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Due to the technological advancements in North America, we tend to use the most durable and cost-effective materials when building and renovating our homes.  This has created new chemicals everyday in the air that our families breathe. Our lungs are protected by our bodies via nose hair, mucous etc., but new products now emit chemicals so small, that our bodies can not inhibit them from entering our lungs.  This is one of the reasons for the increase of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

These materials are not hazardous unless degraded or disturbed during construction, renovation or demolition.  That 'new car smell' is actually chemical off gassing, which is unhealthy to breathe.  The average home contains 1500 hazardous compounds from 3000 man-made products.  VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) are emitted into our living environment via these building materials as well as personal products and cleaning products, many of which are suspected or known carcinogens.  Formaldehyde is contained in an abundance of building materials including carpet, cabinets, countertops and paneling. 

Important factors to consider with respect to building materials are emissions, toxicity, quantities and proximity, and all these factors increase as temperature goes up.  Humidity is also a factor as some materials have components that are unstable when exposed to water.  A synergistic effect can occur when a certain building material is considered low emission, but is used vastly throughout the house and can combine with other substances in the air and have a negative impact on air quality.

Chemicals emitted from building materials around your home can come from the following sources:

  • Adhesives can contain organic solvents that produce vapours
  • Common emissions associated with cabinets and countertops are wood terpenes, plastic resin vapour from sheet materials and emissions from wood binders
  • Floors usually have a whole system of components that are potential sources of emission during installation, while in use and when being cleaned and waxed 
  • Carpets can gather and re-distribute emissions from other building materials. 
  • Foundation materials can produce emissions from concrete and their additives, form-release oil residue and asphalt based damp-proofing materials  (exposed concrete also emits dust continuously)
  • Insulation can release particulate and gaseous pollutants
  • Some paints, sealers and coatings take a few days to cure, while others take a few months prolonging the exposure to the chemicals released. 

When selecting materials for home renovation, minimize the use of products or materials with high levels of VOCs.  To learn more on healthy building materials please refer to the guide released by the CMHC titled ‘Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive.'

Here are some guidelines to follow to minimize the airborne contaminants to which you and your family are exposed:

  • Use pre-glued or water based adhesives for flooring tiles or non-porous ceramic flooring
  • Limit the use of formaldehyde based particleboard and laminate or seal off exposed surfaces and edges to reduce off gassing.
  • Cover the underside of countertop near dishwasher to prevent subjecting it to humidity with galvanized metal
  • Use an effective, outdoor-vented range hood and always have a balanced ventilation system. 
  • Use paints and sealants that do not emit VOCs, and choose materials with a low odour
  • While paint, sealers and coatings are curing keep very well ventilated and doing so can actually speed up the process and prevent odours from building up and being absorbed by other surfaces like carpeting
  • Concrete must be sealed; this can be accomplished by finishing the surface with a water based wax sealer to contain concrete dust
  • Air barriers placed on the interior of the walls will prevent the entry of any contaminants within the building envelope
  • Intake and exhaust vents must not be located near to sources of contamination
  • Make sure insulated areas are well sealed so no contaminants filter into the living space
  • Make sure the existing heating and ventilation system has adequate capacity
  • The use of a central air filtration system with activated carbon will help rid the home of odours and chemicals.

Effects experienced from some building materials are most prevalent during and shortly after the application or use of the product, although these effects can linger much longer than that, sometimes many years. 

  • Chemical vapours from solvents can affect respiratory and central nervous system and organs
  • Formaldehyde can cause irritation to eyes, nose and throat as well as persistent coughing and respiratory distress, skin irritation, headache, dizziness and nausea, nose bleeds
  • Sand in mortar mixes may contain radon, which promotes the development of lung cancer
  • If concrete is not damp-proofed it can provide growing conditions for mould, and lime in concrete is an irritant that affects those with breathing disorders such as asthmaand emphysema. 

If someone in your family suffers from environmental sensitivities, please call today to learn how to minimize VOC's in your home, or if you are renovating or moving into a new home, ask us how you can accelerate the off-gassing process of new materials using the Ozone Treatment.
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