Certified Building Biology Environmental Inspector
11693 San Vicente Blvd., #342
Los Angeles, California 90049
www.createhealthyhomes.com Tips for a Healthy Home Improve Indoor Air Quality These tips for a healthy home are based upon recommendations taught by the International Institute of Bau-biologie and Ecology (IBE), Clearwater, Florida (727-461-4371; www.buildingbiology.net ) and comprise the material covered in the author’s Healthy Home lectures. They are also based upon his experience from almost five hundred environmental home and office inspections conducted in Minnesota and ten other states over the past several years.
The Twenty-Five Principles of Bau-biologie are presented at the end of these recommendations, as taught by the IBE.
For tips on making your home and office safer from harmful Electro-Magnetic Fields (“EMFs”) as well as Radio Frequencies from wireless communications, go to Oram’s website, www.createhealthyhomes.com and click on “Tips for a Healthy Home,” then click on the link to the handout entitled, “Reduce Your Exposure to Electric Fields, Magnetic Fields and Radio Frequencies (EMFs).”
For tips on ways to remodel an existing home or office in a healthy way without making you or your family sick, or to design and build a new building in a safe and healthy way, go to Oram’s website, www.createhealthyhomes.com and click on “Tips for a Healthy Home,” then click on the link to the handout entitled, “Recommendations for Healthy Renovations and New Home Construction.”
Avoid Mold by Doing the Following:
Providing adequate runoff for rooftop rainwater takes care of 90% of mold problems in a basement. Keep rain gutters clear of debris and downspouts in good working order. Make sure downspout extenders end at least several feet away from the foundation so that rainwater does not pool near the foundation.
Berm (or slope) the earth that is around the house so that there is at least a 5-10 degree slope for rainwater to drain away, not towards, the foundation.
If the ground around your house generally slopes toward your foundation on any side, install drain tile under the soil to carry excess rainwater away.
Don’t let a sprinkler spray directly against the side of the house.
Plant your flowerbeds and shrubs somewhat away from the house if you water them regularly.
In warmer weather, increase cross ventilation to the outdoors from your basement or crawl space.
In the winter, keep the basement or crawl space warmer than the temperature of the soil on the other side of the foundation or the crawl space stem wall, which is usually 55-60 degrees F. below frost line. This avoids condensation from forming on the inside of the stem wall.
Make sure air ducts that run in a basement or crawl space are tightly sealed with mastic tape. This avoids moist indoor air from leaking out in winter, which would allow moisture to condense on basement or crawl space walls, causing mold.
Do a good job of insulating any air ducts that run in your attic to avoid condensation and mold inside the ducts during hot summer days.
Make your attic cooler in summer by adding tiny thermal radiant beads to (non-toxic) paint and applying this paint to the underside of your roof. Made by Radiosity Radiant Barriers (www.radiosity.biz ).
Install solar powered roof fans, available from your local green materials retailer.
The roof should act much like an umbrella over the enclosed, insulated living space under the attic floor. The roof needs to be vented along its peak through a roof ridge vent and around its edges at the soffits to allow the attic to breathe, using plastic air chutes. You should feel a slight breeze blowing through a well-vented attic when the wind blows.
Seal all air penetrations to the attic from the living space below to avoid warm indoor air from entering the attic in winter. If warm air enters a cold attic, it causes snow to melt on the roof, run down the roof, and refreeze at the lower edges where the roof is cold once again over the overhangs and soffits. This is how ice dams are formed. More melting snow then pools behind the ice dam and the water migrates under roofing shingles, dripping onto insulation in the attic below and causing mold to grow. You see this as discoloration on your room ceilings and along the tops of your outer walls. You can prevent this by sealing all air penetrations into our attic from the living space below, including the installation of weather stripping around your attic hatch and sealing around chimneys and pipes.
Ventilate any rooms with excess moisture to the outside, such as bathrooms during and after showering. Do not vent exhaust fans into the attic. Consider installing a timer switch on your bathroom exhaust fan.
Choose whole house central air humidifiers for use in winter in which water flows-through, rather than models that blow air past a pan of stationary water. The latter can harbor mold, sending it throughout the house with the air stream. Aprilaire is one such manufacturer of flow-through central humidifiers (608-257-8801; www.aprilaire.com ).
