Our Homes Suck – And That's Why Our Kids Have Sinus Problems

It's a fact!

Unhealthy homes increase the severity of asthma, allergies, and other health issues.

BPI CEO Larry Zarker sheds some light on the health effects of unhealthy homes in his recent Performance Matters article, "Our Homes Suck - And That's Why Our Kids Have Sinus Problems."

Our Homes Suck - And That's Why Our Kids Have Sinus Problems

Tags: Audit, BPI, Energy, Healthy, Safety

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The study you cited states:   

"Patrick N. Breysse, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University, calls the study important because it shows that green housing clearly contributes to reductions in indoor air pollutants ...".  Therefore, I am a bit confused.   

Also, you focus on the two components that green buildings did not change - formaldehyde and CO2... where do these things come from? - your answer lies there... formaldehyde = glues, fiber board, and many other things with glue's - how much MORE today are we using particle board or OSB or whatever fiber product with glue in it?  New houses have a tone more manufactured wood than older houses.  

Regarding CO2 - perhaps I am confused... but do we really need to discuss the sources of CO2?  

Most importantly, nowhere in the study did it mention those houses in the study have ERV's or HRV's and that was my point... dilution is the solution - applies to Radon and I am guessing (I do not know for sure) also formaldehyde.  I know of a project where they attribute a significant drop in radon with the use of an ERV (from over 10 epicuries to under 2 epicuries).  

Also, the study you cited was on 13 and 18 families respectively.  There are 100 M households in the US... do you truly believe the study's populations had statistical significance?  Perhaps as our green building world, while growing, is still small.... it is a reasonably question though.  

Please understand that I have no interest in bantering are arguing with you.  There is plenty of data out there that supports the reduction of pollutants in a building by using mechanical ventilation.  I don't believe that we need to argue about this as it is proven time and time again... please search it.  

Also, it is important to note (as you made this point) if the outside air is crap... a leaky house brings in that crappy outside air just like an ERV does - yet the ERV saves a fair amount of the heat and filters a good portion of the particulates out..  So I guess I don't understand your point on this topic.

Finally, I believe your heart is in the right place.  However, I am not sure that you are fully up to date on mechanical ventilation... which is relatively new in the US, but is actually not that new.  Europe has been using ERV/HRV's for quite a while and it is time we started paying attention as we are a bit behind on some fundamentals.  


Your missing the point. I can only suggest for you to read all the links attached within that article before drawing the line on who knows what and who does not understand what.

Let's not ignore this quote either which immediately followed your posted quote from the attached link I posted earlier; "He adds that the results suggest the need for larger studies that can look at, for example, whether green housing can improve the health of people with asthma."

Clearly as most "Green" articles conclude, more research is needed therefore, what was written is an educated way of saying we do not know for sure but, it looks promising and by the way... Please give us more money so we can perform another study. How often do we hear this in the hundreds of university and medical journals?

You further pointed out;

(Also, it is important to note (as you made this point) if the outside air is crap... a leaky house brings in that crappy outside air just like an ERV does - yet the ERV saves a fair amount of the heat and filters a good portion of the particulates out..  So I guess I don't understand your point on this topic.)

My point is, why purchase a new chemically engineered home which burns hotter, faster and with immediate poisonous/deadly effects to life. It's simply greenwashing America!  This is especially the case if my old leaky home is going to give me less chemical sensitivity issues aside from the known particulate issues in all homes. Many new homes and energy retrofits are creating a new class of people who are newly diagnosed with MCS. This is an excuse for the chemical industry to label people and pass off the liability as though you fit in the 10% race of chemically sensitive people. I can only assume this rise is do to shotty workmanship as outlined by the DOE audits completed on many states who authorized this shotty work.  

Next, a HRV/ ERV is not a cure for radon and certainly it's not a balancing tool for radon. That's simply not the intended purpose of an HRV/ERV. Yes, it will lower radon if the concentration of air dilution is dedicated to the area emitting the gas for a short time. You may consider researching this idea in the few Radon Course descriptions (for a fee) from the two university programs offered.

You also stated radon is measured in epicuries. Please define epicuries?

Radon is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Also keep in mind radon is not a constant. A home that tests at 2pCi/L today may easily test at 5.7pCi/L three month's from the original test date or even the next day.

You stated; "There is plenty of data out there that supports the reduction of pollutants in a building by using mechanical ventilation."

Let's try to be fair with this comment.There's plenty of commercial data and very little data on a private home.

The United States did not have much of anything in the means of scientific residential case studies until after Katrina. This data was generated from the public outcry over formaldehyde emissions in the FEMA trailers. The EPA is still researching this issue and the modern issues of chemically engineered building products which significantly off-gas toxic chemicals. That data is not out and may never be fully agreed upon by the many agencies and groups out there who have a stake in the $$$$ tree.  


I don't believe I am missing any points.  As I mentioned... I have no interest in bantering or arguing with you.  We are on the same page - we want healthier buildings, but you are not correct in saying properly ventilated buildings are not healthier.  Also, you are correct... more research needs to be completed.  And yes ... that is going to cost money - And money well spent.  However, if you believe a leaky building/house is OK... that is 100% wrong.  You are concerned with the toxicity of buildings as am I ... I am also concerned about the ridiculous amounts of energy we are using to heat and cool buildings.  

