This House Smells -The Dangers and Opportunities that IAQ Present in Homebuilding

“This house smells…different than the rest. Actually, it doesn’t really have a smell?!” said Mrs. Lee as she walked into the Parade of Homes entry I was manning last year. Mrs. Lee, like many other visitors in years past, noticed what most builders are missing across the country, the fact that IAQ is important.

I had the privilege, two years ago, of sitting in a research lab think tank with seven other top builders from across the nation. The question was posed to us “What is the greatest concern that you have about the homes that you are building today”? Each builder at the table said that they were concerned about building homes so tight that they might be poisoning the people that move into them. When they got to me, I was dumbfounded by their answers and had to ask my own question, “Are you using a rater”? As they all shook their head no, it occurred to me that I was the only one at the table who was testing and certifying my homes.
Did they have reason to be concerned about the health of their customers? You bet. According to the EPA, we spend up to 90% of our time indoors, and our indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment. In fact, 80% of all cancers are attributed to environmental rather than genetic factors, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, many of which are found in household cleaning products.
Statistics show that people who live in green homes are happier, healthier, and more productive than those in non-green homes. Additionally, green homes sell faster, and for more money, than their non-green counterparts.

When I ask my prospective customers why green is important to them they usually respond with an answer about being a good steward of the environment. Although green homes do give consideration to the external environment, builders have failed to recognize (and therefore educate) the fact that the indoor environment is equally important. Green certified checklists include categories for site, water, energy, materials and IAQ. There is an additional (more stringent) certification you can get (within this checklist) that focuses specifically on IAQ called “Indoor airPLUS”. The checklists identify causes of indoor air pollution and offer points for remedying them.

Sources of indoor air pollution include radon, tobacco smoke, mold, cooking & heating, household products and building materials. Most people have heard of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and formaldehyde, but few realize just how dangerous that they actually are to breathe. We recognize these dangers and therefore have made it a standard to certify every home we build. We educate the client about the products that we are going to be using on their home like low VOC adhesives, water based finishes, carb 2 compliant shelving, and drywall that absorbs the remaining VOC’s left in the home. We also make recommendations on products that they select after move-in such as air fresheners, cleaning products, mothballs, furnishings and furniture.
Building a new home presents unique opportunities to get exactly what you want. Design, style, finish, and energy conservation are usually the top reasons for building new. However, if you do your research, you may find that building a certified green home can present the greatest opportunity that you have to protect, and preserve your health so that you can live a happier, healthier life.

Sullivan is a leading green builder, a past president of the NCHBA, and was named as NAHB’s “Certified Green Professional of the Year”. In addition to building aging-in-place projects, his firm Living Stone Design+Build, is dedicated to certifying all their new homes with Energy Star, Greenbuilt, and Indoor airPLUS certifications.