Continuing in the series of understanding Indoor Air Quality, here is a list of common offenders in modern homes:
- attached garages
- combustion appliances
- dry cleaning
- cleaning supplies
- vented attics and crawl spaces
- 2 x 4 walls with fiberglass insulation
Growing up, I never remember having a house with a garage in the thermal envelope of the living space, nor did I talk this way, thermal envelopes and such. Now we treat our cars like they are members of the household, parking them right next to our kitchens with no air barriers to keep the dangerous chemicals out. Houses with attached garages typically have measurable concentrations of benzene (a gasoline related pollutant) in their indoor air. Houses with no garages or detached garages have little or no benzene. This is true of a host of other airborne chemicals and as you might imagine, breathing these chemicals can lead to health issues. Your garage probably looks like it is air tight from the rest of the house, drywall on all 5 surfaces with no clear openings to the home. However, I am willing to bet there is a door into the house that you open to go in, right. Then there is a good chance when you open that door, the garage becomes the easiest path for makeup air in your home sucking all the toxic chemicals into the living space. This house pressurization issue is new to modern homes with air conditioning and can easily be overcome with a detached garage or even fixed in attached garages.
Candles are another overlooked air pollutant. By-products of combustion include carbon monoxide, VOC’s, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and soot are produced with each romantic dinner you prepare. So if you guys want off the hook for not being romantic enough, let her know that you love her too much to poison the air she breathes.
In new or other tight houses, significant indoor formaldehyde levels may occur due to off gassing of cabinets, carpets, wood composite materials, and furnishings. That new car smell is chemical off-gasing that has been shown to cause cancer. Just think of all the times you have gotten a headache for days after painting a room, now you can make a choice and get a paint that does not off-gas harmful chemicals in the home that you are raising your children. You might want to begin looking into some labels for safer options for cleaning, furnishing, and decorating your home. There are many certifications that are third-party verified that give us the best chance to make good decisions for indoor air quality. Don’t trust just because they put a leaf on the label that it is safe, look to an expert for more information about trusted certifications.
Radon is a common issue in our area. Radon is a radioactive gas that is released from the normal decay of uranium in rocks and soils. Uranium is found in nearly all soils everywhere in the U.S. Radon is invisible, colorless, odorless, and tasteless and seeps up through the ground and diffuses into the air. Radon gas can accumulate in buildings, especially in confined areas such as attics, and basements. If you are building new, it should be standard that you pipe in a radon mitigation system in case you need it. There is no way to test for radon prior to construction, but in our area, it is a good bet to have a system that can easily be used to ventilate if there is a problem.
I realize that there are many things to consider when it comes to indoor air quality. It is complicated and every decision leads to another issue that should be considered. There are standards and certifications that you can use to help guide your choices. I encourage you to evaluate each decision you make when it comes to indoor air quality. After all, we spend 80% of our time inside.