Keep your central air conditioner well maintained and have an HVAC contractor inspect and clean the condenser coils with a cleanser to avoid mold. Be sure the cleanser is non-toxic.
Make sure window air conditioners drain the condensate water away from your house onto the ground outdoors, not onto a porch below.
Inspect and clean refrigerator drain pans regularly for standing water and mold growth.
Make sure all drainage hoses from air conditioner HVAC condenser units and whole house humidifiers in the basement actually end over a floor drain, not a few feet from them. Otherwise you end up with a perpetual wet spot on the basement cement floor that will support mold growth.
Consider purchasing an indoor air purifier. The unit that I recommend is an ozone-generating air purifier called the Royal Air air purifier (330-775-3014; www.royalairpurifiers.com ). The Royal Air makes no detectable nitrous oxide by-products as it creates abundant quantities of health-promoting higher weights of oxygen (O4 to O16). Research shows that nitrous oxide by-products are the cause of damage to the lung lining, not ozone itself. Nitrous oxide by-products are created by an electronic spark (which burns at 900 to 1,000 degrees F) as well as some frequencies of UV light. Both these technologies are used in other ozone-generating air purifiers but not the Royal Air. The Royal Air instead uses a “cold fusion” process (only 110 degrees F) to generate higher weights of oxygen, all without moving parts. Three independent outside laboratories have documented that the Royal Air does not create any detectable amounts of unhealthy nitrous oxide by-products. Call the R&D Department at Royal Air (330-775-3014) to get the full story. Also go to Royal Air’s website (www.royalairpurifiers.com ) and click on the link, “What Is Aran” to read how ozone produced without nitrous oxides is safe. Purchase a Royal Air air purifier through Dawn Radibaugh, 651-269-0347.
Mold Clean-Up Protocol
Dry out and clean up any water leaks ASAP, such as from a plumbing leak or rainwater intrusion into your house. The EPA says you have 24-48 hours to dry out the porous building materials before mold begins to grow to the point of no return. After that, even when dry, porous materials should be removed, discarded and replaced because even dry, dormant mold spores still remain and can be allergenic. They also carry toxic mycotoxins, that is, toxins produced by the mold when it was alive. Also if the area becomes wet again, mold will regrow quicker than 48 hours.
Be sure to fix the water intrusion problem first.
Homeowners can repair small mold jobs themselves if the affected area is generally less than ten square feet by following the guidelines in “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home” (www.epa.gov/iaq/mold/moldguide.html ) and “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings” (www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html ).
Be sure to wear a well-fitting N-95 respirator mask and protective goggles. Wear old clothing that you can discard or launder in hot water.
Seal off the mold infested room or area with plastic and seal the air vents into and out of the room. Put a fan in the window and blow the air out, so you in effect create negative pressure in the room. This is to avoid mold spores from spreading throughout the house, turning a small, confined job into a much bigger one.
You must be prepared for the fact that billions of mold spores could potentially be released into the air when you start opening up and demolishing mold-infested sheetrock, insulation, and tearing up moldy carpet and padding.
All porous materials that became wet must go, even if they are now dry. Through all infested materials out the window. Do not drag them through the rest of the house. Cut moldy carpet and padding in strips, roll it up, bag it, and discard it out the window.
Once you are down to solid, structural surfaces that must stay (studs, sheathing, subflooring, concrete slab in the basement), use non-toxic alternatives to bleach to kill and inhibit mold growth. Here are your options:
Vital Oxide (www.vitaloxide.com/ ) Vital Oxide is a non-toxic disinfectant and mold remover. Well-tolerated by chemically-sensitive individuals. Safe and effective. Available at local hardware stores.
Another good mold cleanser and mold killer is Thieves Oil, one of the Young Living Essential Oils (www.youngliving.com/thieves ). Thieves Oil is an historically effective blend of essential oils that has been shown to kill mold and inhibit its growth. It is applied in a diffuser or sprayed on as a topical non-toxic mold-killing cleanser. When diffused into the air it kills all mold spores on exposed surfaces. Thieves Oil and Thieves Oil Cleanser are available nationally through Linda Weber, a Young Living distributor in Bloomington, Minnesota (612-598-3949; email@example.com ).
