Green Renovation

Breathe in your home...safely

By Roy Nandram

Are you conscious of pollutants in your home? They’re crucial to consider if you’re embarking on home renovation or construction projects. When you’re choosing materials, talk to your contractor about how they will impact air quality.

Canadians typically spend about 90 per cent of their time indoors, where pollutants and allergens in enclosed spaces and buildings can have adverse effects on their health and overall well-being.

Before beginning your renovation or construction project, and throughout its duration, these should be consistently monitored to ensure a healthy indoor environment:

Radon: Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can seep into homes from the ground. It’s invisible, odorless, and tasteless, making it difficult to detect without specialized testing. Health Canada states that exposure to high levels of radon in indoor air can result in an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): VOCs are organic chemicals that can vaporize and enter the air from a variety of indoor sources such as paints, cleaning products, glues, adhesives, and synthetic materials used in furniture and carpets. That “new car” smell is a sign that materials are off-gassing into the surrounding air. Long-term exposure to VOCs can lead to headaches, dizziness, eye irritation, and respiratory issues. In recent years, off-gassing of materials has become widely understood and most materials now have a no-VOC or low-VOC equivalent. For example, paints are a major source of VOCs but with growing awareness, virtually all paint manufacturers now offer no-VOC or low-VOC paint lines. There are also third-party verifications for VOC levels in most products. Try looking for GREENGUARD or EcoLogo certifications on products you purchase.

Mold & Mildew: Mold and mildew can grow in damp and poorly ventilated areas, such as bathrooms, basements, and kitchens. Inhaling mold spores can cause respiratory issues, allergies, and other health problems, especially for those with sensitivities. The best practice to reduce the chances of mold growth is to keep indoor humidity levels below 50%.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a common indoor air pollutant found in building materials, furniture, and household products such as particleboard, plywood, carpets, and some paints. It can cause respiratory and skin irritation and is classified as a human carcinogen.

Carbon Monoxide (CO): CO is a colorless and odorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels in stoves, heaters, and fireplaces. Breathing in carbon monoxide can lead to headaches, dizziness, nausea, and, in high concentrations, death.

Particulate Matter (PM): Particulate matter consists of tiny particles suspended in the air, originating from various sources such as cooking, tobacco smoke, candles, dust, and outdoor pollution entering through ventilation systems. PM can cause respiratory problems and exacerbate existing conditions like asthma and allergies.

Pollen and Allergens: Pollen from outdoor sources can enter buildings through open windows and doors, and indoor allergens like pet dander, dust mites, and insect droppings can trigger allergies and asthma in susceptible individuals.

Dust: Microscopic dust mites, the breakdown of fibers from household fabrics and furniture, and human and animal dander (skin flakes) are the main contributors to indoor dust. Since we spend about one-third of our lives asleep, concentrate on dust-fighting efforts in bedrooms by reducing clutter, having an uncarpeted floor, minimal furniture, keeping only current season’s clothes in the closet, using paint on walls that can be cleaned with water, and using HEPA air filters.

Asbestos: Although its use has decreased significantly, asbestos can still be found in older buildings. When disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne and pose a severe health risk, particularly when inhaled.

Improving indoor air quality is essential for maintaining a healthy and comfortable living or working environment. Here are some effective ways to achieve this:

Proper ventilation: Ventilation is the key to improving indoor air quality. Open windows and doors when weather conditions permit to allow fresh air to circulate and dilute indoor air pollutants. Use exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms to remove moisture and odors. Installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) will reduce energy consumption when compared to a conventional exhaust fan. Running your furnace fan and HRV/ERV 24/7 will increase the amount of fresh air entering your home and improve your home’s indoor air quality. Also, the constant movement of air will provide a more uniform temperature in your home. Installing a new air filter in your HVAC equipment will help flush out contaminants in the air.

Air purifiers: Consider using air purifiers with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters. Air purifiers can be particularly helpful for people with respiratory conditions or allergies.

Keep a clean space: Regularly clean your home or workspace to reduce dust, pet dander, and other allergens. Vacuum carpets and upholstery with HEPA filters, mop hard floors, and dust surfaces using microfibre cloths to trap particles effectively.


What you can do to enhance your home's air quality

Keep a clean space. Regularly clean to reduce dust and other allergens.

Control humidity. Keep levels between 30% to 50%.

Eliminate tobacco smoke: Don’t smoke

Choose low-VOC products.

Properly store chemicals.

Monitor radon levels. You can only do this through testing.

Keep plants. Examples are spider and snake plants and peace lilies.

Enhancing indoor air quality is crucial for your health, comfort, and well-being as well as for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. By taking measures to reduce indoor pollutants and improve ventilation, you can create healthier and more pleasant indoor environments for everyone.

Roy Nandram is President of  RND Construction Ltd.