One of the great things about Southern Utah is the wonderful outdoors. There are so many things to do and see…they literally beckon to you to head out. Those first few steps in that clean, crisp air we have feels so remarkably good. And then we return to our home and the difference in the air is notable….but should it be? Wouldn’t it be great if our houses had that same high quality fresh air we were just walking in? Well, it can. Indoor air can even be higher quality that outdoors by having less particulates and less pollen. This first step can be accomplished by using high quality pleated air filters and changing them often. But that is only part of the battle to have high quality air inside your home. A major contributor to poor air quality is the off gassing of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from materials used to build your new home. Have you ever walked into a home a smelled that fresh, “new carpet” scent? Well, that is the chemical adhesives in the carpet coming out of the carpet as a vapor and into the air you’re breathing.
Some VOCs are directly linked to heath issues; such as formaldehyde which can irritate the breathing passage, and even cause serious reactions to exposure over time.
A surprising source of VOCs is the wood products used in your home. Some products use adhesives that can have extremely high levels of VOC off gassing. Oriented Strand Board (OSB) is used to sheet the side of your house and roof, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is used for cabinets and shelving and sometimes floor underlayment. Often times, even your wood doors and wood molding emit VOCs. Not all wood products will have high levels of VOCs, but each will off gas to a certain extent. Usually, builders use materials designed specifically for interior applications. But, for the cleanest, and healthiest air in your home, you should have a discussion with your builder about VOC sources and what wood products they are using.
If you are really concerned about your home’s air quality, you can ask that your builder seal the heating and air conditioning duct work as it’s being installed. Simply fastening a heavy-duty plastic bag over the open ends of the ducting during construction will keep dust and other particulates from settling in the duct while your home is being built. I’m sure you can imagine just how much dust and particulates fly around inside a house during construction. Once the walls are painted the seals can be removed.
Another way to keep your duct work clean is to specify with your builder that your heating and cooling system isn’t to be run until construction is finished. But, this isn’t very practical considering how hot it gets in the summer in St. George, and how cold it gets in the winter in Cedar City. A realistic compromise is to ensure that MERV 13 filters are used and changed regularly if the system is operated during constrain. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and will capture enough fines to keep your ducting clean and still allow for sufficient airflow.
When selecting materials for your house, air quality should be on your list of discussion items. You and your builder should work together to select those products that have low VOCs. Items such as carpet, paint, cabinets, shelving, sealants, and clean ducts should be on the list. I’ve been in many new buildings that smelled fresh and had no hint of new building smell because the Owners and the Builder worked together.
At Choice Builders, we know what to look for to ensure your home’s indoor air quality is high. We always advise our clients during material selection and give you the information to make good choices.