Another non-toxic mold cleanser and mold killer is Sol-u-Mel, containing Tea Tree or Melaleuca oil (www.melaleuca.com/ProductStore/ProductSubCategory.aspx?id=54 ). Sol-u-Mel is used now exclusively by F.E.M.A. on all their flood relief jobs nationwide for mold cleanup and prevention. Contact your local representative of The Wellness Company (www.melaleuca.com ). Be sure to use a good scrub brush. Some mold experts say all you really need is a good surfactant (that is, a detergent – any non-toxic general purpose cleanser would work) and a scrub brush to lift the mold off.
HydrOxi Pro Concentrated Cleaner (www.coreproductsco.com/index.php/Concentrated_Cleaner ) is made by Core Products. It is a non-toxic hydrogen peroxide-based mold cleanser and mold killer; 800-825-2673.
Hazarid (www.hazarid.com ) is a safe user-friendly mold remediation kit for homeowners. It also kills Swine Flu and SARS. This product is especially useful if you have a bigger mold infestation. The fungicidal product used is a quarternary ammonium compound known as Sanifect-128 that requires some degree of protection when applying (equipment provided in the kit) but it does not leave a toxic residue. You can have a local contractor professionally treat your mold for you using Hazarid and carry out any demolition and remodeling necessary if it is a particularly large job, or you can apply it yourself. Shipped from St. Paul, Minnesota; 651-698-0454.
Additional mold killers and inhibitors include:
H2Orange2 Concentrate 117 and ONE (http://www.h2orange2.com/products-genl-pur-cleaning.asp ). These are two products made by Envirox. Concentrate 117 must be diluted, while ONE can be used full strength.
Mold Control 500 From Scott's Liquid Gold, (http://www.natlallergy.com/prod/1850/mold-control-500-from-scotts-liquid-gold.html ), distributed by National Allergy Supply.
SafeChoice X-158, (http://www.afmsafecoat.com/products.php?page=5 ), made by AFM. From the website: "SafeChoice X-158 is a premium quality, clear coating for prophylactic use on surfaces where mold and might appear. It is not a cleaning agent, but a clear defensive sealer designed to encapsulate surfaces which would typically be subject to mold and mildew attack."
Vacuum all surfaces with a HEPA vacuum cleaner once you have done the demolition and clean up. Be sure to have the room vented to the outside with a fan in the window when you do this and wear your mask.
Then you are ready to rebuild. Be sure to use non-toxic paints and adhesives (see below).
For larger jobs, consult a professional mold remediator. You can consult the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (http://www.iicrc.org ) for a list of certified cleaning and restoration experts in your area.
Reduce Indoor Airborne Particulates by Doing the Following:
Avoid spun fiberglass furnace filters. Upgrade to pleated air filters and change them more frequently than the manufacturer recommends, ideally every one to two months (versus every three months, as recommended by most manufacturers).
Install an air-to-air heat exchanger, also known as a “Heat Recovery Ventilator.” They provide several fresh air exchanges per hour of stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air without significant loss of heat in the winter, and they keep out the heat in the summer. If you live in warmer southern climates, you should ideally purchase an Energy Recovery Ventilator (as opposed to a Heat Recovery Ventilator), available from RenewAire (800-627-4499; www.renewaire.com ) or Aprilaire (608-257-8801; www.aprilaire.com ). Energy Recovery Ventilators supply abundant fresh air while keeping out heat and humidity in summer, and keeping in heat and humidity in winter.
Have your air ducts cleaned throughout the house if not done so within the past three to five years. This will eliminate accumulated dust and mold and improve your indoor air quality. Have this done again in another three to five years, or more often if occupants are symptomatic. Important: Ask the serviceman to vacuum only. Do not let them spray toxic bactericide or fungicide into the air ducts. The serviceman will do this automatically if you do not tell them not to. These chemicals are toxic to you, as well as to microorganisms and fungi.
