There’s a lot to think about when you’re building or remodeling a home, from hiring the right architect to controlling your budget and timeline. What you may not consider are the materials and processes used. Understanding what to watch for and knowing what to discuss with your tradespeople will go a long way towards protecting the air quality inside your home, and most importantly, your and your family’s health. Here are four things to keep in mind when building or remodeling your home:
1. Radon — an invisible, odorless, and tasteless gas that is produced naturally when uranium breaks down in soil, rock, and water — is the second leading cause of cancer (after smoking) and is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Be sure to discuss radon-resistant construction features with your builder and always conduct a radon test after moving into your new home, and before and after major renovations.
2. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from a wide array of products, and may cause adverse health effects, such as headaches, nausea, and eye, skin, and throat irritation. Some
sources of VOCs are paints, paint strippers, wood preservatives, building materials, furnishings, and many other products. Look for alternatives such as latex water-based paints, low-volatility paints, water-based paint strippers, and natural, solid wood instead of engineered wood. When your project is complete, make sure leftover paints and other chemicals are tightly sealed and stored in a cool, dry place.
3. Proper ventilation means having adequate exchange of indoor and outdoor air. Build an airtight living environment and you risk trapping harmful pollutants in your home. Build a home with too much ventilation (a.k.a., air leaks) and you risk moisture problems, such as mold or rot. Talk with your contractor about spot ventilation, which uses localized exhaust fans to remove pollutants and moisture at the source, versus whole house ventilation, which involves installing fans and duct systems, to decide what’s right for you.
4. Asbestos, a known human carcinogen, may be found in building and construction products, such as insulation, roofing, and fireproofing materials. In particular, homes built before 1950 often used a type of insulation that might contain asbestos. If you’re remodeling a home that was built before 1950 or need to cut into or otherwise damage asbestos-containing materials (insulation, cement roofing and siding shingles, boilers, and vinyl floor tiles, for example), hire contractors trained and certified in handling asbestos. Safe insulation can be purchased from green building suppliers, including formaldehyde-free cotton insulation or insulation made from recycled materials.