Health Risks in Green Construction and Remodeling

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We all know that green construction is good for the planet, but how is it on our health?

“There’s an assumption that green construction is safer and healthier,” but that perception is not always true, said Matt Gillen, deputy director of NIOSH’s Office of Construction Safety and Health.

Gilllen goes on to say, “While construction of green structures usually entails some of the same risks as “traditional” buildings, a few hazards may crop up specific to going green. In particular, skylights and green rooftops can lead to fall hazards, while recycling efforts might create material handling challenges.”

Remodeling Risks

When renovating, the age of the building has to be carefully considered before you start swinging a sledge hammer. Not just to protect against a building collapse but to ensure that you don’t create an indoor environment full of pollutants and possibly even toxins.

According to the EPA, “While remodeling or improving the energy efficiency of your home, steps should be taken to minimize pollution from sources inside the home, either from new materials, or from disturbing materials already in the home. In addition, residents should be alert to signs of inadequate ventilation, such as stuffy air, moisture condensation on cold surfaces, or mold and mildew growth.“

Should you experience any unusual symptoms during or soon after renovation simple blood tests, are available through most doctors and at a discount at various labs around the country.

The EPA also suggests that you investigate and prepare to handle the following issues if they should arise during renovation:

Radon

Radon is tasteless and odorless, and the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.The EPA recommends fixing your home if a test shows radon levels exceeding the action level of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L).

Lead

Harmful exposure can occur when lead-based paint is improperly removed from surfaces by dry scraping, sanding, or open-flame burning, or by demolition. A home built before 1978 is likely to have surfaces painted with lead-based paint.

Moisture Control

Too much moisture in a home can lead to mold, mildew, and other biological growth. This in turn can lead to a variety of health problems ranging from more common asthma attacks, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, to death. Excess moisture can be in the form of high relative humidity, leaks in the roof, walls, or plumbing, air moving from the inside or the outside into the walls, or from the basement or crawlspace.

Ventilation

Good ventilation protects you and your family from unpleasant odors, irritating pollutants, and potentially dangerous gases. Well-planned ventilation also helps prevent the growth of mold and mildew, which can cause allergic reactions and aggravate lung diseases such as asthma.

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Asbestos

When asbestos can be crushed by hand pressure or the surface is not sealed, to prevent small pieces from escaping, the material is considered FRIABLE. In this condition fibers can be released and pose a health risk, such as lung cancer from inhaling the fibers.

However, as long as the surface is stable, not damaged, and well-sealed against the release of its fibers and not damaged, the material is considered safe until damaged in some way.

Combusion

Appliances – Examples of combustion appliances include space heaters, ranges, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, and clothes dryers. These appliances are usually safe. However, under certain conditions, these appliances can produce, and release into the home, combustion pollutants that can damage health or even kill. In addition, unvented or improperly vented appliances can add large amounts of moisture to the air, potentially resulting in both biological growth, and damage to the house.

Air Ducts

Ducts should be tightly sealed to reduce air leakage. This is achieved by carefully sealing all duct seams and joints. (Note that standard cloth duct tape is not a suitable duct sealant material.) This can save energy and prevent contaminants from entering ductwork and circulating through the home.During the actual renovation work, air duct registers in the area being renovated should be sealed during activities that will generate a lot of dust or debris. This can be done by taping plastic over the registers. Before the project is started, you should decide on a ventilation strategy to remove pollutants from the work area and prevent them from moving to other areas of the home.

Energy Efficient Improvements

Tight energy-efficient homes save energy and money. And with proper mechanical ventilation, they can have better indoor air quality than a leaky home. One reason is reduced condensation which could lead to mold growth. Another reason is control. In a leaky home, outdoor air enters the house — through cracks, unsealed joints, and penetrations, for example — intermittently, depending largely on the weather. Mechanical ventilation in a well-insulated, well-sealed house, however, can exhaust pollutants and bring in outdoor air in a planned way.

Pest Control

Pests can be a health hazard to you, your family, and your pets. For example, cockroaches and dust mites have been associated with asthma. However, pesticides can also be problematic. Fortunately, there are effective pest control methods that don’t rely on heavy pesticide use. Pests seek places to live that satisfy their basic needs for air, moisture, food, and shelter. The best way to control pests is to try to prevent them from entering your home in the first place.

Painting

There are many factors to consider before beginning a painting project, including whether existing paint is lead-based, the type of paint selected, providing ventilation while painting, and clean-up and storage of paint and painting supplies.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Pressed wood products, adhesives, and many finishes (such as paints and varnishes) contain VOCs which give off gas in varying amounts over time. Minimize the use of building products containing formaldehyde or other VOCs within the conditioned space of the house.

Taking on any construction project whether it’s new cabinets or a whole new house makes you a brave soul. What with workman tromping in and out, dust, dirt, noise and delays, but going green makes you a hero.

  • Greener Ideal Staff

    Greener Ideal helps you live your life in more sustainable ways with green living tips and commentary on the latest environment news. We want to protect the planet and reduce our collective carbon footprint.

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