INTERIOR HEALTH ISSUES - A WHITE PAPER
Gary Turpening Certified Architect and Planner
Minnesota Certified Architect #13584
Wisconsin Certified Architect #5826
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14 December 2013
INTERIOR HEALTH ISSUES
Gary Turpening, Architect, and Architect Direct has championed health issues since we designed a house for a family that had children with allergy sicknesses. Frequently there are conflicts with other issues like energy conservation; in consultation with clients we always recommend placing health first.
Our specifications include language and standards for the following areas:
1. DIRT: Use clean building products and have a clean site to prevent future mold growth.
2. MOISTURE INTRUSION: Walls that can expel any moisture that enters ('breathable wall'). Most houses being built today by contractors break this rule (unfortunately, the Minnesota Code does not adequately protect you here).
3. CODE: We explain on our plans the misconceptions caused by a poorly written Building Code, and give simple explanations to the contractors about how to build walls and other details correctly. These designs were created with the help of Mark Soderberg, PE, our consulting Forensic Engineer (http://www.aci-eng.com/).
4. VAPOR BARRIER: The traditional method of placing a plastic vapor barrier on outside walls causes many problems inside of the walls. We have an inexpensive alternate method that has worked well for 30 years.
5. TOXIC MATERIALS: We recommend priming all walls with a 'vapor barrier paint' to seal in all mold. Wood products should be sealed also.
6. EXTERIOR WALLS AND CEILINGS: We recommend a drywall product that will not grow mold. The coolness of a surface exposed to sub-zero cold is prone to grow mold if it contains paper and most plaster products.
7. V.O.C.: All finishes and building products must have low Volatile Organic Compounds contents. This requires careful study to avoid misrepresentation by manufacturers. Our specifications are prepared with care in this area. We also verify that products are available locally or on the Internet at a reasonable cost, and refer to sellers and direct quotes from manufacturers as a courtesy to the builder.
8. FRESH AIR: This is generally misunderstood. The Building Code outlines the requirement for the introduction of fresh air and exhaust of stale air, but rarely in our inspections have we actually seen it done correctly. Our comments on this subject:
Design a system so a house (or commercial building) is in positive pressure as much as possible to prevent drafts, especially when the front door is opened.
FRESH AIR - Maintain a 5-6 inch pipe from the outside to the utility area free of restrictions such as rags. If burning wood in a home, use two pipes with one terminating near the stove or fireplace to introduce oxygen to the space.
Avoid mechanical equipment if the job can be done using passive and natural methods such as breezes and the 'chimney effect'. Expensive Air Exchangers and similar equipment can be counterproductive (in fact harmful) if they are not properly and frequently maintained.
NEW - The IBC requires continuous ventilation exhaling air from house. Since fresh air is available (see above) this should work well if location is carefully considered. For example, if you exhaust the air from a Storage Area, it will be heated naturally by the warm air passing through it.
9. RADON: Although many houses do not have a 'Radon Problem', new houses are generally required to have an exhaust system installed. The good news: if you install a system which vents air from under the basement slab through the roof, your basement slab will stay drier and therefore warmer resulting in a more comfortable and usable basement (costing about $2,000).
1. You can usually get a low cost test kit from your county Health Department.
2. This is not the complete list of Health concerns. We are still collecting more information about these and other concerns . . . that is why we are called 'practicing architects'.