A breath of fresh air

Throughout the win­ter months up to 90% of the air we breathe is in­doors. Best make sure it’s up to scratch.

Element - - Healthy Homes - By Jo­hann Bern­hardt

We breathe ap­prox­i­mately 11,000 litres of air ev­ery day with 50 to 90% of this be­ing in­doors. There­fore min­imis­ing or elim­i­nat­ing air pol­lu­tants in the home be­comes es­sen­tial in our quest to cre­ate health­ier in­door en­vi­ron­ments.

So what’s wrong with our homes?

• Many houses are poorly in­su­lated and there­fore too hot in sum­mer and too cold in win­ter

• The poor qual­ity of our homes leads to damp in­door en­vi­ron­ments and con­den­sa­tion

• Three main groups of in­door air pol­lu­tants have been iden­ti­fied and need at­ten­tion. They are: - ma­te­rial off-gassing of tox­ins such as formalde­hyde, dioxin and oth­ers - par­ti­cles such as dust, dust mites, glass fi­bre, as­bestos and smoke par­ti­cles - mi­crobes such as mould, mildew, fungi and bac­te­ria.

What can we do to im­prove our liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment?

A good start is al­ways to make sure our house is well in­su­lated as a first step to cre­at­ing a com­fort­able in­door en­vi­ron­ment. It will be cooler in sum­mer and warmer in win­ter.

A warm house also helps to min­imise damp­ness and con­den­sa­tion. This is sig­nif­i­cant as cold and damp houses are mould breed­ing-grounds. Mould is one of the first key trig­gers of al­ler­gic re­ac­tions and can be the even­tual demise of the im­mune sys­tem lead­ing to life-de­bil­i­tat­ing symp­toms. In or­der to re­move mois­ture from the house there are a num­ber of sim­ple ven­ti­la­tion op­tions, in­clud­ing: • open­ing win­dows reg­u­larly, • us­ing ex­trac­tion fans or range­hoods in bath­rooms, laun­dry and kitchen, • avoid­ing un-flued gas heaters (which cre­ate large vol­umes

of mois­ture), • dry­ing clothes out­doors or, if us­ing a clothes dryer, mak­ing sure it is

vented to the out­side. Adding to these a vapour bar­rier and ad­e­quate ven­ti­la­tion un­der the house and we can achieve cost-ef­fec­tive and proven re­sults for re­duc­ing mois­ture in the home. The value of ven­ti­la­tion and good air cir­cu­la­tion around the whole house can’t be over-stated when aim­ing for a health­ier in­door en­vi­ron­ment.

Apart from re­mov­ing mois­ture and pre­vent­ing the growth of mould and mildew they also re­duce the build-up of air­borne tox­ins and pol­lu­tants.

In the last 50 years 80,000 new chem­i­cal com­pounds have been de­vel­oped and many of them have been used to im­prove the per­for­mance of build­ing ma­te­ri­als. All chem­i­cal com­pounds off-gas toxic fumes (Volatile Or­ganic Com­pounds – VOCs) into the air dur­ing the life­time of a build­ing ma­te­rial. The most com­mon el­e­ments are formalde­hyde (used to pro­duce man­u­fac­tured wood prod­ucts such as par­ti­cle board, MDF etc, also com­mon in car­pet un­der­lay), car­bon diox­ide and diox­ins (PVC, vinyl).

How to avoid formalde­hyde and other toxic off-gassing:

• Use nat­u­ral or ‘En­vi­ron­men­tal Choice’ cer­ti­fied lo­cal NZ ma­te­ri­als, paints and fin­ishes for floor, wall and ceil­ing, un­treated tim­ber, clay tile, brick, stone. • Avoid or re­duce PVC prod­ucts. • Use build­ing prod­ucts which have in­de­pen­dent in­door air qual­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tion such as the North Amer­i­can Greenguard and the Fin­nish M1 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. • If the house is over 30 years old it is best to pre­sume that it has been painted with lead-based paint. Seek pro­fes­sional help to sand or re­move paint. The third group of pol­lu­tants in the house are par­ti­cles such as dust and dust mites and those emit­ted from fur­nish­ings and build­ing ma­te­ri­als, such as as­bestos.

Dust mites are a sig­nif­i­cant asthma trig­ger. They thrive in warm and hu­mid en­vi­ron­ments which makes a bed their ideal home. Since ex­po­sure to air de­hy­drates the crea­tures an un­made bed may help you breathe eas­ier.

The poor qual­ity of our homes by no means con­cerns just old houses. Many new and ren­o­vated homes lack ad­e­quate in­su­la­tion, heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion and thus healthy in­door en­vi­ron­ments. If we value our fam­ily’s health and well­be­ing we have am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to make real im­prove­ments to our liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment – if we want to come home and be able to take a deep breath and re­lax – and feel good about it.

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