The idea of living in a healthy house has become more appealing to homeowners, especially in recent years due to growing health concerns over indoor air pollution as well as concerns about protecting the environment.
While many nontoxic homes are generally eco-friendly, the terms are not interchangeable. Some recyclable, sustainable materials that are touted as safe for the environment are not necessarily safe for humans. Not all green building materials are equal.
What Is a Truly Healthy House?
Generally speaking, a healthy house is one in which there are no pollutants or at least a very minimum of pollutants circulating within the living space of the residence.
Even though we may think of our homes as safe havens of comfort, many are built with such toxic building materials that there are constant fumes emitting from everyday products that are used to construct, furnish and maintain the home.
Conventional carpets, paints, plywood, particle board, synthetic floors, cleaners, finishes, adhesives, and pesticides are just some of the more common culprits emitting toxic fumes in the ordinary house.
Poor indoor air quality is often the equivalent of sitting in rush hour traffic for an hour and breathing in the toxic fumes of hundreds of cars.
Only within the last 30 years have there been serious anecdotal evidence, as well as research-based proof, that indoor toxicity can and has damaged people’s health in various ways.
Production of Construction and Household Chemicals Escalated After WWII
The health and well-being of many people was compromised in the aftermath of WWII, when wide development of synthetic chemicals in just about every manufacturing arena began to meet the high demand of eager consumers.
The proof of this health-related phenomenon has been evidenced by the upsurge of environmentally-based health syndromes, cancers, respiratory conditions, hormone disruption, and neurological conditions. Houses have literally become a toxic cesspool for many people who unknowingly spend a good portion of their lives in their supposedly safe haven.
The biggest offender for indoor air pollution is the toxic building materials that are used in most common construction designs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these materials can cause from two to five times more indoor pollution than actually exists outside.
Health Hazards of VOCs
While there are many chemicals used to produce these conventional materials for home construction. Petrochemical fumes, also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are some of the most toxic.
VOCs are found in paints, stains, adhesives, particle board, plywood, plastics, vinyls, sealers, and a variety of other construction products.
Another common toxic chemical found in building materials is formaldehyde which is used in the production of particle board, prefab cabinets and other synthetic or partial wood products. There are also many other chemicals laced throughout a wide variety of building products.
These toxic materials tend to offgas or evaporate into the air that is breathed within homes. Some materials can tend to offgas for years. Houses that were built post-1970’s emit toxic indoor air pollution the most because they have been well-sealed to conserve energy.
Interior furnishings such as synthetic carpet can constantly emit polluted air every time you walk on the floor since the movement stirs the material and causes the toxins to swirl back up into the air.
Many people experience short-term reactions to VOCs such as dizziness, headaches, watery eyes, respiratory problems, sneezing, rashes and other allergy-like symptoms. Long term exposure to some of the most toxic chemicals in a home can result in serious health problems as mentioned earlier.
Compounding the toxicity of typical houses is the fact that a combination of materials emit chemical fumes all at once which can produce an even more toxic mix of indoor air.
How to Create a Healthy House
If you’re already in a dwelling that you realize has poor indoor air quality and you or someone in your home is already experiencing health reactions to it, it’s important that your first step is to locate the problem and work on solving it immediately.
For example, if you realize that the new carpet that you just installed is causing runny noses, wheezing, coughing, burning eyes, headaches and dizziness, the best thing to do is to simply remove the entire carpet. This, of course, can be costly but good health is more important in the long run.
You can then begin to systematically eliminate the most toxic materials and areas in your home, while eventually creating a much safer, healthier house in which to live. Of course, in serious cases, it’s best to move from the house until the problem has been corrected.
‘Green’ is Not Always Clean
If you’re planning on building, there’s no better time to design a healthy house than at the outset.
Remember, the rule of thumb is that ‘green is not always clean’, so do your homework before using any building materials, even if they are advertised as green building products.
Did you know that some “eco” flooring is actually made from recycled car and truck tires? Even though it’s great for cleaning up the environment and recycling materials, the petrochemicals and VOCs in a product like this may still cause poor indoor air quality. So, beware of eco-friendly claims about anything you use.
Basically, you can use almost any traditional house plan and replace the conventional materials with nontoxic materials wherever possible. You can also get house plans that are designed to spec with all requirements for the ultimate nontoxic, green home.
Because of the increased demand from health conscience consumers, there are a number of companies that are now specializing in no VOC or low VOC paints, finishes, adhesives, natural flooring, plywood, grout, sealers and much more that can help you create a truly safe, healthy house.