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Blog/Opinion: Q&A on Home Hazards - Content That Works

By HHI Staff

Following are questions and answers posed to HHI by Content That Works, a group "dedicated to helping local media and local businesses thrive by creating high-quality editorial products that attract readers."

 

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1. What are some of the most serious environmental hazards that homeowners face?
 
Indoor Air Quality – with the 70s oil shortages and subsequent energy crunches, homes have been “tightened” to save energy lowering ventilation rates. Hence, homeowners and renters are often like “bugs” that kids capture and place in jars but without air holes punched in the lids of the jars. The best solution is controlled mechanical ventilation using third-party certified products such as represented by the non-profit Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) www.hvi.org. Short of that, opening two windows helps, one with a box fan placed in it blowing toward the outside, and one to allow fresh air to be sucked in.

Water Quality – since clean water is one of life’s fundamentals, people should pay more attention to what comes out of their taps for drinking. Municipal water treatment technology - utilizing chlorine - has indeed protected us from many of the former ills of water contaminated with bacteria and other microbes, but other unwanted elements can be present in modern city water, depending on the source of the water and localized conditions, such as lead from house pipes and other contaminants. Point of Use (POU) filters can be very effective, and non-profits such as the Water Quality Association (WQA) www.wqa.org can be quite helpful in finding certified products that work to remove pollutants from water.

 

2. What are some environmental hazards that homeowners may not even know about?

Radon gas entering homes is a pretty widespread and common problem. It comes from underground rocks and enters homes undetected causing lung-cancer over time – no smoking required. Radon detection kits are inexpensive, and correcting the problem is simple although not necessarily inexpensive. See: http://www.healthyhouseinstitute.com/searches.php?query_string=Radon+&x=0&y=0

 

3. Many hazards are required to be disclosed by law but several aren’t that still pose a serious threat. Why do you think the laws and regulations haven’t quite caught up?

It is difficult to establish causality, i.e., to find a direct connection between a potential hazard such as certain VOCs and human illness. This is because people do not live in “bubbles” or controlled environments where one pollutant can be introduced into their breathing space to see what happens to them, but indoor air, a classic example, is a complex, changing mixture, and people have a wide range of resistances and susceptibilities that is impossible to quantify. Hence, you cannot outlaw something that has not proven to be harmful – unlike asbestos, which has been banned because it causes asbestosis.

 

4. What do you think is the deadliest/most serious environmental hazard that can be found in a home and why?

 

Indoor air issues are high on the list – notably airborne formaldehyde since it is a known carcinogen - http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/formaldehyde - and is found in common furnishings and cabinets, notably those made with particle board.

 

5. A lot of REO and foreclosed properties have been sitting for a while and tend to have something wrong with them that may not be obvious from first glance. How can home buyers protect themselves against purchasing a seemingly safe—but actually quite dangerous—home?

Get it checked by a qualified home inspector - http://www.ashi.org/ and a qualified, IICRC-certified water damage or mold inspector - http://iicrc.org/consumers/care/water-damage/ - who can locate water and mold issues.

 

6. What are some environmental hazards that homeowners with children should especially be on the lookout for? Can they be prevented?

 

In older homes built or upgraded up to 1978 (and beyond if older paint was used), lead paint was commonly applied, and paint chips and dust can be very harmful to the mental and other development of kids, so if lead paint exists, it should be remediated and-or painted over with a coat of a safer modern paint to keep it away from kids. The work should be done by trained specialists not homeowners.
 
According to EPA: “The older the home, the better chance it contains some lead-based paint (LBP). A rule of thumb: built before 1950 -- probably LBP both inside and out. Between 1950 and 1960 -- probably LBP outside, maybe not inside. Between 1961 and 1970 --some chance for outside LBP, probably not inside. Between 1971 and 1978 -- slight chance of LBP. NOTE: though LBP was essentially banned in 1978, some existing LBP might have been used for two or more years afterwards (i.e., to 1980 or 1981). The only way to tell positively if you have LBP is to have it properly tested by a professional.”  http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/lp-faqhealth.htm. See also: http://epa.gov/lead/index.html.
 

7. Anything else?

 

Yes, people should keep in mind there are three basic steps to improving the IAQ safety of homes:
 
1)     Eliminate
2)     Separate
3)     Ventilate

 

To minimize the impact of air pollutants, you have three choices. You can eliminate the polluting material completely, you can separate yourself from the polluting material (build a barrier between you and it), or you can ventilate (dilute the concentration of what's in the air).

 

Eliminate, Separate, Ventilate: These are the three basic principles of a healthy house.
 
Also, homes should be considered systems or ecosystems, looked at as a whole, not parts.        

Lastly, the three known ways to improve IAQ - in order of importance - are:

 

1)     Source capture (removing the source of pollutants)
2)     Ventilation (bringing in fresh air, diluting and removing stale, polluted air)
3)     Air cleaning (cleaning the air)

 

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(Note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)

Q&A on Home Hazards - Content That Works:  Created on March 25th, 2013.  Last Modified on March 26th, 2013

 

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