside air become stale.  And, over time, the buildup of interior pollutants can make the home toxic.

Increasing the awareness of green and efficient homes was a reason for the mandatory utility disclosures when selling a home in Montgomery County. This requirement was enacted in 2008 as a compromise from a proposed mandatory energy audit.

“According to Montgomery County Bill 31-07, enacted into Montgomery County Code Real Property 40-13b earlier this year, a home seller must provide potential home buyers the last twelve months of utility bills and information approved by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about home efficiency improvements including the “benefit of conducting a home energy audit” before entering into a sales contract.”

Additional potential hazards can be encountered when renovating a green designed home because the air-tight feature can cause air pollutants to accumulate inside the home.  Materials in new carpets, flooring (finished wood or vinyl), and paints can produce toxic off-gases that are not ventilated out of the home.  Dust from drywall and other building materials pose a health hazard as well.

Martinez’s exposé flies in the face of research hyping the health benefits of green homes.  One of the flaws of the these studies is that the health outcome comparisons of occupants of conventional built homes and green designated homes typically focused on new homes.  The air quality issue that Martinez points out should be studied in older green and efficient homes, where the indoor air has had time to “mature.”

The green home movement was supposed to give us environmentally friendly, efficient homes that were also supposed keep us healthy.  But the trend from green and efficient building is now transforming to a focus more on healthy home environments with an emphasis on good indoor air quality.  Martinez stated that the good indoor air quality can be achieved by continuously exchanging the indoor air with conditioned outdoor air.  There are physical and environmental benefits of a healthy home, which include increased emotional well being and reduced respiratory distress.

Leading the effort to educate the housing industry and consumers on healthy home environments is Bill Hayward.  In an interview in Builder Magazine (Advocating for Fresh Air in Homes; builderonline.com; September 29, 2016) he discussed his journey in creating Hayward Healthy Homes after realizing his home was making his family ill.  Hayward stated “Thirty percent of the population has allergies and is physically affected by the indoor air quality. The worst air that Americans breath right now is the air within their house.” More information and a free guide on creating a healthy home can be obtained from Hayward Healthy Home (haywardhealthyhome.com).

Copyright© Dan Krell
Google+

If you like this post, do not copy; instead please:
link to the article,
like it at facebook
or re-tweet.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector
Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

What’s the controversy with laminate flooring?

Infographic where formaldehyde is commonly off-gassed in the home. (from greatertorontobuilders.com)

Since my last installment of How your Home is Making You Sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released and revised their analysis of certain types of Chinese laminate flooring. The initial release was found to have used an incorrect value for ceiling height, which calculated airborne concentration estimates about “3 times lower than they should have been.”

The increased interest in health concerns over certain types of Chinese laminate flooring was due in part to an exposé by CBS’ 60 Minutes (which aired March 1st, 2015) that investigated California home owners’ claims that certain types of laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators was making them sick. The investigation alleged that the Chinese laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators did not meet California Air Resources Board standards for formaldehyde emissions in wood flooring. Lumber Liquidators questioned the testing methodology and results (Lumber Liquidators; cbcnews.com; August 16th, 2015).

In a May 2015 press release, Lumber Liquidators stated that “Initial results of the indoor air quality testing program for certain laminate flooring customers – conducted by independent, accredited laboratories – indicate that over 97% of customers’ homes were within the protective guidelines established by the World Health Organization for formaldehyde levels in indoor air.” However, sales of the products in question were discontinued; and company has offered air quality test kits for those who have purchased laminate flooring from the company.

reduceformaldehyde
from “Laminate Flooring Test Results – Health Issues and Solutions” (cdc.gov)

Since the 60 Minutes exposé, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) tested samples of Chinese laminate flooring and along with the CDC issued “Laminate Flooring Test Results – Health Issues and Solutions”.   The consumer handout states that formaldehyde is found in many home products; and levels typically decrease after 2 years of installation. Recommendations in reducing health risks are also listed (cdc.gov/nceh/laminateflooring/docs/nceh-atsdr_laminate-flooring.pdf).

The February 10th CDC press release initial reported analysis conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) of the CSPC data “…found that formaldehyde levels observed in select laminate wood flooring products could cause short-term irritation for people in general and in some cases exacerbate asthma.  The risk of cancer associated with long-term exposure to the observed formaldehyde levels is considered extremely small…” (ATSDR and CDC Analysis Finds Possible Health Effects Associated with Formaldehyde in Select Laminate Flooring; cdc.gov).

However, a correction to the analysis was made several days later indicated that that although “the final results are not yet available,” the estimated conclusions are to be close to these: Exposure to the range of modeled levels of formaldehyde in indoor air could cause increased symptoms and other respiratory issues for people with asthma and COPD; Exposure to the lowest modeled levels of formaldehyde could result in eye, nose, and throat irritation for anyone; and The estimated risk of cancer is 6-30 cases per 100,000 people (increased from the initial “Low risk of cancer” 2-9 cases per 100,000 people). The CDC cautions that these revised results are “very conservative” and “the calculated risk is likely lower than our modeled estimate.”

Even though the results are revised, the CDC states that their recommendations will likely remain the same – “we strongly stress taking steps to reduce exposures, which should alleviate respiratory and eye, nose and throat irritation.  These steps should also reduce the cancer risk.”

