What affects indoor air quality?
Indoor air quality is affected by a number of factors. Many of the smaller factors are often discounted by people because of their inability or unwillingness to consider them in the proper context of their cumulative health affects, their prolonged contact with a home’s occupants, as well as the commercial forces behind their perceived safety and social acceptance.
The problem of toxins in a home is best explained by an analogy that I often use to help homeowners understand the problem better.
Imagine spending time in an almost airtight container with some random open chemical containers. Common sense tells us that that irrespective of their ability to off-gas, their names, or the individual level of toxicity of each chemical, this would not be a healthy experience, even for a single day.
Unfortunately, since the inclusion of the air conditioner in modern homes, we have created a similar scenario. Our homes are nothing more than almost air tight containers, while everything inside them, including the paint on the walls, the carpeting and floor finishes, the ceilings and the fixtures and furnishings, the personal and cleaning chemicals that we use are all made from synthetic materials that off-gas toxins. When we consider how many hours per day, weeks and years we spend in our homes, common sense also tells us that unless they are very well and continuously ventilated, this cannot be a healthy experience either.
Before the advent of air-conditioning, this was not a problem because our homes had windows that provided ventilation, especially cross ventilation, which regularly flushed out toxins. Air conditioning changed all of that because for it to work, all windows and doors must remain closed at all times. This traps the toxins, and allows them to progressively build up in the home often resulting in what we call Sick Home Syndrome. This is the reason the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that our homes are 5-10 times more polluted inside than outside, yet somehow we have been conditioned to believe that this is acceptable and even prestigious as it is the cases with ‘new-car’ smell.
In addition to this, during the last 100 years, it became very fashionable to landscape our yards with exotic and ornamental plants that are not native to where our homes are built. In order to support, protect and maintain these plants, we have had to introduce fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides (as well as excessive amounts of water), which not only contaminate insects and our domestic animals outdoors, but are also trekked into our homes to further contaminate indoor air quality.
What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and how does one eliminate them from a home?
VOCs are a wide variety of chemicals that are emitted as a gas from almost every gas or liquid product that humans manufacture synthetically and use in homes, such as paints, varnishes, waxes, disinfectants, cleaning and cosmetics. This is why the EPA warns that VOCs trapped inside homes can cause short and long term damage to the health of humans as well as cancer in animals.
There are all kinds of precautions that are recommended by the manufacturers of products that contain VOCs, however, it all comes down to one essential recommendation, and that is to ventilate the home with fresh air. With regards to your home, this recommendation is discussed at length below.
What formaldehyde and how does one eliminate it from a home?
Formaldehyde is a VOC. It is a colorless pungent smelling gas that is emitted from permanent pressed clothing and draperies, indoor building products like flooring, shelving, cabinetry, counter tops plus furniture and the glues that hold them together, household chemicals and indoor gas appliances that are not vented to the outdoors.
Formaldehyde is a cancer causing suspect for humans and animals, however, it is associated with respiratory problems and allergic reactions, especially in new homes that are hot and poorly ventilated.
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Marius J Smook – Licensed Real Estate Eco-Broker, LEED AP for HOMES, Home Energy Rater.