Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

The television show GMA Investigates randomly went to 8 homes to test 8 pillows. The lab that tested the pillows found bacteria, fungus, mold and dust mites. One pillow was found to have fecal coliform.

The problem is that we sweat, drool and deposit dead skin in our pillows every time we use them. This is wonderful food for all of the nasty organic things found on the pillows that were tested.     


Reading/watching this report makes me very glad we just purchased “My Pillows” that can be thrown into the clothes washing machine.  The other option?  Purchase a new pillow every 2 years or less.  


For the video of the investigation, go to:


Posted in:Healthy Home and tagged: MoldPillows
Posted by Dan Howard on April 24th, 2017 4:59 PMLeave a Comment

             Ladies Home Journal pointed out that when we flush the commode, the moving water sends a bacteria filled mist into the air. This mist can have mold, germs, bacteria and when you inhale the mist you can become infected with whatever the organic things that are living in your toilet tank.

             The mist from flushing can travel several feet, which is within range of your nostrils which are connected to your lungs. YUCK! Tank mist in our lungs? Yuck again. 

             We have learned that the mist from showers, sink sprayers and water fountains can be a source of Legionella infections. To be honest about it, that snippet is in an environmental class I teach. Based upon the studies that go with that information. this toilet mist health issue does make sense.

             We all love simple answers. Put the lid and the seat down on the toilet and avoid breathing in this stuff. I automatically put the seat down to continue “domestic tranquility”.  Adding the lid to that deeply imbedded ritual of putting the seat down is easy.

         While on the subject of sprays, and things I never thought through: Kenneth Rosenman, MD, Chief Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Michigan State University has another eye-opening gem.

           The use of sanitizing wipes or cleanser and a rag are safer than sprays of cleaners and disinfectant.    

            Some of the sprays are harsh on human tissue. If the warning label says to wear gloves because it can affect your skin, the little mist sure could burn lung tissue. 

            The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care publishes a study indicating that the use of household cleaning sprays and air fresheners can raise the risk of developing Asthma by 100 to 200 percent. Many people are allergic to the chemicals in the products.

Posted in:Healthy Home and tagged: Sprays
Posted by Dan Howard on April 19th, 2017 11:42 AMLeave a Comment

April 17th, 2017 10:26 PM

I came across this radon installation while doing a mold assessment. I asked the homeowner if they ever had the home tested after it was installed. I mentioned that I would be surprised of the radon level was not elevated by this system.  That got a: “Funny you should ask” response. She went on: “Yes, it did go up, but the installer did not understand why”

Let me count the ways that this installation is wrong:

  • The radon fan is in the house as opposed to outside the home
  • The pipes and fittings are different size diameters
  • There is loose duct tape connecting the pipes
  • The indicator showing operation of the system is missing
  • The result is that more radon is being “blown” into the home than was entering the home before the installation of the radon system
  • Just for good measure: The electrical wire is pinched by the cap on the wiring connector box instead of being clamped in the opening designed for wiring to enter.   

 By the way, PA is a radon license state. Surprise: the installer did not have a license (or any common sense)  

Posted in:Radon Systems and tagged: Radon Systemblooper
Posted by Dan Howard on April 17th, 2017 10:26 PMLeave a Comment

Craft Supplies and Dark Colored Plastics and Toys  
Even the products labeled “nontoxic” can contain solvents that are dangerous when inhaled.  Many glues, paints, markers and other craft supplies contain solvents that can be dangerous particularly to children.  Many imported products such as jewelry kits, makeup, plastic parts that can be chewed and paints contain lead which can do serious damage to children’s health.  When the author purchased a “Thomas the Tank” wooden train set (an expensive gift) the wooden pieces that my grandson was likely to put in his mouth at that age tested positive for lead. Dust from an artificial Christmas tree is another example of high lead content when tested by this professional.

Common Household Chemicals
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals released by many common products that you use in your home. Cleaners containing Pinene as the cleaner would be one example. Cleaning chemicals that contain ammonia or chlorine can also be a problem.   These can cause headaches, nausea, sore throats or runny eyes. Babies are often most at risk as these chemicals are usually more concentrated near the ground.

Formaldehyde and Furniture, Cabinets and Other Construction Products
Cabinets, furnishings, flooring products, construction components, draperies and many other examples can contain formaldehyde. This is one of the simplest organic chemicals and off gasses as the solvent used in production and as a byproduct of more complex chemicals breaking down. It is an irritant that children are especially a risk from serious health problems due to exposure.   

