What is that chemical smell? Why am I sneezing, feeling dizzy, or coughing in my brand new home or office? Why is my child’s asthma getting worse?
It could be the new carpet, the cabinetry, the paint, or the formaldehyde in the plywood.
Nobody wants to have these experiences when they move into their new home.
Unfortunately, most construction today is rife with chemicals and toxins that pollute our indoor air quality and negatively impact our short- and long-term health. Immediate effects of exposure to indoor pollutants include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), other health effects may show up either years after exposure has occurred or only after long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal.
The typical American home is built with materials that are laden with toxic chemicals. The most common is formaldehyde, which is found in most plywood, particle board, and other pressed wood products, used to make furniture, cabinets, shelves, and counter tops.
Other big offenders are solvents, which are oil-based paints, stains, wood preservatives, carpet glue, and other adhesives. These release dangerous fumes that contain volatile organic compounds. Other dangerous compounds commonly found in conventional building materials include pesticides, mildewcides, urea formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, and chromated copper arsenate. Relatively few of the chemical compounds used to create or treat conventional building materials have been tested for their effects on humans, and almost none for their effects on children.
In addition, newer homes are designed to be air-tight – they lack proper ventilation. This traps indoor pollutants and creates an environment ripe for mold growth. Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. The average American spends approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Air pollution levels inside the average new home in the United States are 2 to 5 times worse – and occasionally more than 100 times – than the air pollution levels outside.
According to the EPA, an attached garage is the biggest contributor to poor indoor air quality in a home. Car exhaust contains carbon monoxide, as well as carcinogenic contaminants that can migrate into living spaces through doors and cracks in walls and ceilings adjacent to the garage.
Exposure to even a small percentage of very toxic garage air can be unhealthy. In one study in Anchorage, Alaska, researchers found that almost all of the houses in their study were operating under negative pressure relative to the garage due to the stack effect. Essentially, this means homes were sucking CO and other airborne contaminants through the common walls and ceilings. CO transfer was particularly high where furnace ductwork was located in the garage, because leaks in the ducts provide a ready way for CO to get into the house.
When Clarum builds a home, we take all of the above factors into consideration. The first thing we ensure is that there is zero added formaldehyde to any of the building materials. Cabinets often have particle board, which are big offenders. Clarum provides alternatives that have no particle board or MDFs (medium density fiber-board).
Our team also looks at all of the glues, caulks, paints, and carpets that go into the passive homes we build. Specifically, we review their Green Guard rating and get the lowest we can for each element, such as low- to no-VOC paints.
“For me, it’s more altruistic,” says CEO John Suppes. “I’m building the type of house that I want to live in and that I want my kids to live in.”
When we build a home with an attached garage, which many homeowners find convenient, we install 2 to 3 exhaust fans. Every time the garage door is open or closed, these fans go off, expelling the noxious air to the outside. This also keeps the home from having negative pressure relative to the garage. We take great care to seal the walls and ceiling between the house and the garage.
In addition to eliminating toxic chemicals used in the building process, our other big line of defense against indoor air pollution is heat recovery ventilation. Clarum uses a super high efficiency HRV that continuously brings in fresh air and exhausts old air. In a normal house at night, you are depleting the house of oxygen while you sleep. With the HRV, you are running the fresh air right into the bedrooms. You can also turn up the exhaust when you are taking a shower, or any other time you desire. This is a big indoor air quality factor as well, and helps reduce indoor moisture that can lead to mildews and molds.
All air coming into the passive home is filtered through an air filter, allowing all air in the home to be clean – free of pollens and particulates. All of the stale air from the home is exhausted through the other side of the HRV. With this system, the air in the house is exchanged 9 times a day with fresh air. In addition, because a passive home is so energy efficient, there is no need for a furnace at all. The system recovers 90 percent of the heat, while running on just 12 Watts, about the amount of electricity it takes to power a hairdryer. In a traditional house, a furnace contributes to indoor air pollution because air that passes through a flame combusts and burns dust adding particulates.
At Clarum, we understand your concerns about indoor air quality, and the necessity to avoid issues like mold, radon, carbon monoxide, and toxic chemicals.
“The way we’re building these passive homes,” says John Suppes, “will be the way that homes are required to be built in the future. Clarum incorporates the best use of the latest technology and materials to create custom homes that are healthier and more comfortable.”
To achieve superior indoor air quality, we pay very close attention to the home’s moisture control systems, pest management, heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC) and combustion venting systems and building materials. Our attention to these details means a home that has less dust, lower pollutants, and is more comfortable and healthier for you and your family.
To learn more about our passive home construction, please call us at 650.322.7069