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7 Health Hazards You Might Not Expect in Your House

Plus Alternatives to Eliminate Them

© tvildanov

Our homes offer us protection from the elements, privacy for the occupants and are the centerpiece of our lives. We rarely hear about them seriously affecting our health either in a beneficial or a detrimental way, but the environments in which we live can indeed contribute to ill health or be supportive to healing and vibrancy in our lives.

Conventional construction these days has been developed in the arenas of price conscious buyers, industry suppliers and codes that help to achieve better efficiency, but often these developments have left out of the equation the impact on the end users’ health and well-being. Here are some of the elements of modern construction that can be detrimental to an occupant’s health as well as some solutions to create a healthier and more supportive environment for you and your family.

  1. Forced air heat – Though it seems like the ideal modern way to heat our homes, forced air heat can create a lack of negative ions in the air. As the heated air travels through metal ductwork, a positive electric charge on the metal can attract the negative ions to the sides of the ducts, taking them out of the airflow. Exposure to negative ion-depleted air has been known to cause nerve, glandular and digestive problems, hyperthyroid response, headaches, tension and exhaustion. To avoid depleted negative ion environments, radiant boiler heat is a great alternative. Removing synthetic materials from the home, adding indoor plants and increasing natural ventilation also help.
  1. Building code requirements Though important, some requirements can be damaging to your house. Vapor barriers are required to stop moisture from creating mold in your walls and ceilings. Though this sounds simple and necessary, moisture moves through house walls differently depending on the humidity in the air. During a Minnesota winter, activities like bathing, cooking and even breathing create moisture in a closed environment. Vapor barriers directly behind drywall do not allow moisture to pass through the wall cavity thus causing damage. Alternately, Minnesota summers can get very humid and running air conditioners dries the interior air, thus humidity on the outside of the walls leaves most of the wall vulnerable to that same moisture. If you are remodeling or building a new home and want to avoid this seasonally dependent issue, consider a new product called MemBrain (CertainTeed.com/resources/30-28-080.pdf) which is temperature sensitive to which way the moisture can travel through the vapor barrier thus solving the problem of trapped moisture inside walls.
  1. Drywall – Most drywall today is made of industrial or synthetic gypsum, a waste product of coal-fired electric power plants. This synthetic gypsum can be radioactive, and its dust can become a toxic breeding ground in your sinus cavity. Once gypsum dust lodges in your nasal passages, it can give the occasional mold spore entering the same space a great source of food. If you are exposed to higher levels of mold, your sinus cavity can then supply your entire body with mold spores which can create many types of illness in your body from immune suppression to chronic lung disease. Walls covered in wood, lime plaster or a healthier alternative called magnesium oxide (MgO) board are great substitutes for drywall.
  1. Wall-to-wall carpeting – Though quite common, the installation of carpeting creates a dust and microparticulate trap, and although we think vacuuming carpets regularly helps, it barely puts a dent in the amount of dirt, dust and other particulates that stay lodged in carpeting. These particulates can create a great source of food for mold if the carpeting comes in contact with a moisture source. Synthetic carpeting and carpet padding are also sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde. There are more than 100 toxic chemicals used to create modern carpeting which can continue off-gassing and polluting indoor air quality for years. Hardwood floors with water-based finishes, cork, stone or natural linoleum are the best solutions for flooring, especially in bedrooms where we spend extended periods of time.
  1. Radon – An odorless, colorless and radioactive soil gas from the decay of uranium, radon is relatively harmless in outside air due to lack of concentration, however, when it seeps into our homes and builds up, it is known to cause lung cancer second only to cigarette smoking. Radon is relatively simple to mitigate using sub slab suction systems. Current Minnesota building codes require radon mitigation systems during new construction.
  1. Municipal city water A plethora of contaminants from arsenic to polyvinyl chloride (from glues and solvents used for attaching plumbing pipes together) along with aging infrastructure, fluoridation and chlorination can create health hazards for home occupants that drink and shower with this water. While it’s important that our water source is disinfected with methods such as chlorination, its introduction to water can create carcinogenic byproducts such as TCH. When heated, it creates chloroform, a VOC, which is carcinogenic if inhaled in excessive amounts. Whole house filters and point-of-source drinking water filters such as reverse osmosis systems can go a long way to keep a home’s water healthy for its occupants.
  1. Attached garages – Though convenient during frigid Minnesota winters, they are also a source of petrochemicals polluting the inside air quality. It has been proven to take eight hours to dissipate airborne smells and particles from moving a car one time into or out of the garage. Options for eliminating these types of polluting petrochemicals from a home include installing a fan to continuously pull air out of the garage space, detaching the garage, creating a fresh air breezeway between the garage and the house or simply sealing the garage door entrance to the house and walking through the yard to get inside.

This list is just a small sampling of the hazards we unwittingly live with every day. There is hope, however. New construction movements such as Building Biology and Green Building are making an effort to inform consumers and help the building industry right the wrongs of its methods to create healthier environments for occupants. Our homes can positively impact our health and support our well-being. It just takes some adjustments to modern construction methods and an awareness of what we are installing into our homes.

Carrigan Curtis is a residential designer and a licensed general contractor in the Twin Cities area. She owns Carrigan Curtis Design Build, LLC and has an educational background in Green Building and BioGeometry, and is a certified Building Biology Advocate. For more information, call 612-282-3470 or visit CarriganCurtis.com. 

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