Americans send 90% of their time inside and indoor air is 2 to 100 times more polluted than outside air – EPA
A green building is a healthy building. While reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important, we should also be looking at eliminating toxic pollution inside our homes and offices.
Bellwether Materials manufactures building insulation that absorbs and locks in volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and pollutants from surrounding materials. However, insulation can’t do the job alone. If we want to live and work in a safe environment, everyone needs to be aware of the poisons surrounding us and to take steps to eliminate them from our interior space.
Virtually all buildings in the U.S. are made with toxic materials. Preventing air flow through buildings by sealing them means the poisons accumulate in interior air.
Air systems to manage interior airflow are expensive to buy and maintain and all require embodied energy to run. Depending on your geographic location, monthly energy bills for the average home can hit the high hundreds. Commercial buildings are often built with sealed windows which means air systems are even more crucial to the health of occupants. If the air systems are not serviced properly or are turned down or even off to save on energy costs, the poisons in the interior air build up to unacceptable levels. If outside air is heavily polluted, the air systems don’t protect you.
IMPACT ON HEALTH
Asbestos, once a major ingredient of any building, is no longer permitted in building materials. Fire retardants have been eliminated from furniture in California but are still used in building materials. Changes in the law and in building codes are slow and resistance is enormous. At this time, the responsibility for creating a safe inside environment is up to the individual. Understanding what the dangers are and demanding that toxic chemicals and materials be removed is your only protection.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Environmental Protection Agency has a website on Indoor Air Quality. This is a great place to start.
When you are thinking of moving into a new space, ask about the materials used in paint, wallboard, ceiling tiles, carpeting and any other products that line rooms. Get the manufacturers’ names and the exact name or model of the products. There are several green building supply companies, Green Building Supply and Green Depot, whose websites show a wide variety of safe products.
For in depth information about the safety and health impact of building materials, architects Perkins + Will’s excellent Transparency site lists the chemicals and materials of building products and details their impact on your health. Perkins + Will is working towards requiring a labeling system for materials used in the built environment, just like the labels required for food.
The Pharos Project of the Healthy Building Network is a leader in providing safety information about the built environment. ‘The Building Product Library (BPL) combines manufacturer transparency and independent research to provide in-depth health and environmental information about a wide range of building products.
‘The Pharos Chemical and Material Library (CML) is an online catalog of chemicals, polymers, metals, and other substances. It identifies key health and environmental information using authoritative scientific lists for specific human and environmental health hazards, restricted substance lists, and GreenScreen List Translator scores.’
There is a cost for this service, but they also offer a free trial. For individuals, you might not need a full year’s subscription but the information on building materials and chemicals is exhaustive and excellent.
BuildingGreen is an online magazine that covers everything you need to know about building products. The information is geared toward architects, builder and designers but is also excellent if you want information about your own home or office. There is a subscription cost for the site.
For air systems, ask for the name of the manufacturer and the model number as well as a history of monthly bills. In commercial buildings, this will indicate the owners’ commitment to clean interior air.