More and more people suffer from asthma and allergies everyday. You don’t need to be a doctor to know this. School nurses ask for medical histories with asthma and allergy questions prominently placed. Commercials advertising allergy medication fill tv spots hour after hour. And children with inhalers dot our recreation field. The statistics are somewhat staggering. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology the number of people with asthma (a chronic illness often precipitated by allergies) continues to grow. In 2010 one in twelve people in the USA (8% of our populations/about 25 million people) had asthma, compared to 1 in 14 people (7% or about 20 million people) in 2000. In 2010, 1 in 10 children had asthma. And, in 2008 less than half of the people with asthma reported being taught how to avoid triggers. With many of those triggers being related to environmental conditions (interior and exterior), it’s amazing how little thought the building community has put into the healthiness of homes. Unless, of course, you’re talking about the green building community. Because green building or sustainable building or eco-friendly building, however you wish to call it, concerns itself with the health of building occupants as much as it does about the environment. These two foundations of green building – health and sustainability – go hand in hand. When discussing the built world, what is often good for the earth is good for our health and vice-versa. More
So, here are a few green building related tips and insights for people with asthma and allergy.
- Many of the products in our homes harbor safe-havens for the very creatures (dust mites) and organic matter (pet dander) that cause allergies and trigger asthma. The number one culprit is carpeting. If you have asthma and allergies get rid of the carpet. Allergy triggering matter and fibers get locked in carpeting, especially synthetic carpets, and dust might love to cozy up inside the tufting of your rug. Use hard surfaces for floors. Better yet, consider Marmoleum flooring, a true, 100% natural linoleum flooring that looks a hell of a lot better than that toxic vinyl flooring. Marmoleum is the only floor that has been designated as Asthma and Allergy friendly by the Allergy and Asthma Association of America. That’s because Marmoleum has anti-static and bacterio-static properties that make it a hostile environment for dust mites. If you insist on carpeting make sure it is wool, such as Bio Carpet from Earth Weave. Wool fiber will release those triggers when you vacuum the floor, but synthetic carpets (carpets made from recycled bottles included) hang on mightily to anything the falls into its grasp.
- Many of the materials used in building a conventional home are laden with toxins harmful to your health. Pressed woods, such as the plywood on the shell of your building, the boxes of your cabinetry and engineered flooring contain urea-formaldehyde, a widely known carcinogen. Conventional paints and the finishes used for flooring, furniture, cabinets and trim work are loaded with VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds). Fortunately, the building industry, driven by consumer demand, is moving towards healthier products. Zero VOC paints are available in nearly every paint store and construction materials such as Advantech sub-floors are made without urea formaldehyde. Building new sans these toxic elements (or renovating with healthier materials) prevent your immune system from being burdened by toxic chemicals, leaving you healthier to deal with asthma and allergies. Many doctors and scientists around the country believe that the increased rates of asthma and allergy are the result of a toxic environment that contributes to conditions that make people more susceptible to these sicknesses, (without actually being the direct cause). New finishes such as Vermont Natural Coatings Poly Whey are extremely low in VOC content and very durable.
- No matter how much you build health into your house, you need a means of venting out the allergy causing matter you create and bring into the house. While conventionally built houses are very leaky, few ventilate properly. The air in our homes, according to the EPA, is 3 to 5 times more polluted than urban streets. Many homes cook with natural gas and propane. Many driers run on these same fuels, as well. Furnaces, not properly vented can exhaust inside. Additionally, our homes are laden with spray cleaners, perfumes, and all that stuff Dad keeps in the work room. Even our own exhalations contribute to stale air. New homes should be built with air to air exchangers that vent out stale are and replace it by pumping in outside air, such as the Venmar EKO. Existing homes can use simple, though very effective air purification systems to clean the air such as the Austin Air Healthmate. No matter where you live, it is vital to keep the air in your house fresh.