How-To Healthy Homes
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Trans 1) Sick Home Syndrome Trans
2) Construction Techniques
3) Finishing Materials
4) Household Hazards

Sick Home Syndrome

house with siding removedThe catch phrase "Sick Homes" describes homes with poor, even hazardous, living environments.

There are several sources which can make homes uncomfortable and unhealthy to live in. And a basic problem is poor air quality often caused by too little ventilation.

Inadequate ventilation may be a combination of things. New houses are insulated and sealed so well that no fresh air enters in. Moisture builds up but can't escape and that makes a perfect breeding ground for mold.

Also, some types of building materials emit vapors that are harmful or discomforting to many people. Such conditions eventually make a house "sick."


Summary of Problems



"Sick House" symptoms develop because the house literally can't breathe. As a result, it gets congested with internal pollutants.

Especially in winter, pollutants can be more abundant when air flow is less. Common sources of pollutants in the home are Carpets, Furnace, Fireplace, pressed wood Cabinets & Cupboards, excessive moisture.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) consist of a range of chemicals that are released into the air over time. Often described as that pleasant, "new smell," VOCs can be harmful. Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause headaches, nausea and irritate eyes, throat and nose.

Pollutant Found In
VOCS Carpet, Paint, Fabric
Mold & Mildew Air Conditioner, Humidifyer, Heat Ducts
Nitrogen Dioxide Wood-burning Stove & Fireplace Smoke

Resin-based Particleboard, Fiberboard, Cabinets, Countertops, Carpet, Fabric

Radon Gas Seeps Through Cracks in Foundation
Airborne Particles Carpets, Ducts

Can you smell if there's trouble? Yes, and no. Even the pros must rely on sophisticated equipment. But to a degree, the nose knows.

Newly introduced VOCs, especially in carpet, can easily be detected by the odor they give off. They smell "new." Open up a cupboard door and smell. If it smells "funny," formaldehyde may be present. If you see discolored walls, it may be mold.

One's senses aren't always reliable, so if you're unsure, have the home professionally tested. That may cost about $200, but it's money well spent.

If you're thinking of buying a house, consider hiring an inspector who is experienced and will look for signs of possible indoor pollutants.


Summary of Solutions

All those creepy dust mites, molds and VOCs seem to make a house unfit to live in. Thankfully, there are some simple, cost-effective solutions to reduce/eliminate many pollutants.

  • Change furnace filter once a month.
  • Run bathroom vent fan when showering to discourage mold growth
  • Clean humidifier and air conditioning drain pans
  • No smoking
  • Let new carpet, drapes, furniture "air out" before bringing inside
  • Keep gutters clean to avoid moisture penetration
  • Repair cracks in basement/foundation
  • Regularly clean and tune all fuel-burning appliances/fireplaces
    (From the American Lung Association, Minneapolis Affiliate)

Sealed combustion units such as the gas furnace and hot water heater prevent dangerous gases from entering the home.

One of the best ways to enhance air quality is to install a whole house Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV), which we discuss in our section on Ventilation.