The benefits of a green home when it comes to indoor environmental quality are unparalleled by the common traditional spec home. In a well conceived green home you will not find VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) offgassing and slowly deteriorating indoor air and thus potentially causing allergies, asthma and other more serious illnesses.
Ubiquitous in the typical home which flourished in the valley for years, many materials may have included foam insulation containing neurotoxic toluene from polyurethane. Other common threats found in older homes are probably carcinogenic and/or respiratory-irritant (VOCs) from indoor paints, material glues, different types of artifical finishes and of course carpets; Now mostly forbidden for commercial use, formaldehyde in pressed-wood products like particle board and wood finishes are potentially carcinogenic and unfortunately were used many years in standard construction. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) which contains Phthalates, have been linked to obesity and asthma, and are found in pipes and floor tiles commonly used by run of the mill homes.
But now we have many good choices and more are being produced in ongoing bases which help combat the sick building syndrome insidiously affecting many of us today. Here are some basic handy suggestions to begin your awareness on how to tackle Indoor Environmental Quality in new or existing homes.
- Must have well designed Fresh Air Ventilation system to deliver filtered fresh air and help reduce dust, unwanted odors and indoor contaminants. Regular changes of air in the house are a must to maintain a healthier environment.
- Your HVAC should correctly be controlling the balanced air pressure throughout the home which results in more-even temperatures and reduces the potential for condensation reducing the potential growth of moldy surfaces. Key for healthy homes is the internal moisture management of your HVAC equipment.
- Use Air filters with a MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) of 8 or greater and change them every 3 months for best results. Also electronic air cleaners help provide added protection in rooms that may be more susceptible to contaminants and stagnated air.
- Using paints with low levels of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) reduces indoor pollutants and are offered in a broad range of colors and textures from many manufacturers. Also consider using wall finishes employing natural clay plaster as alternatives to gypsum or cement.
- When using carpets, make sure they are labeled with the Carpet Rug and Institute (CRI) Green Label. This certifies that is a low VOC type limiting the potential off-gassing substances in the carpet. There are modular carpets featuring PVC-free, recycled-fiber backing which is also a good green approach. On the even greener side consider natural-fiber rugs and carpets made from hemp, wool, jute, seagrass and coir made from coconut husks.
- CO detectors are recommended in conditioned spaces to monitor and help avoid build-up of carbon monoxide. Often allow fresh air in the house and avoid vent-free fireplaces. This applies anywhere where there is combustion equipment.
- Cabinets built with composite panels should meet the standards of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association Environmental Stewardship Program (www.kcma.org). Always use manufacturers that employ woods from managed forests.
- When adding new flooring, it is best to use the green choice FSC-certified and reclaimed wood flooring manufacturer. They should show that is virtually VOC-free and many of the products are now formaldehyde-free. Other choices like bamboo, cork, oak with low-VOC finishes are available as well.
- When building new or adding a bathroom or kitchen use pipes that are PVC-free polypropylene plastic pipes that require no glue.
- Insulating your new construction is best with spray foam Insulation that is soy-based polyurethane. This sprayable insulation does not release microfiber particles like fiberglass and are very efficient and clean. Other choices are recycled cotton fiber fabrics like denim which also do not release airborne particles.
Besides having the benefits of an energy conscious working home, having healthy indoors adds immense value to your life and helps the sustainable effort to protect the environment. Using local natural materials, products manufactured with recycle content and getting advice from a LEED accredited professional consultant will considerably help improve the quality of your indoor environment. When calculating the added dollar value of these sustainable solutions, the delta is in average a 10% to 15% increase in construction cost to the unhealthier alternates. We will visit next a few suggestions for water efficiency and what we can easily achieve with little effort in our desert city.
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