The term 'sick building syndrome' (SBS) was coined in the late 1970's to describe situations where building occupants experience acute health problems. Although these experiences were linked to time spent in a building, no specific illness or cause could be defined. This was the first time national attention was given to indoor air quality as a major health issue.
SBS typically results from poor building design, old malfunctioning HVAC systems, remodeling projects or various occupant activities. Numerous and specific causes have been identified and defined by many organizations in great detail over the last few decades.
Unlike some home-energy monitors, installation does not require an electrician; it can be set up by anyone within 15 minutes. Here are some frequently asked questions.
Q: We bought this desk for a home office. How can we deal with the smell it creates?
— Asked by Julie Reimers, Mechanicsburg, PA
A: Good questions and a very common problem. Particleboard furniture is often imported from overseas where restrictions on urea formaldehyde are not in place or not enforced well.
Generally speaking, furniture made with Melamine (the white panels) often contains an abundance of formaldehyde which off-gasses into the environment. That's changing, however, and there are some rare suppliers using formaldehyde-free Melamine, especially in California. If you know the furniture came from overseas, it's most likely not subject to the same standards as in the US.
In spite of the conflicting studies about the extent of mold's harmful effects, some health fears are real, ranging from mild reactions to acute neurological disorders. The problem can be especially serious for allergy sufferers, small children and pets.
Once mold begins to develop it's difficult and almost impossible to remove. In some cases, the best solution is to burn down the building. With the increase in mold cases and the subsequent press they have received, mold is now considered by many as one of the most dangerous indoor pollutants.
If you live in an older home or work in a older building, chances are there is mold, mildew, and perhaps many other fungi influencing the quality of air that you breathe.
Everyone has some mold and mildew growing in their basement, in their walls, or in their attic whether they know it or not. Although mold is everywhere, it can be controlled.
Whether its sports, finance, education, politics or Google AdWords, tracking the numbers helps achieve better performance. Without good metrics, it’s difficult to know how well or how poorly progress is being made. Shaving one second off your previous time, or improving one percentage point above last year's average, can make the difference between winning and losing, between success or failure.
Q: What is the safest primer to use to get rid of tobacco smells in a home? We have been advised to use KILZ Original on the subflooring after ripping up our carpet and if that doesn't work to get rid of the smell, we were told to use KILZ on the walls. We have small children and don't want to expose them to something harmful.
—asked by Sarah Davis, Junction, IL
A: Eradicating smoke from cigarettes (or fires) in a building is one of the most challenging tasks on earth because it’s so ubiquitous and tenacious. Second or third-hand tobacco smoke leaves nasty nicotine residues in and on all porous and non-porous surfaces and spreads a noxious odor that affects one’s lungs for months or years unless properly abated.
Q: What is the best way to seal/encapsulate vinyl asbestos tile?
We just bought a home built in 1940, and the basement has wall-to-wall
vinyl tiles that we have been told by our inspector "definitely
contain asbestos." Most of the tiles are in perfectly fine condition.
There are a few that have some big chips in them (but don't seem to be
cracking or falling apart). There are also a few tiles that seem to
have some small "bubbles" on the surface (but are not cracked open).
I'd prefer to encapsulate them and then put a new floating vinyl floor
over them. However, I have seen many different theories for what to
use to encapsulate the VATs. Any advice on what to use to cover the
floor before laying new floor on top would be helpful.
—asked by Andrew Nacht, Union, NJ
A: This is a good question but a tough one to answer. In fact, the government prefers that you not deal with this issue at all, but rather hire a professional who is trained in asbestos abatement.
Q: Hola, Would a dual pane insulated glass but with no gas, provide any help against cold air? I am looking at an exterior door to our bedroom here in South Carolina. The door is full glass the manufacturer (echo) claims that their glazing, insulated glass will protect against cold air. Is this true without any gas between the panes. Secondly if the glass is glazed should I pay extra for Low e?
—Asked by Jerry H., Hopkins, SC
A: Yes, generally speaking, argon gas and low e will help provide more protection from the cold as long as: 1) it is located on the north or east or 2) you have radiant heat source inside your home.
Q: Can you waterproof a basement and install a floor without using as
many scary chemicals as everybody else? Try to stay true green?
Not sure if the walls or floor get damp or wet. Want to install a
laminate or other floor in a basement. Maybe walls, sheetrock or
woodpanel. Not sure looking for most natural way to go.
—Asked by HelenJay, Manorville, NY
A: The quick answer is yes, there are some excellent non-toxic sealers that prohibit moisture penetration in concrete walls and floors.
Q: I cannot live in my house due to offgassing from paints and primer applied over a year ago. They STATE they used Dunn Edwards primer. Painted with Behr Ultra Premium Satin, latex, and semi gloss latex. They said they had to use oil base to cover the wooden doors in the house. The house was painted during very cold wet days and probably did not completely dry. The off gassing and odor was terrible. The air testing shows ACETONE. They stated they used Kilz odorless oil base primer the second time. The painters did not let the KILZ DRY before applying the paint. They used Dunn Edwards' latex eggshell "Enso" (no voc) and semi gloss. The odor & off gassing was contained for about 7 days & then returned.
—Asked by Bonnie Parker, Tucson, AZ
A: I'm sorry to hear of your troubling experience. Although it is quite common, fortunately, there are solutions.