New Carpet
We all know about “new carpet smell”. Padding and adhesives can give off harmful gasses. One solution is the purchase of low VOC carpet and padding. Another solution is to have the carpet rolled out in another well-ventilated location for several weeks before installation. Install the carpet at a time of year that windows can be kept open to air out the carpet and pad.

Paint, Paint Thinners and Strippers
Use only low VOC paints and paint at time that windows can be left open.  Do not store solvents in the home, These can off-gas from sealed cans.

Yard Chemicals and Gas Cans
Pesticides, fertilizers, gasoline and other yard chemicals can off gas through the containers. Even when stored in a basement or attached garage those fumes can be pulled into the living space of the home,          

Second Hand and Third Hand Smoke
Second hand smoke refers to the exposure to smoke by the non-smoker in the home. Third hand is exposure to the many toxic chemicals from smoking that are absorbed by carpets, furniture, clothing and other objects that children and other people can absorb as they come in contact with these materials. As with so many exposures, children are most at risk from this hazard 

Improperly Installed or Operating Gas Appliances
Let me count the ways for exposure to from problem gas appliances.  Stoves emit combustion gases. Misuse or dirty burners can be toxic. Poorly or improperly vented clothes dryers and hot water tanks can create a toxic environment.  Improper heating systems can result in combustion fumes throughout a building.

Air Fresheners
In one study, one third of people with Asthma reported that they had breathing problems when exposed to air fresheners. Google the MSDS list of chemicals in some of these common products and you will be amazed at home many chemicals are found in each.    

Posted in:Healthy Home and tagged: HomeChemicals
Posted by Dan Howard on April 17th, 2017 8:43 PMLeave a Comment

You are just trying to keep your child from having an Asthma attack. You run around in circles because there is real confusion about the right and wrong things to do to minimize dust and allergens

Dust the furniture with Pledge? Is your carpet sweeper putting allergens in the air? Open the window or shut the window? Does cooking raise the humidity in the home?  Is there a furnace filter that works better than others? Is the air purifier improving the air of stirring up more dust with its fan?

It is difficult for us to know the right things to do to reduce allergens for a number of reasons

·         Allergens are often too small for us to see with our eyes.

·         There is a natural delay in how people react to allergens making sorting out cause and effect difficult to figure out.   

·         We do a lot of different things in a day often creating confusion as to which event caused which allergy or asthma attack problem.

·         There is a pile of contradictory and confusing information floating about the internet. 

The answer to sorting out the best way to answer the allergen reduction questions is a continuous particle and humidity monitor like the Speck Monitor. Their website says it better than I can:

“Fine particles are so small that they are invisible to the naked eye, but large enough to lodge deep into our lungs, get into our bloodstream, and cause illnesses such as asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. Speck was developed to help you monitor the actions that take place at home, work, or school and empower you to make changes to improve your personal air quality!”

They also have a well-done video on the their website ( www.SpeckSensor.com ) that perfectly makes the argument that their monitor and its data collection, display and charting capabilities are well worth the $200.00 investment. By the way, the monitor can upload data and it can be stored on a personal data account at their website.   

There are other brands of monitors available with similar features.  The bottom line is that a home is a complicated place and how and what we do in that building is even more complicated.   

Posted in:Healthy Home and tagged: Monitorair quality
Posted by Dan Howard on April 14th, 2017 10:26 AMLeave a Comment

possible list of symptoms of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
a/k/a Sick Building Syndrome or Environmental Illness is almost endless - varies from one patient to the next. Also worthy of mention here is the fact that there is no sharp demarcation between the symptoms of MCS and those of ME/CFS/CFIDS/PVFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis - chronic fatigue), but that most sufferers of MCS complain of at least several of the following:

  • burning, stinging eyes
  • wheezing, breathlessness nausea
  • extreme fatigue/lethargy
  • headache/migraine/vertigo/dizziness
  • poor memory & concentration
  • runny nose (rhinitis)
  • sore throat, cough
  • sinus problems
  • skin rashes and/or itching skin
  • sensitivity to light & noise
  • sleeping problems
  • digestive upset
  • muscle & joint pain.

Posted by Dan Howard on April 12th, 2017 10:10 AMLeave a Comment

Well, if you think about it, that may be precisely what you are doing when it comes to mold and allergens. Really, would you allow a poisonous snake to bite you just because you had the anti-venom? 

           As an example, when you take anti-histamines without removing the cause of your body producing the histamines, your body continues to try to convince you to stay away from m the cause of your bodies’ reactions. You will then need to take more medication, and your body will continue to communicate to you to change the exposure. The best procedure is to try to discover the cause of the problem and correct it. …instead of allowing “the snake to bite you and then taking the anti-venom”.

