So let’s travel back in time to the 1950’s. The kids are bringing home friends and, well, mom needed to find a place for the kids to go. Someone figured out that the basement is already there, ready for action. Add a little paneling and a couple of weekends work and maybe a pool table, and the kids would have a place to gather. With the possible addition of a six pack, the plan also worked for the adults and their friends. Welcome the basement game room to modern living.
Click Here to Download "A Homeowners Guide to Finishing a Basement"
Sixty years later and the basement is still the cheapest place to add living space to a home. Today’s basements are “not your daddy’s game room” They are now often elaborate and expensive endeavors featuring wonderful products and materials that were science fiction in the 1950’s.
Today there are homes still under construction that are already growing fuzzy mold. Expensive does not mean “free from mold.” This year I have found two under construction homes over $750,000 in sales price that already had mold at an unhealthy level. Start with the normal moisture in building products and add that to “Energy Star” tight construction and you have the perfect petri dish.
As in most things, preparation is the most important place to start a project.
Look for water coming through the wall. White power, yellow stains or black areas on basement walls are the result of water penetration. Fix the cause. Water behind walls will result in mold, termites, carpenter ants and rot to materials. It is also easier to locate and correct the water problem before walls and ceilings are installed.
Test for moisture coming up from the floor. The simple trick is to securely duct tape the perimeter of an 18”X18” piece of clear plastic to the floor. Come back in 3 days. Look at the plastic. If water droplets have collected under the plastic, the water problem under the floor needs corrected before moving forward
Test for radon and natural gas leaks before finishing the basement. In addition to making the basement a healthier environment, it will be easier and often less expensive to fix before the basement is finished.
Move water and gas valves so that they can be used. They are installed for a purpose. You do not want to learn that purpose when water is running through a wall or ceiling.
Plan for all of the features you want in the room. Your plan should include any future changes that may happen in upper levels. Installing plumbing, wiring and heating for a future bath or other renovation will be easier when you have basement access.
Check local codes. As one example, many codes and municipalities require the installation of a second method to exit the home from a finished basement. There are manufactured large window and window well assemblies that allow people another path to leave the basement. Many appraisers can’t add the value of a basement space as living space without that additional exit. Adding that feature can add thousands of dollars to the sales price.
Avoid the Most Common Mistakes in Finishing Basements
Allow enough room around the hot water tank and furnace for both servicing and replacement. You will not like your plumber removing a section of wall to change your hot water tank.
Plan your rooms so that electrical panels are not located in clothes closets, bathrooms or stairwells. That is an electrical code requirement.
Allow for floor drains to be located where the traps can be filled with water. Sewer odor is a common problem if a trap dries out under a carpet.
Provide for comfortable heating, cooling and fresh air. Call a professional for that part of the project. Most home improvement contractors and DIYers don’t have the experience or knowledge to make basements comfortable year around.
Add enough lighting. Consider adding enough light fixtures to create a bright environment. Even if you call it a “man cave”, dark rooms are not pleasant and inviting.
Solve moisture problems without adding interior French drains if possible. If an interior french drain is installed, seal the system. Do not install sheet vinyl, not matter how cheap and easy it is to do. These floors trap moisture underneath the surface. The floor then turns gray with stains from moisture.
Modern Tricks and Products for Better Basement Living
Material selection for the basement can make the difference between having an enjoyable family living area in the basement or a dreaded dark and smelly place.
Frame walls with steel studs instead of wood studs. It is not really so scary to use steel studs. They are easy to cut and screw together. They are better in basements because they are not a source of food for termites or mold.
Do not install the new walls directly against the foundation. Allow an air space of an inch between your new walls and the foundation. That air space allows trapped condensate to vent out from behind walls.
Use a wall finish such as fiberglass drywall. Traditional drywall, including MR (Moisture Resistant) board supports the growth of mold. Some of the fiberglass faced drywall products are DensArmor and Greenglass Board.
Raise the wall finish and any wood trim about 3/8” up from the floor. This avoids the wicking of moisture up a wall if a leak occurs.
Select a floor material that is resistance to water breakdown or mold. Some examples would include carpet that is Olefin yarn based as opposed to other yarn systems. Avoid carpet pad. When you think about it, carpet pad is really a sponge that will hold dirt, odors and mold
Read the instructions on all flooring before purchasing. Yes, I know that reading directions is a tough task. An example of why this is important is the popular composite or laminate flooring. Some of these materials specify “not for use in a below grade application.” Others require specialized underlayment or procedures for this use. Ceramic or solid vinyl flooring products such as Traffic Master are examples of good products for basements.
