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Sick Building Syndrome: Could Your Home be Making You Ill?

February 19, 2019

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blue EKGwith the outline of a home and a heart to illustrate sick building syndrome

Office buildings are not the only places that come down with sick building syndrome (SBS). You might mistakenly self-diagnose yourself with a cold or flu when in reality, you could be suffering from SBS’s residential form: sick house syndrome.

That’s right, sick building syndrome is a baffling illness that can bring on a range of conditions including the flu, headaches, throat irritations, breathing difficulties, tightness in the chest, nausea, dizziness, runny nose, burning sensation in the nose, fatigue, rashes, and more. These ailments are triggered or aggravated by air pollution. Not just any air pollution, but the nasty stuff inside your home. In fact, everything from your home’s floor to the roofing may contain harmful chemicals that can make you sick.

Read: 7 Tips to Create a Happy Home

You might think most homes don’t expose people to chemical contaminants. But you would be wrong. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can enter your home through exhausts in the bathroom and kitchen, or via plumbing vents. VOCs are also found in pesticides, carpets, and upholstery. Even your fireplace or an oven could be the culprit. Wherever the VOCs are coming from, the result is a chemical stew in the air that makes people ill with sick building syndrome.

Think about it. Buildings are filled with synthetic materials; some of which can actually make you sick. Materials that emit formaldehyde include many of the things used to build your home; like plywood, pressboard, and other manufactured woods. How about toxic mold? Mold or mildew from damp conditions also creates air quality problems. Manufacturing processes and material-handling equipment can create hydrocarbons or smog, and chemical cleaning agents can give off harmful vapors. Then there is fiberglass insulation. That stuff can actually cause lung cancer in the same way asbestos does. Even your carpeting can contain volatile organic compounds that vaporize and emit gasses.

"Walking into a modern building can sometimes be compared to placing your head inside a plastic bag filled with toxic fumes," says John Bower, founder of the Healthy House Institute and author of books on healthy home construction.

SBS is common enough that many government agencies have published research on causes and symptoms. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health included the disease as a recognized health issue and The Occupational Safety and Health Administration makes several recommendations for remediation: especially increased ventilation.

Read: Fiscal Fitness: The Advantages of Investing in Your Health

You’ll know if your home is, indeed, what is making you sick when your symptoms improve after leaving and return when you get home. If this is you and you notice your symptoms recurring whenever you’re at home, you may consider investigating SBS as the cause.

The good news is that SBS can be healed. The solution is not easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Breathe easy(er) by following these 4 steps to a healthy home.

  1. Improve Your Ventilation
    Controlled, filtered ventilation may be the only way to ensure the air we bring indoors is clean. But how does one eliminate all the sources of VDC contaminants in their home? This is not an easy task and can seem overwhelming. Invest in a quality air filter like the Coway Airmega 400 model. With a coverage area of 1,560 square feet, the Coway Airmega 400 model offers the most air-purifying capacity as compared to other products. This unit costs $749.00 and can be used in larger spaces. Here in Montecito, we’re blessed with beautiful weather just about all year long, so leaving your doors or windows open is the easiest way to ventilate your home. Having a good fresh air supply in homes is important to reduce exposure to indoor air pollutants and to increase respiratory health.
  2. Eliminate VDCs
    Some things just can't be eliminated, but you can still protect yourself. Use sealants or foil-backed drywall to separate living quarters from materials that contain harmful substances. There are at least 6 wall coverings that are alternatives to drywall. Also, experts suggest homeowners remove items likely to contain VOCs whenever possible. Store questionable things in your garage if you must, or another area away from your home. Also, the EPA recommends only purchasing the amount of paint, paint strippers, and kerosene you will use in the immediate future.
    [caption id="attachment_30665" align="alignright" width="300"]Montecito home for sale that shows how lovely a tile floor can be (and healthy too!) My Magical Adobe listing in Toro Canyon shows how stylish healthy tile flooring can look.[/caption]
  3. Replace wall-to-wall carpeting
    Carpeting is a real collector for dust and allergens. By replacing your carpet with wood, cork, tile, or non-vinyl linoleum, you cut down on the problem significantly. Even if you do, don’t forget to vacuum at least twice a week and make sure your vacuum has strong suction and a HEPA filter so dust and dirt go into the bag.
  4. Get rid of dust mites
    You also need to combat dust mites whenever possible. Wash your bedding in hot water at least once a week. You can also use zippered covers on your mattresses and pillows. Vacuum regularly (using HEPA filters) and discard the contents as soon as possible. Don’t forget to vacuum and dust typically forgotten areas, such as under your bed or on top of hard-to-reach places. Also, make sure the humidity level in your home is less than 50 percent, since bed lying couple on grass and heathy house collagebugs like high humidity levels.
    "It's nothing you can afford to take lightly," Sonya Lunder, MPH, tells WebMD. She should know. Lunder is a senior researcher with Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that researches environmental issues. "Even if these chemicals were used decades earlier in your home, they can still accumulate in your house dust today."

When it comes to improving our health, we tend to forget about our home environment and instead only focus on nutrition and exercise. But, is your home giving you sick building syndrome? It’s the place you spend a lot of your time, which makes it important to figure out how to keep it healthy. Follow the suggestions above and you won’t have to worry.

Of course, it’s much easier to combat sick building syndrome by being proactive prior to moving into a home. That means getting appropriate inspections, correcting any problems and installing an air purification system if necessary. If you’re considering buying a new Montecito home, I’m here to make sure those things are taken care of.  Give me a call at +1 805.886.9378 or email me at Selling your current home? I’ll gladly add it to my portfolio of fine properties.

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