Google+
Copyright © Dan Krell

If you like this post, do not copy; instead please:
reference the article,
like it at facebook
or re-tweet.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector
Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Can a home make you sick

ConstructionHow safe are the materials that were used to build and finish your home?

There are a number of materials that were commonly used in the home that at one time were considered safe, but are now known to cause health problems.  And although some of these materials have been discontinued in residential buildings years after production and use, some can be found in older homes.  However, there are other materials that are of concern that are still used in building and furnishing materials.

Lead was used as a residential paint additive for many years to enhance the paints’ properties; it was thought to increase paint durability and speed up drying.  Since the acknowledgement that lead has deleterious effects on the nervous system, especially in developing children; there was a push to “get the lead out” of paint and other consumer products.  Lead paint was subsequently discontinued and banned in 1978 from residential paints.  Today, there are numerous disclosures about the possibility of lead paint existing in homes that were built prior to 1978; homebuyers are provided the opportunity to conduct a risk assessment to determine lead levels in homes where lead paint may exist.  Lead certified contractors must be used when making repairs and renovations to homes built prior to 1978 (epa.gov).

Before it was acknowledged that asbestos is linked to a number of serious health issues, including mesothelioma; asbestos was used for thousands of years.  The ancients mined and found many uses for asbestos.  Considered to be a “miracle mineral,” construction use of asbestos mushroomed in the late nineteenth century.  Although there were government bans on asbestos products during the 1970’s and 1980’s, asbestos is still used in some commercial applications (asbestos.com).

There has been a longstanding grassroots concern about vinyl and PVC materials because of the linked health issues thought to be from the off gassing and leaching of phthalates (phthalates are a group of chemicals used in the production of plastics).  Vinyl and plastic building materials have also been widely used in homes for decades: vinyl flooring has been used in bathrooms and kitchens; vinyl has been used in laminate flooring; and PVC piping has been used for plumbing.  The EPA has been and continues to study the production, use and effects of phthalates (epa.gov).

Imported drywall is a more recent issue that was reported to cause severe respiratory ailments; oxidized jewelry and corroded pipes were also highlighted. Although the bulk of the reports of problems associated with the imported drywall emanated from Florida, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has collected hundreds of reports from eighteen states and the District of Columbia. A majority of the complaints reported that affected homes were built in 2006 and 2007; which coincided with a time when building materials were in high demand due to a considerable increase in construction and the rebuilding of hurricane-damaged states (cpsc.gov).

As a result of the increasing awareness of toxins in and out of the home, the “green building” movement has become popular.  Besides helping maintain a healthy environment, a key feature of green building is to also maintain air quality in the home; green building uses natural materials to avoid off gassing of toxins.  For example, formaldehyde based materials, which are can be found in some “manufactured” woods and some carpets are avoided.

More information about green building, air quality and safety of building materials can be found at the EPA and CPSC websites.

by Dan Krell ©
More news and articles on “the Blog”
Google+

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector
Disclaimer.  This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice.  Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction.  This article was originally published the week of December 30, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

Asbestos can be found in the home

by Dan Krell © 2012
DanKrell.com

wallboardHazardous materials are everywhere – even in some homes. Unfortunately, hazardous materials are often found to be dangerous years after they have been widely used. One such material is asbestos. Building materials containing asbestos are still found in many homes.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a lot to say about asbestos (epa.gov): “Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistant properties, asbestos has been used for a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products)…” Significant health problems can occur “…When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by repair, remodeling or demolition activities, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs.”

One building material that is said to contain asbestos is vermiculite insulation. Vermiculite is a mineral that was widely used for attic and wall insulation for many years. Unfortunately, the EPA states that over 70% of the vermiculite sold in the US from 1919 to 1990 originated from a mine that was found to be contaminated with asbestos. If you have vermiculite insulation, the EPA website states that you should assume it contains asbestos.

The EPA says, “The best thing to do is to leave asbestos-containing material that is in good condition alone. If unsure whether or not the material contains asbestos, you may consider hiring a professional asbestos inspector to sample and test the material for you. Before you have your house remodeled, you should find out whether asbestos-containing materials are present. If asbestos-containing material is becoming damaged (i.e., unraveling, frayed, breaking apart) you should immediately isolate the area (keep pets and children away from the area) and refrain from disturbing the material (either by touching it or walking on it). You should then immediately contact an asbestos professional for consultation. It is best to receive an assessment from one firm and any needed abatement from another firm to avoid any conflict of interest. In such a scenario as described above, asbestos-containing material does not necessarily need to be removed, but may rather be repaired by an asbestos professional via encapsulation or enclosure. Removal is often unnecessary.”

homeThe EPA recommends: to keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos; take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material: all sampling, removal or repair is to be done by professionals trained and qualified in handling asbestos. Additionally, never dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos; never saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials; never use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring; never sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing; never track material that could contain asbestos through the house. The EPA website (epa.gov/asbestos) has a complete list of recommendations and precautions for asbestos and vermiculite insulation.

Additional information and precautions on asbestos in the home can be obtained from the EPA (epa.gov/asbestos) and (for Maryland residents) the Maryland Department of the Environment (www.mde.state.md.us). The EPA and the MDE regulate and license contractors to remove or encapsulate asbestos; the MDE maintains a list of licensed asbestos contractors.

More news and articles on “the Blog”
This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 21, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector