Everyone knows at least one friend who has had to move out because that dream home turned out to be a source of headaches, mold, strange smells, or allergic reactions. This month, we look back at the experience picked up from over 400 home inspections and testing data and pick out the lessons learned.
PureLiving China’s top 10 list of ways to avoid “sick home syndrome”:
1. Avoid basements
Basements often have higher levels of moisture due to plumbing pipes and other domestic pipes. As such, they can be a haven for mold. Mold can lead to a number of health problems, including eye and throat irritation, headaches, and other allergic reactions. Radon is also a concern: 90% of radon problems we encounter are in homes with basements. These spaces are susceptible to radon gases from soil as they are sub grade environments totally exposed to the surrounding soil. Exposure to radon is associated with significant health risks, including strong links to lung cancer.
2. Avoid new construction and new furniture
New construction and new furniture can introduce TVOCs (total volatile organic compounds) into your home, potentially leading to array of health concerns including burning in the eyes, tightness in the chest, and severe headaches. Solvents and glues used in the production process may stabilize up to two months after most off gassing has occurred. By avoiding brand new furniture, construction, and freshly painted indoor environments, you can significantly reduce your risk of being exposed to TVOCs.
3. Avoid carpeting and rugs
Carpeting and area rugs are especially problematic for homes and offices in China. They are a haven for particulate matter and allergens. Large buildups of particles in floor rugs can also have significant health ramifications when breathed in, including respiratory disease, high blood pressure, and lung cancer. It is crucial to use a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner to trap particulate matter that normal vacuums just don’t capture. Another disadvantage of carpeting and area rugs is that they trap particulate matter (unless a HEPA vacuum is properly employed). Typical foot traffic can then cause that particulate matter to become airborne and lodge in our lungs. High humidity levels can also result in damp carpets and rugs, leading to other problems such as the potential for mold spores and bacteria growth.
4. Check for water damage or leaks from outside
Water damage or leaks can lead to mold spores and other pollutants entering your home. It is important to keep an eye out for these problems and try to remediate them as soon as possible to ensure a small issue does not become a large and costly problem. Unfortunately, high quality construction and repair practices are not always employed, leading to further problems down the road. In addition to signs of interior water damage on the wall, things to look out for include landscaping that goes all the way up to the wall, sloping of the land alongside a structure, poorly sealed foundations, and pools of standing water.
5. Beware of odors – especially musty ones
Odors are a clear sign of trouble. Whether from bacterial build up, a clogged drain pipe. or a chemical source, these odors are often signs of unseen pollutants. When visiting a house, we recommend to ‘do like the professionals do’ and ask to see the house with the windows shut. (In attempts to hide tell-tale odors, some real estate agents have been known to open windows and air out a property ahead of time, and close them just prior to a showing.)
6. Look for properly insulated windows and basement (no condensation)
By properly insulating your windows and basement, your can drastically decrease the amount of condensation within your home, which in turn will decrease the relative humidity of your home. By controlling the relative humidity of your home, you will reduce the risk of mold and pest growth. This will also pay dividends for your energy bills. Tip: There should be no sign of moisture or condensation in double-paned glass.
7. Find out about the property’s site history
Some chemical compounds can remain within in soils for decades and what may look like a clean house site may once have been a site exposed to hazardous chemicals. With this in mind, it is critical to request a site history of your home or office. By uncovering the past land use, you may better determine the nature of your site and develop a remediation plan to manage any potential residual risks. Some other approaches include asking some of the older residents in the area about site history, or proactively testing the soil and sand around the compound. We have often traced high levels of indoor chemicals and pollutants to the soils that have been tracked in.
8.Choose lead-free, low VOC paint (<50g/L)
Choose lead-free, low VOC paint (<50g/L). By reducing your exposure to lead and VOCs, you are also reducing the severe health impacts they could potentially pose to yourself and your family. Low VOC paints are typically graded as less than 50g per L; note that Chinese standards for acceptable VOC levels are significantly higher, at 550g per L. VOC related figures can either be found on the labeling, or by searching the paint name and brand alongside the word MSDS (‘material safety data sheet’). For more humid areas, it is also good to choose an anti-mold paint, or alternatively mix in an anti-mold paint additive.
9. Insist on an exit clause in your lease pending air testing
By insisting on an exit clause within your home or office lease pending air testing, you are safeguarding your family or your workers by knowing that if after testing, dangerous levels of chemicals or pollutants are present, you can walk away with out leaving yourself open to the prospect of a costly lease payout to the site landlord or principal.