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That New Home Aroma May Disguise Bad Air

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 29 June 1999 00:00

Smog alerts have become part of summer in big cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal but air pollution--the scourge of our urban society--is more of a problem in Canadian houses, condominiums, and buildings than outside of them.

According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), indoor air quality can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. "The level of some contaminants can be up to 100 times greater inside buildings and 1,000 times more potent in a new or recently renovated workplace," reports a senior CMHC researcher.

Your home, your haven, your sanctuary, may be your worst enemy.

Twenty-five percent of Canadians have asthma, allergies or another respiratory condition aggravated by poor indoor air. Since Canadians spend an average of 90% of their time inside one building or another, indoor air quality is a health concern.

How can this invisible threat occur in a tidy, clean home? Sometimes it is built in, sometimes it grows and sometimes it occurs by accident. Depending on your sensitivity, you may be troubled by anything from furniture to wallpaper and from caulking to combustion gases. In new and remodeled homes, some building materials and furnishings can give off toxic chemicals. In older homes, dampness can encourage the growth of molds and fungi. Problems with furnaces, ventilation and appliances can occur in any home. Outside pollutants, biological and chemical, may "leak in" and mix with indoor contaminates to create or intensify interior hazards.

To improve indoor air quality, focus on two questions: How do I keep what's inside from polluting the air? and How can I get more clean air in while conserving energy? The answer lies in three words: eliminate, separate and ventilate.

One good source of healthy air strategies and air quality solutions is British Columbia's Healthy Home Centre, a joint project of CMHC and Safe Start, a provincial injury prevention program The Centre produces the unique Healthy Housing BC Directory, which focuses on healthy indoor air products and services available in BC, including contact information for many manufacturers.

The Directory warns that moisture levels, air temperature, physical aging and rough or porous surfaces can cause air quality problems. This resource listing offers suggestions on which materials have the greatest impact on what you breathe and raises some important questions: How much of the material will be exposed to indoor air? Will the material be installed in close proximity to the home's occupants or air handling systems? If the product emits gases or dusts, what is the hazard level? Is the material likely to break down during its service life?

The Healthy Home Centre offers a Healthy Home Kit that leads you to solutions such as:

  • Use air-friendly paint, furniture and cleansers which have no or low volatile organic compounds.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors to alert you to a deadly gas you cannot smell.
  • Install a balanced ventilation system with a heat recovery ventilator that eliminates stale air and replaces it with fresh air.
Remember, that "new" smell may be hazardous to your health.
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PJ Wade

Futurist and Achievement Strategist PJ WADE is “The Catalyst”—intent on Challenging The Best to Become Even Better. A dynamic speaker and author of 8 books and more than 1800 published articles, PJ concentrates on the knowledge, insight, communication prowess, and special decision-making skills essential for professionals and their clients who are determined to thrive in the 21st-Century vortex of change.

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