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Healthy Building Principle #2: Separate

By HHI Staff

The second principle of healthy construction involves separating unhealthy materials from the air you breathe. This can be done when it is not economically, or logistically, feasible to eliminate a polluting material, or substitute a healthy one.


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Lead paint is a perfect example. You may discover that removing the lead paint from your walls will require a ten-thousand-dollar expenditure that you simply can’t afford. While removal may be the best solution, a second best choice may be quite acceptable. Many experts recommend that you cover up the lead paint so that it is no longer exposed to the occupants. Walls can be covered with new drywall and wood trim, or doors can be coated with a special encapsulating paint. It might also be possible for you to perform a combination of procedures. You might have the woodwork stripped of all lead paint and then use an encapsulant on the walls.


If you separate problematic materials from the living space, then they can’t pollute that space. Even though it may not be a good idea to have a jar of formaldehyde sitting on a shelf in your house, it can’t affect your health if the lid is screwed on tightly. The formaldehyde is separated from the living space by the glass jar and the metal lid. In a similar way, the air in the attic may be somewhat polluted, but if it doesn’t leak into the living space, it should be of little concern because it can’t get to you and affect your health.


With lead paint and asbestos, encapsulants have become popular and lower-cost alternatives to trying to totally remove the contaminant. Encapsulation is separation carried to its extreme, it means 100% containment. Sometimes encapsulation is a good idea, but for some materials a perfect seal is not always necessary.


Insulation is a material that I highly recommend separating from the living space. With negative health effects associated with most of the insulating products on the market today, I feel that an airtight barrier between the insulation and the occupied living space is an excellent idea. I don’t feel that it is necessary to totally encapsulate the insulation however. If it is exposed to your attic, I don’t see that as a problem as long as you don’t live in the attic. However, if ductwork runs through such an attic, then the seams in the ducts must be carefully sealed in order to keep them from being contaminated. Also, if your attic is to be converted to living space during a remodeling project, then the insulation must be kept out of the new space, and you should take care to avoid polluting the rest of the house during the construction process.


(From Healthy House Building for the New Millennium: A Design & Construction Guide, published by The Healthy House Institute.)
(This article is from the archives of the original Healthy House Institute, and the information was believed accurate at the time of writing.)
(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)



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The Healthy House Institute (HHI), a for-profit educational LLC, provides the information on as a free service to the public. The intent is to disseminate accurate, verified and science-based information on creating healthy home environments.


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Healthy Building Principle #2: Separate:  Created on November 29th, 2008.  Last Modified on February 28th, 2011


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