Health and Quality of Life

What would you do if someone told you that you were putting poisons into your house that, once taken into your house, could never be taken out and that they would continue to poison the air in your house for the next 10 years?  Would you move out or sell the house or would you just continue to live and raise your kids in the house as if nothing was wrong?

If you are not building green, then this is what you are doing.  Attention to and care for the internal air quality of a building is one of the tenants of green building.  The average home in the United States has indoor air that is 10x more polluted than outside air. With standard building practices and materials, the majority of the contaminants are from off-gassing building materials and finishes.  By adhering to green building principles, the toxicity and potential off gassing of all materials and the dust and particulate production of all tools and building practices are considered and mitigated when building a home. 

Avoid Formaldehyde - once introduced, it’s nearly impossible to remove.

Common manufactured wood products contain the cheap but toxic chemical Urea-Formaldehyde, which off-gasses formaldehyde into the air of the home for years. This embalming agent, by definition a biocide- or killer of biological life- is associated with cancer, asthma, allergies, chronic headaches and respiratory distress. 

Standard building practices typically use tens of thousands of pounds of urea-formaldehyde containing materials in every home.  Because many of these products form the actual structure of the house, once installed, they are impossible to remove. The only solution to eliminating your family’s exposure to off gassing formaldehyde is by not putting it into your home in the first place. When using green building techniques to build or remodeling a home, it is not difficult to ensure that only non-toxic materials are installed.

Overly hygienic homes with polluted indoor air = asthma

Asthma and autoimmune disorders rates have doubled in the last 20 years, through all racial, sexual and age groups. The direct and indirect costs of asthma and autoimmune related illnesses in the U.S. is in the 10’s of billions of dollars per year. 

Current research suggests that many of these autoimmune diseases are caused by limited environmental exposure to common, benign antigens like pollen, pet dander, dirt etc. during childhood development.  This lack of developmental exposure to common environmental allergens results in a hyper-sensitization of the immune system.  Consequently, later in life, exposure to the non pathogenic antigens causes the immune systems to overreact, leading to hyper-sensitization and autoimmune diseases, like asthma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and allergies.

Standard building practices result in homes that are overly clean of environmentally benign and naturally occurring particles, yet filled with toxic cleaning products, off-gassing building materials and polluted air.  These homes do not have systems in place to effectively mitigate air quality problems including materials off-gassing, water and carbon dioxide buildup and combustion byproducts. 

Well built green homes are designed to address these issues, by eliminating toxic materials, designing effective air/heat exchange systems which purify the air without heating up or cooling down the house and specifying and locating sealed combustion gas burning equipment and appliances where they have the least risk of polluting the interior air environment.

A healthy green building choice: forgo the carpets

The average carpet taken from a home weighs 7x’s more than when it was installed.  What makes up this increased weight?  Anything carried in on feet or wheels, including:

  • pesticides from landscaping
  • hydrocarbons from the streets
  • dirt, dander, dust mites
  • highly allergenic excrement from any other insects
  • food and drinks
  • carpet cleaners
  • anything else that falls onto it in the 5-8 years of a carpet’s expected life. 

Additionally, most carpets are made of petroleum products, are bound to petroleum products based backing materials with glues made of petroleum products and are adhered to floors and padded with petroleum based products.  These materials degrade over time resulting in particulate and off-gassing contamination of indoor air quality.  Ironically, the first highly publicized case of “Sick Building Syndrome) came from a new carpet installation at the EPA(Environmental Protection Agency) headquarters in Washington D.C..  

Lastly, many carpets are treated with chemicals including antistain, antistatic, antimicrobial and mothproofing pesticides of unknown biological consequence. These issues can pose a real health problem to people with chemical sensitivities, mold allergies, or immune compromised persons, including the old and the very young, especially since the latter tends to spend a lot of time sitting and laying on carpet. 

Green building principles tell us that we should stay away from wall to wall carpet for several reasons:

  • Carpets are much harder to clean than any other type of flooring, which results in floors that have a constant level of contamination, organic matter and pest presence, including dust mites, fleas, bacteria, mold and mildew.
  • The last only 20-30% as long as other flooring choices like hardwood floors, tile, concrete and natural linoleum.
  • They are much more expensive to clean and have to be cleaned more often because they are more easily soiled and are much more easily damaged.
  • They will cost more over the long run than any other type of flooring because they have to be replaced so often.
  • If they are damaged, they must be wholly replaced and cannot be repaired.
  • Until recently, most types could no be recycled and used carpets made up 1-2% of all landfill space in the nation.
  • Even now, only two places in the state of California recycles carpet and only 1-2% of carpet companies recycle used carpeting.  Only some types of carpets can be recycled.

Instead of carpets, we can use hardwood, tile or concrete floors which are much more durable and can be partially covered with throw rugs which are often made with cotton or wool, can be removed and thoroughly cleaned, are biodegradable and if tastes of the homeowner change, can be sold to another homeowner.