Metal air ducts are best for forced air heating systems. If you need to install flexible air ducts, choose cotton-lined semi-flexible air ducts over fiberglass-insulated flexible air ducts. Cotton-insulated semi-flexible air ducts are made by Superior Air Ducts in Houston (713-682-3828; www.superiorairducts.com ). The plastic lining is tough enough for the ducts to be professionally cleaned by a duct cleaning company, which is not possible with fiberglass-lined ducts because the lining is too thin and can easily be punctured. That is a real plus for Superior’s air ducts as far as we are concerned.
Have an HVAC contractor remove and replace the fiberglass panels that line the plenum of your HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioner) unit. These panels contain low-grade spun fiberglass, the fibers of which are carried in the air stream that passes through this chamber in the furnace. Replace with Tekfoil or similar non-fiber insulation, preferably placed on the outside of the unit, if thermal and sound insulation are still needed. Some HVAC manufacturers are looking into lining their plenums with cotton insulation, not fiberglass.
Purchase a good quality HEPA vacuum cleaner, such as from the Miele company, with good-fitting seals. Whole-house vacuum cleaners are the best, because they are vented to the outdoors.
Avoid wall-to-wall carpeting. It collects and traps pesticides brought in on the soles of your shoes, dead cells from your skin that feed dust mites, and dust, and is a breeding ground for mold when the relative humidity rises above 65%. Also formaldehyde, used as a color fixative, and glues used in carpet backing can outgas for years, not just a few weeks after installation. Instead use carpeting with woven jute backing and no formaldehyde. Better yet, choose solid surface flooring that will outlast wall-to-wall carpeting by decades. Cover them with area rugs that can be periodically shaken and aired out. Start a “no shoes inside” policy with your family so that street shoes are left at the door; use slippers indoors.
Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Other Sources of Ill Health in Indoor Air by Doing the Following:
Avoid particleboard at all costs for kitchen cabinets, counters, bathroom enclosures, and furniture.
Store unused solvents (all of which contain volatile compounds) in a sealed cabinet, preferably in an outbuilding or storage shed rather than in your basement or attached garage. Better yet, only purchase as much as you need and safely discard the remainder rather than leaving it around.
Choose all-natural upholstery, draperies, throw rugs and bedding whenever possible. Natural fibers generate beneficial negative ions, keeping you more alert, and they avoid outgassing from plastic fabrics. Harmful positive ions in indoor air, which cause fatigue, are generated from plastics used in nylon carpeting, latex paints and synthetic upholstery, draperies and bedding.
Avoid new plastic shower curtains. They are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which contain plasticizers, known as “phthalate.” Phthalates make the rigid PVC more soft and flexible. They are known to aggravate asthma, particularly in children, and they can cause cancer. If you already own a plastic shower curtain that is several months old, you can keep it because it has already done its damage and is no longer outgassing. When you need to replace it, however, purchase a cotton shower curtain instead and wash it regularly. They are sold by Healthy Homes (www.healthyhomes.com ) and other healthy product retailers.
Always choose natural cleansers over synthetic ones. Avoid cleaning products with fragrance and perfume. Avoid plug-in electric room deodorizers.
It is especially important to avoid fragranced dryer sheets and fabric softeners. Read the article, “Health Risks of Fabric Softeners,” from the website for the Allergy and Environmental Health Association, Ottawa Branch (www.aeha.ca/help-with.htm ). These products emit petroleum-based fragrances that are known neurotoxins and endocrine-mimicers. They disrupt the normal hormonal pathways, causing developmental damage in children and a long list of acute and chronic illnesses in people of all ages. They should be avoided at all costs.
Likewise avoid drinking out of soft, number 1 or number 2 plastic bottles, as they also contain phthalates that are known to cause cancer when consumed. Use glass bottles instead and store your leftovers in glass containers.
Never heat food in a plastic container in a microwave oven. This is because plasticizers used in soft plastic containers or food wrap can get into the food when cooked in a microwave and are considered to be carcinogenic. There is evidence that microwave ovens seriously alter basic nutrients, including proteins and fats, within food and beverages as they are cooked. This makes them unrecognizable to the body as nutrients and actually toxic. Studies in New Zealand show that children raised on diets high in food cooked in a microwave oven have a substantially higher degree of chronic health problems. We recommend microwave ovens not be used to avoid these issues altogether. Use a countertop toaster oven instead.
