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Taking Issue

Taking Issue

Healthful Homes Need More than a Huge Hood Fan

comments (0) October 12th, 2011 in Blogs
Click To Enlarge Photo: Brian Pontolilo

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by Michael Chandler
From Fine Homebuilding #223, p. 12-16

When designing and building highperformance kitchens and baths, we may find it exciting to use products that bring new textures and style into a home while offering water, mold, stain, and fire resistance. Unfortunately, some of these products may introduce toxic dust and gases as well, and it’s not just the kitchen and bath finishes that we need to be concerned with. It’s the insulation we choose to make our homes efficient, the furniture we choose to make them comfortable, and the products we choose to keep them clean.

With range hoods and exhaust fans standard appliances in our kitchens and baths, these rooms offer the opportunity to help keep indoor-air quality high, but a commercial-size hood fan alone is not a solution. In fact, without proper makeup air, that beautiful appliance may be doing more harm than good. Tight homes, toxic chemicals released from building materials as gas and dust, moisture, improper ventilation, and combustion appliances are a combination with the potential to cause asthma, infertility, birth defects, behavioral problems in children, and cancer. Backdrafting carbon monoxide can kill quickly.

The problem is that it’s perfectly legal for manufacturers to list toxic chemicals as “trade secrets” on their products’ material-safety data sheets (MSDS) or to exclude items that are subcomponents of other ingredients. The lack of clarity about chemical threats is made worse by the variability of human chemical sensitivity. Some common toxins cause immediate reactions in only a small part of the population. Others are accumulative, causing symptoms only after prolonged exposure. Many are bioaccumulative, meaning that they escape the house and accumulate in the oceans, fish, and, ultimately, those of us who eat seafood. Even if we as designers and builders could create a perfectly healthful home, toxic chemicals could still be introduced through furniture, clothes, shoes, gasoline stored in the garage, and solvents in everyday cleaning products.

Healthful indoor-air quality is the result of three guiding principles: choosing healthful materials, handling and installing them with caution, and providing right-size ventilation with appropriate makeup air. We’ll get to proper ventilation soon, but let’s first look at some materials that must be used with care, if not avoided altogether.

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posted in: Blogs, hvac, ventilation, indoor air

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