Posted in:Healthy Home and tagged: Moldasthmaair
Posted by Dan Howard on April 10th, 2017 9:58 AMLeave a Comment

April 7th, 2017 3:43 PM

A lack of fresh air is a common problem in finished basements and new energy efficient construction. This is a great article explaining the choice of methods to add the fresh air we need for a healthy home

Ventilation is a great thing. Bringing outdoor air into the home and exhausting stale indoor air 
improves indoor air quality. Well, most of the time anyway. Sometimes the outdoor air quality is worse than indoor air. Sometimes you bring in too much humidity and start growing mold. And sometimes you bring in the wrong outdoor air.

Probably the most common type of whole-house mechanical ventilation system in homes is an exhaust-only system. You put some controls on the exhaust fans that are already in the home and those fans are set to exhaust stale air from the home, either continuously or intermittently. The problem is this type of system sucks. Literally. And if your house is sucking from an attached garage, a moldy crawl space, or dirty attic, you could be making things worse.

The way to avoid having a house that sucks is to do balanced ventilation. You exhaust stale air from the house and you supply an equal amount of air directly rather than relying on the negative pressure of the house to bring in the outdoor air. Here are five ways to do balanced ventilation. I've put them in increasing order of cost, complexity, and efficiency.

1. Open the windows

OK, technically I shouldn't include this one because it's not a real solution for most homes. This one works only if the home is in a mild climate that needs to little to no conditioning. But if that's your situation, you don't need a fancy ventilation system. Just open the windows.

2. Pair a central-fan integrated supply system with the exhaust fans

A lot of homes get exhaust-only whole-house ventilation (fans plus controls). One easy way to upgrade is to install a central-fan integrated supply system to complement the exhaust-only side. The two most commonly used controls for this are made by AirCycler and Honeywell.

These systems are integrated with the blower in the central heating and cooling system. They bring in outdoor air when the system is running and mix it with the indoor air circulating through the duct system. It gets filtered and conditioned before being introduced into the home. When tied to the exhaust-only controls, you get balanced ventilation.

The main drawback of this system is energy use in systems that don't have variable speed blowers. In addition to bringing in fresh air when the system is heating or cooling, it can turn the blower on when the home doesn't need heating or cooling. And some blowers use a lot of power. Turning on a 400 watt fan to bring in 50 cubic feet per minute of outdoor air is overkill. If you have a high-efficiency heating and cooling system with a variable speed blower, you should be able to do this at less than 50 watts.

And another drawback, pointed out by Curt Kinder in the first comment below, is moisture. In a humid climate, running the blower without the compressor on can evaporate moisture on the coil and put it back into the home.

3. Pair a supply fan with the exhaust fans

Another way to get balanced ventilation is to use the exhaust fans with controls and also install a supply fan. You can do this with a bath fan installed to blow air into the home or you can use a fan made specially for this task. I'm thinking of the QuFresh fan made by Air King.


They have two basic models. One has a sensor for temperature and relative humidity, and the other does not. The purpose of the sensor is to limit the amount of ventilation when it's really cold, really hot, or really humid outside. It'll still run 15 minutes an hour so you'll keep getting some ventilation air.

I like the concept and the features in the QuFresh fan. I haven't had a chance to try one out yet, but they do a lot of good things. You can adjust the flow rate from 30 to 130 cfm. It has a slot for a 2 inch filter that could be up to MERV 13. It's quiet (0.5 sone at 50 cfm). And it's relatively inexpensive.

3a. Pair a ventilating dehumidifier with the exhaust fans

OK. This really should be number 4, not 3a, but somehow I didn't think about it when I put my list together at first. The strategy here is to use controls on your exhaust fans, as in the previous two, and supply your ventilation air through a whole-house dehumidifier. Many models allow you to do this by providing two intake ports on the dehumidifier, the smaller of which attaches to a duct that goes to the outdoors. We like Ultra-Aire but you can also find good models from AprilAire, Honeywell, and others. (Disclosure: Therma-Stor, which makes Ultra-Aire dehumidifiers, advertises here in the Energy Vanguard Blog.)

One drawback of dehumidifiers is the heat they put into your home. The Ultra-Aire model SD12 eliminates that problem by being a split-system dehumidifier. It removes the humidity indoors but puts the heat outdoors. That means it even provides a bit of cooling (about a third of a ton).

4. Use a heat or energy recovery ventilator (HRV or ERV)

This is what most people think of when someone mentions balanced ventilation. The photo at the top of the article shows the inside of a typical ERV. (An HRV looks the same but uses a different material in the heat exchanger.)

