Is Your Home Making You Sick?

Americans spend as much as 90% of their time indoors, yet the air in homes can be ten times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A common source of indoor air pollution is the offgassing of chemicals or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) found in many building materials. Offgassing is the evaporation of volatile chemicals in non-metallic materials at normal atmospheric pressure. This means that building materials can release chemicals into the air through evaporation. This evaporation can continue for years after the products are initially installed which means you continue to breathe these chemicals in your home.

Children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to air pollution. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine states that 40% of children will develop respiratory disease, in part due to the chemicals in their homes. Common health problems include eye, nose and throat irritation and the worsening of asthma symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, and nausea and vomiting are also common side effects from exposure to offgassing of VOCs.

The Triad Green Building Council and its members are dedicated to building homes with materials that have low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). Although many people like that "new house smell", it’s a likely indication that there are harmful chemicals in the indoor environment. Many building products we have in our homes release or “offgas” VOCs. Some examples of sources of VOCs are:
• Carpet, Vinyl Flooring and Adhesives
• Cabinetry and Counter Tops
• Paints, Varnishes, Stains, and Floor Finishes
• Caulks and Adhesives
• Plywood and Particleboard
• Insulation

Don’t be fooled into thinking that only building materials offgas VOCs. Many homes have elevated levels of VOCs that are brought into the home from the outside. Possible outside sources of VOCs include:
• Ready to Assemble Furniture or Shelving
• Air Fresheners or Air Cleaners
• Dry Cleaned Clothing
• Cleaning and Disinfecting Chemicals
• Gasoline or Petroleum Products
• Lawn Chemicals and Pesticides
• Vehicle Emissions in Garages.

Fortunately, the building products industry is responding to these indoor pollution problems by developing safer products, including low-VOC paints and adhesives, formaldehyde free insulation, plywood, and flooring products. The best health protection measure is to limit your exposure to products and materials that contain VOCs when possible. If you think you may be having health problems caused by VOCs, try reducing levels in your home. Increasing ventilation and limiting potential sources of VOCs is the most effective strategy. Increase ventilation by opening doors and windows, use fans, and maximize air brought in from outside. Additionally, keep both the temperature and relative humidity as low as possible or comfortable. Chemicals will off-gas more under warmer conditions with high humidity. Conduct an inspection of your home for the common sources of VOCs. Once you determine the probable source(s) of VOCs, steps can be taken to reduce your exposure. If you are unable to determine probable sources, a professional indoor air quality investigator can be consulted.

In summary, the most effective way to limit VOCs indoors is to limit the potential sources of VOCs. Take time to read and understand product labels, seek out products that contain low or no VOCs (environmentally friendly products), and increase the amount of outdoor “fresh air” into a home to dilute and reduce VOC levels.

Scott Allred is chairman of the Triad Green Building Council and the owner of Precept Construction. He can be reached at or 286-6811. For additional resources on green building, visit
The Triad Green Building Council serves members of the Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Burlington Home Builders Associations that are interested in learning more about green building techniques, products and services.

The council meets monthly with an educational program as the primary focus. Additional seminars and workshops are offered throughout the year for industry professionals and consumers. To find out more about the Triad Green Building Council, contact the Greensboro Builders Association at 855-6255 or







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