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.”

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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.

Reclaiming the charm and appeal of old homes

Old Home“They don’t build’em like they used to…”

is often heard by those who praise the virtues of an old home.  Many home buyers might talk about the character and charm that exudes from an old home, while others might point to the quality of materials and workmanship that cannot be matched by new homes built today.

In some respects, it’s good they don’t build homes the way they used to because some materials used in the past that were thought to be beneficial have been found to be toxic and/or hazardous.  Building materials have changed through the years and continue to evolve for safety, strength, durability, and environmental impact.  Many home components are engineered and prefabricated to make installation straight forward, as well as make the home increasingly efficient and environmentally friendly.  Floor joists and trusses are engineered to allow for larger and open home designs; while roof and siding components engineered to help reduce heating and cooling costs.  Foundation and basement construction techniques and components are designed to be effective in preventing water penetration.

Workmanship has also changed over the years as well.  Because engineered materials are typically prefabricated, onsite custom design and installation is not necessary; construction crews are basically required to know how to use and install the pre-manufactured components.

Hazardous materials aside, there is something about old homes that grabs our attention.  Because the building materials and components were not mass produced or prefabricated, perhaps it’s the workmanship of the construction that demonstrates that the on-site craftsmen were not just masters of their trade – but artisans.

Although new homes incorporate modern fixtures and appliances designed for comfort, functionality, and efficiency; many are drawn to the antique quality of the old home.  Old home parts are highly sought after items for modern homes too.  Many are lured by the appeal and personality of vintage home parts, but I also sense there is also something about the durability of the parts that lets them continue in service.  Vintage doorknobs, especially the crystal type, are collectible and sought after antique home parts.

Those who appreciate old homes talk about the hearty materials that were used in construction.  Compared to the new engineered components manufactured to an exact specification, the craftsmen who built the old home onsite appeared to use ample materials that made the construction feel sturdy and robust.  This “over-engineering” is typically frowned upon today; using too much raw materials is expensive and considered wasteful.

old homeAnother comparison between old vs. new homes is the lumber that is used in a home’s construction.  Some are keen on old homes because they were built from first generation lumber, compared to engineered composites typically used in modern homes.  Compared to the wood composites often comprised of glued wood pieces and fibers, first generation lumber is believed to be stronger and more durable.  Also known as old growth lumber, first generation lumber refers to lumber that was milled from virgin forests where trees were hundreds of years old.  Because of deforestation, old growth lumber is no longer harvested for construction materials.

To incorporate the virtues of vintage and old building materials in modern homes, many reclaim those resources from tear downs.  From classic fixtures and hardware to first generation wood, the reclaiming industry has become popular not only to be environmentally friendly – but to reclaim the charm and character of a bygone age.

by Dan Krell ©

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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 February 3, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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 ©
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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.

What’s your relationship with your home; how homes impact our lives

by Dan Krell
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© 2012
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homesHave you considered your relationship with your home?  Just like the relationships we have with our family, friends, and acquaintances, we also have relationships with inanimate objects such as our cars, computers, and our homes.  Granted, the relationships we have with our cars and homes are not the same as our human relationships, and it may sound farfetched; but if you think about it for moment, these relationships can affect our moods and lifestyles just the same.

Your relationship with your home can sometimes make you feel satisfied or frustrated, and maybe both.  But chances are that you were not always ambivalent about your home.   At one time you might have thought your home was perfect.  Or you may have decided that you were ok with the quirks in the home because you once planned to fix them.

But the reality is that over time you change: your lifestyle changes; your use of space changes.  Likewise, your home changes too: the systems become less efficient; the rooms may feel too small/large; the kitchen becomes dated, etc.

Just like your human relationships, your home requires maintenance.  Regular maintenance of your home’s systems can help assure that you will be comfortable day to day.  Ignored systems can fail when you rely on them the most, leaving you miserable and wondering about your home.  Commonly ignored systems include (but certainly not limited to) HVAC and the roof.  Having a licensed HVAC professional check the home’s furnace and air conditioning as recommended may not only ensure the system works when you need it the most, but may also help lower energy bills.  Regular inspection of the home’s roof gutters and downspouts could prevent future water penetration issues.

homeOf course, as we continually change and develop, we want our relationships to grow as well.  So, it is possible that one day you might look around your home and feel that it’s time to spice up the relationship a little – You might be thinking of some renovations, updates, and possibly expanding the home.

Unless you plan to make renovations regularly, don’t make a mistake and focus solely on making your home “trendy.”  Before you decide on a major project, experts recommend you consult with a professional interior designer and/or architect to assist in making choices that can prolong the “freshness” of the renovation.

Kitchens and bathrooms are usually where the most money is spent, and that’s because those rooms tend to get the most traffic and use.  When designing a kitchen or bathroom, it is easy to go overboard on the renovation, but even a modest refurbishment can increase your enjoyment of the home.

As you renovate the interior, don’t give the exterior the short shrift.  Upgrading the home’s windows and siding not only increases the home’s efficiency, but may also increase the home’s curb appeal when it’s time to sell.

Relationships change and sometimes end; even the most meaningful ones.  This is no different with your home.  One day you may find that although your home may have sheltered you and your family without fail for many years, you may find that your needs may have changed; you may need more or less space, or may need to live in a different city.  And just like old friends, you may one day find yourself fondly thinking about your “old” home where you once lived.

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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 November 26, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Asbestos can be found in the home

by Dan Krell © 2012
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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.

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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.

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