The operation is simple. It has two fans, one to exhaust stale indoor air, one to bring in fresh outdoor air. It filters both air streams. The two air streams pass through a heat exchanger, a capillary core in most models. The two air streams pass near each other and exchange heat in an HRV and heat and moisture in an ERV. But the two air streams don't mix.

This is a great way to ventilate a home. It's also more expensive than the ones above. Panasonic does have a small "spot" ERV called the Whisper Comfort, but aside from that model, you're probably looking at $1,000 or more for an ERV or HRV. The biggest difference between this type of balanced ventilation and the previous two is the heat exchanger. You get balanced ventilation with recovery, which means you don't need to do as much conditioning of the outdoor air you bring in.

Finding balance

There's your quick rundown of the main ways to do balanced ventilation. We're seeing a lot of creativity in the ventilation market these days because ventilation is a big deal. I think we've gotten to the point where we rarely have to fight the battle about the need for airtight houses. The old myth that a house needs to breathe, while not completely gone, has mostly been relegated to the dustbin of bad thinking.

One more thing. I was going to make this a list of five ways to do balanced ventilation but decided to save the other one for a separate article. Going a step beyond the ERV, you could go with a souped-up ERV. There are two companies making devices that include balanced ventilation with recovery, a small heat pump, better filtration, and more. One is the 
Conditioning ERV, or CERV, by Build Equinox. The other is the Minotair by Minotair Ventilation


Related Articles

Getting Mechanical Ventilation Inside Conditioned Space

Adventures in Hotel Bathroom Ventilation

An Energy Recovery Ventilator Is NOT a Dehumidifier

Why Do Airtight Homes Need Mechanical Ventilation?


Posted by Dan Howard on April 7th, 2017 3:43 PMLeave a Comment

             Let me first answer the question as to why you should care about mold being brought into your home from overseas.


            Closets and storage areas are often the environment where a mold contamination starts. There tends to be less air movement in closets and items piled together.  It is also a place where contents often sit for extended time without being looked at.


              Take leather items as an example. Leather, which is dead animal skin is a great food for mold, Put a contaminated purse or shoes next to your other shoes, purses or golf bag next to the contaminated items and the mold spreads. 


             Outside of your home, mold growth on imported products is also a major problem. It can affect the bottom line of manufacturers, vendor suppliers, warehouses, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers. Millions of dollars are lost every year to mold growth.


              The more important problem is the effect that these products can have on health


            The shipping process exposes products to moisture and condensation. Products of organic materials such as clothes, leather products, wooden products can develop mold anywhere from the foreign production line to the destination home in the United States.


            Products can be exposed to moisture while on shipping ships, docks, in storage containers, in warehouses, shipping trailers, warehouse distribution centers, home delivery services or in stores. 


Products Prone to Mold Growth

           Although mold will grow on a wide range of products including wooden pallets; leather products, textile, food products and paper goods are especially prone to mold growth. This is because these materials not only readily absorb or adsorb the moisture but they are also a ready source of nutrients for mold growth.


Many Moldy Products can be Salvaged

          While some mold may be visible on a product, it does not necessarily mean that the product has been damaged. Many products can be cleaned and restored to original condition. The important issue to consider is not storing the item with other valuables that can become moldy


For more information about what to do with mold damaged contents, go to the number one question in the article:    goo.gl/1tgWo1

Posted by Dan Howard on April 5th, 2017 12:34 PMLeave a Comment

The driveway slopes down-hill from the street to the garage door. 

Mold is leaking under the garage door and across the floor to the drywall covered wall between the house and the garage.

The homeowners paid a contractor to cut out the driveway and install a drain and grid along the door to catch the driveway water. The drain stops short of the edge of the garage door opening, and the end is the low spot. The water leaks under the door in the area where the drain is not installed   

Another contractor was paid to install a sump pump drain basin into the garage floor. They cut a hole in the lid of the sump to collect water leaking under the door and across the garage floor.

That water is not going into the hole in the drain. The garage floor slopes from the corner of the garage with the sump toward the drywall covered wall.  


What we have here are two contractors that are not considering that the flow of water is from high area to low area. The use of common sense and a level would have given the customer, (the homeowner) value for the money spent in that they would not be having mold issues that someone else will need paid to correct.  

Understanding the downward flow of water should be a consideration of a contractor before the flow of money from homeowner to contractor occurs.

Posted by Dan Howard on March 31st, 2017 11:21 AMLeave a Comment



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