Healthy Buildings

Until recently no one thought about their homes as a potential health problem, but in fact the problem has been brewing for a long time and only recently has it gotten so bad that it has received a lot of attention.  There is a common perception that unhealthy houses and "sick building syndrome" are a byproduct of modern hi-tech construction methods and materials, and to some degree this is true, but pollutants, particularly smoke and mold have plagued occupants  ever since humans started building houses. Older houses do contain less material that emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), but often contain lead based paint, sometimes have lead piping (and almost certainly lead based solder on copper piping), and possibly asbestos in various places.1

Why is this suddenly such a problem, and what can be done about it?  Read more...

Moisture control is the key to preventing mold, and consists of two complementary strategies: keep water out (rainwater and groundwater), and keep the humidity below 70%, which is the threshold for mold growth.  Full details are in the moisture control section.

Even with moisture levels perfectly controlled, insulated cavities can collect moisture and if there a cold vapor barrier in there, the moisture will condense.  We keep moisture out of walls by some combination of air barriers, vapor barriers and keeping any internal vapor barrier above the dew point so any moisture that gets in can't condense.  For more details on condensation in walls and ceilings,  see the condensing potential section

The first line of defense is to prevent contaminants in the first place. This involves knowing what they are, and what healthier substitutes exist. Details are in the toxics section.

While prevention is the best strategy, contaminants inevitably arise from everyday activities like cooking, so there needs to be strategy for removing them.  This is done by ventilation and filtrationRead more...

Resources

A Guide to Planning, Building & Maintaining a Healthier Home, Dan Morris,
Columbia Design Group, 1999

Prescriptions for a Healthy House, Paula Baker, Erica Elliot & John Banta, Inword Press, 1998

Healthy by Design, David Rousseau & James Wasley, Hartley & Marks, 1997

Understanding Ventilation, John Bower, The Healthy House Institute, 1995

Moisture Control Handbook, Joe Lstiburek& John Carmody, John Wiley, 1994

Builders Guide to Cold Climates, Joe Lstiburek, EEBA, 2001

American Lung Assn. Health House site:  http://www.healthhouse.org 

http://www.ehw.org/Links/LINK_Healthy_House.htm contains lots of good links


Notes

1: the good old days were often less good than is often thought.