Protect the air your family breathes
The insider information on how to improve your indoor air quality
We Canucks spend most of our time indoors; the federal government estimates that more than 90 per cent of our day is spent in offices, malls or other enclosed spaces. Much of that time is spent in our homes. Yet on hearing the phrase “air pollution” people think–and are concerned about–the air outside. The reality is that the amount of toxins in the air of some homes can be as bad as, or worse than, that in a big city.
Biology vs. chemistry
Indoor air contaminants fall into two main categories: biological ones, such as mould, pollen and pet dander; and chemical ones, such as the combustion gases from HVAC equipment, off-gassing from building materials and cigarette smoke. These various impurities can lead to a number of illnesses, ranging from minor throat irritation and allergies to pneumonia and even cancer. Yet most, once identified, can be reduced or even eliminated. The best way to deal with dust and pet hair is to clean and vacuum your house frequently.
Mould occurs if the indoor air is too moist, typically in the basement (although it can happen anywhere in the home). Running a dehumidifier during muggy summer days is often enough to keep moisture levels down. Excessive dampness, say from a major water spill, may require more drastic measures. (The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. has detailed brochures on its website, explaining how to conduct a DIY cleanup and determine when you need to call in the pros.)
Bedrooms and other living spaces
Have you ever noticed how your house has that new-car smell after a renovation? That smell (in your home and car) is from the off-gassing of chemical components in the newly installed materials. The odour and off-gassing are often temporary, but you can reduce the long-term impacts by choosing the right building products to work with.
When painting, use products labelled low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) to minimize the noxious odours, or buy natural materials such as clay-based or milk paints. Always paint in a well-ventilated area (if there aren’t any windows in the room, consider wearing a respirator), and remove as much furniture as possible to prevent it from absorbing the smells.
For flooring, choose natural materials over manmade. Glue-down vinyl is probably the worst offender when it comes to off-gassing. And although carpet is the softest on the feet, synthetic materials will off-gas and all types of carpeting trap dust and allergens. Solid wood, floating laminate or tile flooring, on the other hand, won’t.
If you, as a reader of this magazine, are in the market for a kitchen or bathroom overhaul, it shouldn’t be too hard to sell you on the craftsmanship advantages of solid-wood cabinetry over cheaper particleboard. One feature you might not have considered is that particleboard cabinets are typically constructed with formaldehyde glues. And while formaldehyde may be the ideal solution for preserving frogs in biology class, it’s not so good for living things to be breathing in. If you do choose cabinets with particleboard, you can lessen off-gassing by applying a low-VOC sealer before installation.