Finally, you got me on pinocuries... my apologies for that mistake.  

I am done responding.  Have a nice day.  

Todd, it appears Richard is more about getting the last word than about learning a new thing.  I think there is no room, appears his mental glass is full to overflowing.  

If he's some type of "professional," apparently it either has only distant connection to building science or he has no expertise.

Let him recommend leaky houses with no control over ventilation, temperature, or moisture.  I don't think he'll have many clients and certainly no "success stories" to share. 

"I have no interest in bantering or arguing with you."

AGREED! I look at these experiences as learning experiences. An open mind will get you further ahead than operating from the "empty box". There's nothing wrong with a healthy debate.

Properly ventilated "New" building's are more chemically toxic in my opinion then an old building from the 1700's - 1970's. This is where we may butt heads. There's plenty of science to prove engineered building material toxicity. Is there another reason for the rise in asthma among our youth and the epidemic rise in cancer among society? Perhaps it's global warming or is it climate change?

Interesting article, thanks.  I will stay tuned to what the scientific studies say about this puzzling rise in asthma -- I doubt there is a simple, single cause.  I've known of several vibrant adults who died from it.  In addition to changes in housing characteristics discussed here, there are numerous confounding factors that makes it difficult to figure out how much housing contributes to these health problems.  One massive social shift is the reduction of time spent outdoors by people.  There's also a shift away from all physical activity -- much of it related to the changing types of jobs (less manufacturing, etc.).  Even though a lot of the population lives in suburbs where it is relatively safe from crime and air quality outdoors is better outdoors than indoors, children and adults are spending less time each day outdoors.  One reason is social factors such as long work hours by all adults in the family, sprawl that necessitates long commutes, and the car-oriented design of these communities.  The Clean Air Act removed a lot of the obvious pollution (particulates, etc.) since the early 1970s, but there are of course new pollutants as well as accumulations of past pollution (such as lead in the soil from leaded gasoline).  It makes sense to zero in on home air quality, especially in bedrooms where people will be breathing in the air at least 8 hours every night. 


There are always a lot of complications we need to try to factor in.  For example I read there was a massive pine tree planting campaign in postwar Japan.  The U.S. reforested by ordering trees planted, but unfortunately a lot of the population suffers seasonal allergies to the type of tree planted.  Similarly, changes in flora in our communities due to introduction of non-natives can rapidly change the pollen mixture.  Doesn't cause asthma perhaps, but extra sinus suffering could be laid at the feet of these changes too...possibly.

    Great discussion and points brought up via this "fuse" lit. 

More testing will be the scientific route to determine cause and effect. There is no "one cure" for all homes and in the very near the future we  will be testing each and treating specific items; radon, mold, moisture, VOC's, etc. issues accordingly. In many cases we have had the opposite result sited by a few; decrease in allergies, healthier homes, far less symptoms reported, reduced mold, dust mites, cleaner homes , far better IAQ -tested. 

No question we have achieved far more positive than negative affects. I agree it is still a process to be improved upon. There are thousands of potential harmful products that can contribute to existing homes poor indoor quality of life / air.

"Better Living Through Chemistry"? 

"There are thousands of potential harmful products that can contribute to existing homes poor indoor quality of life / air."

“When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters”
There is substantial evidence to indicate that a proportion of construction materials are potentially hazardous to health and deleterious to the environment. They continue to be used for lack of evidence of their toxicity.

RIVEC is a project of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.  It's a residential ventilation fan controller that's a bit better than what we have now apparently.  It tests indoor and outdoor temperature and wind outdoors, and tries shifting fresh air intake to hours of the day when there's less of an energy penalty.  According to a recent article in Energy Design Update (June 2014), the product is expected to be available commercially within the calendar year.  Furthermore, the team at LBL is going to improve it in the future by trying to adjust for occupancy and humidity.  They are especially aware of the resistance to ASHRAE 62.2 ventilation in climates where there is a strong energy penality, and RIVEC is designed to help overcome that.  Here's a bit about it:



We both know a fan switch will only conserve on energy. What is Berkeley devising to clean the air that's being introduced back into the home today? Certainly if you live in downtown LA, China (where the air at times is orange), New York City or industrialized New Jersey, you do not want that air pumped into your home without some form of purification.

Is there an agreeable solution aside from HRV-ERV's and energy saving switches? Should we design with the addition of activated carbon, potassium permanganate and alumina adsorption materials? Or, do we design with all the above or only one? I think the industry focus is very narrow minded and to concentrated on the energy impact rather than long term human health. 

We all know our homes contain a zillion chemicals from building materials, furniture, clothing, cleaning chemicals, etc. If we air seal a home that's already polluted to the standards of ASHRAE and some over the top energy freak plan, aren't we we asking for trouble without the solution in place before we Zip-Lock a home?

Zip-locking homes without a solution is simply dangerous to human health. It's definitely not a risk anyone can afford in the long term. It may make a home comfortable today and it's going to come with a deadly cost tomorrow. 


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