Don’t forget indoor air quality

Thought about indoor air quality lately? Probably not, if you haven’t made any changes around the house within the past six months. Or you may be asking yourself, what’s that and why is it important? You’re not alone. I was designing a new home for a doctor and brought the subject up.” Not to worry”, he said, “the children all have asthma but it’s well controlled by medications.” End of conversation.

I’m not seeking to argue with anyone’s beliefs, but there is ample evidence that modern building materials outgas fumes that can really affect some people. They have been shown to aggravate allergies and induce symptoms such as drowsiness, headaches, respiratory ailments, and what’s been termed, ‘brain fog’. Many of you might remember the emergency housing trailers that FEMA shipped to the Gulf after Katrina. So many people fell ill from living in them that they were eventually recalled and abandoned. A term that is being used with greater and greater frequency is the ‘sick building syndrome’.

There are two factors that have contributed to the worsening of indoor air quality in the last decade. One is the increasing use of formaldehyde (and many plastics, acrylics, mineral spirits) in almost everything we build or use. And because our buildings are now being built much more tightly, the problematic gases are becoming trapped inside. So if you’re planning to build or remodel, I would recommend that you pay attention to at least three points:

  • Have your contractor choose paints, finishes or materials that are termed lo- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound). They are sometimes slightly more expensive but may save someone in the family from weeks or months of discomfort.
  • Cover all AC ducts after they’ve been installed and leave the cover on until all sanding and the application of finishes are complete. In fact, clean up all construction debris.
  • If possible, throw the windows open. Let the house (or new rooms) breathe fresh air for a week or two before you move in. If that’s not possible, open up for fresh air as much as you can in the first weeks.

Talk about indoor air quality with your designer or builder. You owe it to yourself to be completely comfortable in your new home.