Something that smells bad is your first key that it probably is bad, yet airborne stuff that is harmful to your health doesn’t always smell bad. Controlling the stuff that causes problems, or pollutant source control, is key to controlling the air flow and air quality in your home.
As Marla says, “to control the nasties,” homeowners need to become aware of not only the pollutants, allergens and dust that come into the home from the outside but the toxins from within as well. This a basic requirement for Green Certified Homes and green remodeled homes that are certified and is listed in the “indoor Air Quality.” A builder might refer to it as “indoor Environmental Air Quality,” which is basically about how we interact with the environment in our homes.
Off-Gassing and VOCs
Marla states, “If it smells bad it probably is bad,” that’s the number one red flag. However, sometimes we’ve been trained to think something smells good. Take for instance the smell of a new car or fresh paint. Tony adds that what we’re smelling is off-gassing or the slow release of volatile organic chemicals or VOCs as the paint dries. Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.” Tony brings attention to the fact that understanding the impact of VOCs is vital to those who suffer with allergies, COPD, asthma and any kind of upper respiratory issues. Marla remarks that doctors are now beginning to prescribe environmental solutions such as fresh and mechanical air filtration systems.
Pollutant source control is important in the work environment as well. Years ago, when working in the cabinet industry, Tony adds that part of the building process was having a separate facility where the materials that were painted were left to dry or off-gas protecting the workers from being constantly exposed to high-level VOCs. Marla remembers the story of the first time she used a low VOC paint her painter remarked that this was the first time he’d finished a job and not had a headache. It had never occurred to him to associate his reoccurring headaches with the materials he was using.
Back to our living environment, one thing to look for in healthier homes and Green Certified Homes is low or no VOC products which are now more readily available at your favorite big box store, paint store or online sites as well. Today, almost all paint suppliers now carry at least one option with low or no VOCs. Which means they had to reformulate how they produce the paint. There are now companies whose entire line is dedicated to no or low VOCs and hopefully as people become more aware of the danger of VOCs more people will support them.
It’s important to remember that long after the paint dries, there is still a problem with off-gassing as tiny molecules are leaving the paint and going out into the air that you, your children and pets are breathing. Therefore, choosing the lowest VOCs when building or remodeling a home reduces the pollutants in the air long after the paint dries. This also applies to finishes, sealants, calk, adhesives, the new spray foam insulation technique and pretty much anything brought into the home that starts wet and becomes dry. Marla adds to the list a few hidden VOCs we don’t think about such as urethane and glues used on floors, stains, and foam sealants, as well as materials such as laminate counter tops and particle board. Particle board is basically recycled material ground up and glued together in a toxic concoction that emits formaldehyde which is now ranked as a carcinogen. Tony adds that particle board is a big hidden pollutant and is found in everything from you’re your cabinetry, subflooring and flooring to the roof. These materials are constantly off-gassing throughout your entire home, especially in houses over fifteen years old. But again, when remodeling or building new, there are now better options today that have much lower VOCs.
Well Sealed Homes
Tony recalls the 70’s and the energy crisis when people started sealing their homes to keep the heat and air-conditioning in to lower their monthly energy bills. Marla says, we basically, “bubble-wrapped our houses.” Yet, no one thought about the toxins being trapped inside that everyone was breathing.
However, it’s still important to have a well-sealed home to keep out pollutants, pollens, pests, and most importantly for Marla– dust. While all structures are designed to breathe and to provide healthy ventilation, the key word is “control.” Sealing the envelope of a structure is the process of controlling the interior climate and atmosphere from unwanted outside influences. An alternative to traditional sealants such high VOC spray foams and caulking is a Green Guard certified product called AeroBarrier, which launched in 2018 at the International Builder’s show. AeroBarrier is an air sealing technique which works to seal minuscule leaks in your home you can’t see using a blower door that pressurizes the house and a computer that controls the level of tightness or seal. Marla adds, “AeroBarrier, is an ingenious product that won Best of Show and Most Innovative Product at IBS, also a finalist for the Edison award and a supporter and sponsor of the Green Gab Podcast; just a super innovative company doing amazing things.”
There are several solutions to controlling the air quality of your home the first of which is awareness and education. Asking questions, reading labels, doing research and requesting material data safety sheets from manufacturers and suppliers is a good first step. Also, ideally, you would also want to tighten the seal of your home and add proper ventilation both naturally and mechanically. Gradually replacing toxic off-gassing items in your home such as furniture, mattresses and carpeting with products that are Green Seal approved and Green Guard certified guarantees less VOCs being emitted in your home. And of course, doing business with companies like IKEA because of their commitment to sustainability, will eventually encourage other companies to follow suite.
The important thing to remember is that we have choices. Marla suggests making five simple choices – different choices in your home that puts you on track to having a healthier more sustainable home environment.
a Green Gab podcast with Marla and Tony
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