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What is Healthy Housing?
What makes a Healthy Home?

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What is Healthy Housing?

Many people are concerned that the air they are breathing in their home – the place they feel the safest – may actually be making them sick. Homeowners and builders are unwilling to wait for health experts and research scientists to offer conclusive proof of the connection between health and indoor air quality. For builders, there are potential liabilities in building homes that make their customers sick. For homeowners, compromising the health and the safety of their family is of grave concern.

The Healthy Housing approach uses healthy building materials and other measures to enhance indoor air quality.

Three key principles for producing healthy houses have emerged from industry research:

  • Source control – By far the most important strategy, source control means eliminating pollutants at their source rather than trying to filter them out or dilute them with ventilation air. Selecting low odor building materials is an example of source control.
  • Separation - Many common building materials represent a potential health risk, but their effect on indoor air can be minimized by sealing them away from the occupants. Building an airtight building envelope to seal out harmful insulation fibres is an example of separation.
  • Ventilation - Continuous, balanced mechanical ventilation reduces the buildup of contaminants and, when combined with filtration, ensures an adequate supply of fresh outdoor air for the occupants.

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What makes a Healthy Home?

Practical considerations for ensuring a Healthy Home follow the guiding principles of source control, separation and ventilation:

  • Select the building site carefully to avoid power lines, agricultural spraying, vehicle exhaust and industrial pollution – all potential sources of indoor air contamination.
  • Use clean materials such as VOC-free, formaldehyde-free and low odor materials.
  • Avoid highly aromatic, strong odor products – even if they are natural vs. synthetic.
  • Control relative humidity (RH). Mold will grow at a RH of +60%, or during short interval surface condensation. Dust mites will reproduce at +55%. Control of RH can be aided by mechanical ventilation and, in some climates, mechanical dehumidification.
  • Used sealed combustion appliances, which draw combustion air from, and mechanically exhaust the smoke to, the outside so the risk of pollutant spills is eliminated.
  • Avoid carpet. Its materials and the adhesives used to install it can be significant sources of chemical contamination.
  • Avoid the use of pesticides or fungicides. The toxic chemicals used to control plants, insects and fungus are also normally toxic for humans.
  • Provide continuous construction site supervision to avoid the inadvertent use of harmful materials and reduce the risk of contamination.
  • Provide air conditioning – it not only lowers the indoor air temperature, but also lowers the humidity level. With less moisture in the house, the potential for condensation, and thus the chances of mold growth are diminished.
  • Provide a low-temperature heat source, which doesn’t burn dust – and cause air quality problems – like a high temperature heat source does.
  • Build tight. Only by minimizing air leakage is it possible to control the quality of incoming ventilation air and reduce the risk of contamination of materials in the building assembly.
  • Use inert sealers to seal potentially noxious materials away from house occupants.
  • Use balanced, fully ducted, mechanical ventilation. Ventilation air can be filtered to remove outdoor contaminants and this clean air will dilute the concentration of indoor contaminants. Clean air should be supplied to all habitable rooms and exhaust air should be taken from any room where moisture or odors are generated.
  • Use air filters as a second line of defense only. It is far better to eliminate the source of contamination than to try to filter it out of indoor air.
  • Install a central vacuum system that exhausts to the outdoors as an effective way to control dust mites, animal dander, pollen and other particles that are linked to health problems.

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