The Shocking Danger of New Homes

Finally, the build is done, the curtains are hung, the furniture is assembled and you’re moving in! It is an exciting day for the whole family! You open the door and are greeted with that fabulous new home smell. Nothing quite like it. But have you considered what you’re all smelling?

Unfortunately that new home smell isn’t as innocuous as you might think. It can entail many not quite so nice surprises that you should try to avoid. Building products are often chosen for their economic benefits, but sometimes the health and wellness isn’t considered as fully as it should be. Those first breaths can bring VOC‘s, radon, and other dangers in. And this is just the airborne dangers we’re talking about.

What are VOC’s and why should you care? VOC’s (or Volatile Organic Compounds) are chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at your regular room temperature. This means that these chemical compounds evaporate rather quickly at room temperature. That umbrella term covers all sorts of different gasses and vapours that range in consequences from itchy skin, and irritated eyes to nausea, lung damage or even cancer. Now just to ensure I’m not labelled the crazy boogie man, VOCs are almost impossible to completely avoid. Do you have aerosol products in the house? Do you have scented candles or air fresheners? Do you have nail polish remover or wallpaper in your house? All these items contain traces of chemicals labelled as VOCs.

Thanks to Custom Made for this handy info-graphic.
No infringement intended.

So I realize that it’s impractical to completely eliminate exposure to VOC’s as attractive as that may be. What you can do though, is reduce your exposure. A few simple steps in your existing home are centered more around the products you purchase, rather than increasing air flow because most the VOC’s have already dispersed into the air. When you buy new paints, or chemical products, buy only what you need, and store them outside in a shed if you can! This site here has a bunch of other great ideas on how to reduce your exposure!

When you’re building your home new, you have a bit more control over the products that you start off with. Wherever possible it’s wise to use low or zero VOC paints, glues, caulking etc. Those are standards in our Dueck Builds. We’ve looked for subfloor glues with lowered VOC rates, and our painters know how important zero VOC paint is to us. Avoid cheap carpets, and try to stick to hard-surface products for ease of cleaning and typically a reduction in VOC’s within the product.

In the case of radon and formaldehyde however, the dangers are much greater.  The Canadian Cancer Society has confirmed through tests that cancer risks are elevated when living daily with formaldehyde in the house. They have also confirmed that in-home radon exposure is responsible for 16% of lung cancer deaths every year.

How do you reduce exposure? Your first line of defense should always be keeping it out of the home. Add a layer of taped insulation beneath your basement slab. This will work in conjunction with your vapour barrier to keep the radon out. Ensure your HRV and other components of your HVAC system don’t create a negative pressure in the house that will tend to “suck” up the radon. Avoid using products with higher concentration of urea formaldehyde, such as OSB, and in general if you can find low VOC products you’ll have a healthier home!

Also when building new, it’s now code to have a sub-slab depressurization system built into the home from the start. That’s fancy talk for having a fan that will suck air and radon out from under your slab before the radon has a chance to enter your living space. These systems are surprisingly affordable and can be retrofitted into almost any space. For more information on radon, and getting your home checked, click here!

Another commonly overlooked portion of indoor air quality is your basement air quality. Basements have gotten a bad reputation for mold and bacterial growth, and deservedly so! In our experience it is typical to find about 1″ worth of ice behind the vapour barrier on your concrete wall in our Manitoba Winters. This is because the concrete is not thermally protected from the -20 weather on the outside, and so you get a wall that’s essentially minus 20. When your warm, humid indoor air reaches that wall, you get condensation that leads to mold growth and ice build-up.

An ICF home we built 4 years ago in Elmwood area.

Avoiding this problem is easy when you build your new home. Properly detailed wall insulation will solve this issue. The easiest way to do that is to build with Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF). ICF comes standard with 2.75″ of insulation on either side of your 8″ concrete core wall. This means you never have to worry about warm and humid air condensing and forming ice or mold on your concrete wall surfaces.

Now that we’ve tackled most of the air quality concerns, let’s shift a bit towards the safety concerns. With the advent of OSB and TJI joists came quieter, stronger floors, with longer spans at a lower cost than engineering wood web trusses. This allowed for more open concept designs, with less load bearing walls and beams required.

Lately however there have been some disconcerting stories emerging about fire safety and TJI’s. Studies on burn time and fire failure are coming back with a bleak picture. I joists are shown to be failing in approximately half the time as dimensional lumber. The fire engineering university ran a few tests to determine how quick different floor assemblies failed. It was shocking what they found. I Joist floor assemblies failed in 1/3rd the time that dimensional lumber failed in, and half the time that engineered wood floor trusses failed in.

These health and safety concerns are just a few things that often get overlooked in the home building journey. These seemingly little details make a big difference in the health, and livability of your home. When building a new home, you get one shot to ensure these details are satisfactory. If you’d like more information on how to build a safer, and healthier home, please come talk to us. Call us @ 204-806-0616, visit our website, or email us. We’d love to help make a healthier tomorrow for you.

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