Are there elements in a Healthy Home that are Actually Healthy?

This is a great question.  The idea that there is something within the green building materials that is good for you is one that I had not thought of before.  In biology,  “Good for you” can mean two different things: the first is the introduction of something that increases the health of an organism, food, nutrients, or other substances that an organism lacks for optimal Growth or health,  similar to the basis of your question.  The second, is the removal of toxic chemicals that would decrease the “health” of an organism.   Things that would fall into this group could be toxins, poisons, radiation, heat, cold, lack of nutrients or air, etc.    In green building, this latter definition is more commonly referenced as the basis for claims to the healthiness of green building.

In order for a home, or more specifically, the materials in the home, to fall into the first category, they must provide something that you do not already get from your diet(food(nutrients, energy, essential amino acids, protein, etc.) and water), breathing(Oxygen taken in, Carbon dioxide released), sunlight exposure(Vit. D),  physical activity(exercise), or other essential biological processes.  Unfortunately, these elements are not readily gained from the materials within a home, or if they are, are gained in such small amounts as to be deemed statistically insignificant.

Now, of course, this prior analysis completely disregards the psychological effects of living in a home which can be significant, but are subjective and can be completely dependent on the occupants.  These affects can result from natural day-lighting, the feeling of security and stability that comes with home ownership and the well being that comes with the knowledge of living in a “healthy” home.  Unfortunately, these feelings can also have just the opposite effect to people in different circumstances: the increased stress that one may feel from being underwater on their mortgage and about to lose their home, the inability to pay the unforeseen home repair bills, or losing their jobs and not being able to pay the mortgage or the effects seen in “Sick Building Syndrome”  where people know there is something wrong with their homes and the psychosomatic effects on their health are not typical of the actually exposure to the toxic chemicals they are exposed to.    Again, there are a multitude of aspects that can effect human health and the job of any competent professional should be to increase the potential and proven positives and reduce the potential and proven negatives.

Now, as was stated earlier, most of green building focuses on excluding or reducing the amount of toxic materials introduced into a home.  These toxic materials can be one directly introduced into a home, such as compressed wood products that use the off-gassing chemical urea-formaldehyde, paints, stains and other finishes that release organic solvents into the air, granite countertops that contain decaying uranium that releases the radioactive element Radon into the air, or the carpeting, that while made of degrading and off-gassing petroleum products, also contains all of the materials ever dropped on it or scrapped off of the shoes or feet that have tracked in all sorts of materials that we have stepped in while we were outside.   The second category of toxics that are ubiquitously found in our homes are those that we produce or introduce ourselves, like carbon dioxide from exhalation, carbon monoxide from gas burning appliances like cooktops, water heaters and furnaces, moisture laden air from showers and improperly vented bath fans, range hoods and clothes dryers, the decomposition of  all sorts of petroleum based materials like plastics, upholstery, furniture, drapes, vinyl flooring, perfumes, deodorants, cleaning supplies, paint thinners, fingernail polishes, drain cleaners, the aforementioned carpets, etc.

Unfortunately, my answer seems to have dragged on long enough.  The problem is that there is no quick answer that comprehensively answers your complex question.  To expound on my last paragraph about ways to reduce the contamination of a home by this second set of compounds  is several book chapters by itself, so to put is simply:  The best way to reduce the negatives of these compounds is to not introduce them, during construction or after.  There is no magic bullet or panacea in green building, there is only making a concerted effort to look at all aspects of ”Healthy” building and a lot of at home reading.  A google seach on “green building indoor air quality” will get you started in the right direction.

This entry was posted in General Green Musings, Green Building Questions, Indoor Air Quality. Bookmark the permalink.

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