Avoid applying toxic, synthetic pesticides and insecticides in and around your house. These products are harmful to you as well as to pests. Choose natural pest management such as recommended by the Biocontrol Network (www.biconet.com ) and in the book, “The Best Control: Intelligent Pest Management” by Steve Tvedten (www.thebestcontrol.com ).
Install a whole-house water filtration system to filter out chlorine and agricultural chemicals from household water. Every time we shower with unfiltered water, our skin absorbs as much chlorine as if we drank an eight-ounce glass of tap water. Backflush the water filter on the shower head at the frequency recommended by the manufacturer. Keep under-the-sink RO units well maintained and change the filters regularly.
Avoid opening your dishwasher right after the cycle is complete and turn off the electric heat element during the drying cycle (which also saves energy). That way you avoid letting chlorine and chemicals in traditional detergent from entering the indoor air. Use all-natural dishwashing detergent.
Avoid hanging newly dry cleaned clothes in your bedroom. Hang them outdoors if possible, or in a laundry room or utility room, to let the perchlorates outgas for a few hours.
In general, if you purchase an existing home, choose one that is older than five to eight years old. This gives the house enough time for the indoor materials to thoroughly outgas. A new home less than five to eight years old is still outgassing some of its materials. It is better to consult with a Building Biologist to choose non-toxic materials when you build a new home in the first place.
Likewise, choose non-toxic materials whenever you remodel, because to live in your home while it is being remodeled with traditional materials will expose you and your family to very harmful airborne chemicals. There are healthier options available to avoid this. For more information go to Oram’s website, www.createhealthyhomes.com and click on “Tips for a Healthy Home,” then click on the link to the handout entitled, “Recommendations for Healthy Renovations and New Home Construction.”
Consultations are available from Oram Miller, BBEI for healthy home evaluations conducted both personally onsite as well as long distance over the telephone. Contact him at 310.720.7686 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also go to his website, www.createhealthyhomes.com for more information.
Oram Miller, BBEI
Certified Building Biology® Environmental Inspector
11693 San Vicente Blvd., #342
Los Angeles, California 90049
The Twenty-Five Principles of Bau-Biologie
Building Biology, translated from the word “Bau-biologie,” was pioneered in Germany over thirty years ago and is taught in the U.S.A. by the International Institute for Bau-biologie and Ecology (IBE), Clearwater, Florida (727-461-4371; www.buildingbiology.net). The principles upon which the teachings of Building Biology are based are as follows:
1. A building site shall be geologically undisturbed.
2. Residential homes are best located away from industrial centers and main traffic routes.
3. Housing shall be developed in a decentralized and loose manner interlaced with sufficient green space.
4. Housing and developments shall be personalized, in harmony with nature, fit for human habitation and family oriented.
5. Natural and unadulterated building materials shall be used.
6. Walls, floors and ceilings shall be diffusible and hygroscopic.
7. Indoor air humidity shall be regulated naturally.
8. Air pollutants need to be filtered and neutralized.
9. An appropriate balance of thermal insulation and heat retention is needed.
10. The air and surface temperatures of a given room need to be optimized.
11. A heating system shall feature radiant heat using as much (passive) solar heat as possible.
12. The total moisture content of a new building shall be low and dry out quickly.
13. A building shall have a pleasant or neutral smell. No toxins shall outgas.
14. Light, lighting and color shall be in accord with natural conditions.
15. Protective measures against noise pollution as well as infrasonic and ultrasonic vibrations need to be human oriented.
16. Only building materials with little or preferably no radioactivity shall be used.
17. The natural balance of atmospheric electricity and ion concentration shall be maintained.
18. The Earth’s natural magnetic field shall not be altered or distorted.
19. Man-made electromagnetic radiation shall be eliminated (or reduced as much as possible).
20. Cosmic and terrestrial radiation is essential and shall be interfered with as little as possible.
21. Interior and furniture design shall be based on physiological findings.
22. Harmonic measures, proportions and shapes need to be taken into consideration.
23. The production, installation and disposal of building materials shall not contribute to environmental pollution and high energy costs.
24. Building activities shall not contribute to the exploitation of non-renewable and rare resources.
25. Building activities shall not cause a rise in social and medical costs.