When installing flooring, use adhesive suited for damp areas. Saving money on adhesives can be an expensive mistake
Cover plumbing pipes with foam insulation. Also insulate ductwork if you have air conditioning. Think of the glass of ice water on the table on the 4th of July. Covering pipes is like putting them in a Styrofoam cup instead of a sweating glass. You do not want dripping of pipes and ductwork.
In the end, if a basement is not a comfortable place to go, it has little value. That is unless you want to grow mushrooms in your very own basement cave.
Imagine struggling with an unexplained illness that robs you of normal life. You go from traditional doctor to traditional doctor and still no answers other than it must be your imagination. This isn’t science fiction. It is real people, real life and may even be you or your loved one.
For too long, people have unknowingly eaten, inhaled, drank and absorbed toxins that are often hidden in everyday products and the vary air and water we need to live.
Big business and government have told us not to worry, they will keep us safe. We are told that we can trust the food, water and air. They tell us the multitude of energy waves they beam through our bodies won’t hurt us. They did the same with asbestos, lead paint, radon and the drinking water in Flint Michigan.
There is new hope and healing for the millions of people affected with environmentally created health problems. CIRS, MCS, chemical toxicity, autoimmune disease and sensitivity to electro-magnetic forces are some of the illnesses. For many individuals, the health problems are the result of compromised health due to chemotherapy, organ transplants, and other illnesses that attack the bodies’ ability to heal.
Modern chemistry has brought us tens of thousands of untested new chemicals mixed in combinations to create hundreds of thousands of new exposures. If the product doesn’t have a toxin as a key ingredient, manufacturers often add toxic chemicals to create a pleasant odor.
What we have been doing is not enough to protect our health and the health of our children It is not OK to keep dosing environmentally ill individuals and ignore the source and causes. It is unacceptable to dismiss environmental illness as imagined or unimportant.
People are the sum of their genetics, health history and exposures. We accept that some children can find a peanut deadly, but have a difficult time understanding that other exposures can be deadly.
It is time for qualified Functional Professionals to work together to identify the causes of environmental health, find ways to avoid the toxins and help the people affected by environmental hazards to heal.
Functional Health Professionals
It is not enough to give people pills to treat the symptoms of environmental illness instead of the illness itself. Functional Health Professionals identify the cause and source of illness. They prescribe testing that can confirm what is the cause of illness. The source of illness can range from the food we eat to the air we breathe.
When food is the source of illness, they prescribe diets to improve health. When environmental factors are the issue, they refer patients to Functional Environmental Professionals to test and evaluate the source of toxins. Mold is the most common source of environmental illness.
The Functional Health Professional’s next steps are to provide advice to avoid the risk and medical care detoxifying and healing patients.
Functional Environmental Professionals
Functional Environmental Professionals (FEPs) explore the wide range of sources of environmental health risks. Mold is the most common problem. Toxic exposures can be found in drinking water, building materials, construction defects, HVAC systems, or from the activities of every-day living. Health risks can be from daily or occupational activities, frequented buildings or even outdoor sources. Testing is done to confirm the source of an exposure and then it is important for the FEP to identify and report on the changes needed to remediate the risk and avoid its return. Educating the client in avoiding future exposures is important to recovery. All buildings and their exposures are a science experiment. We all know that if we do not change the conditions of the experiment, the results will be the same. Identifying the changes that are required to keep a building healthy is a critical part of the assessment that requires a qualified Functional Environmental Professional.
It is not enough to spray a chemical in a building and declare that everything is better. Functional Remediation Professionals (FRPs) understand that there is not a single magic spray or pixie dust that remediates every building. When you clean your kitchen counter, you wipe the food and debris that is the food of bacterial and viruses off the counter. Just picture if you sprayed Lysol on the kitchen counter without cleaning up the food debris for the next couple of weeks. Yep, Lysol has a 99.8% kill germ claim, but that is not enough to spray a house without cleaning up the bad stuff where the contaminants are living. It is critical to test a patient’s reaction to treatment products before they are applied. This is especially true in one that is occupied by chemically sensitive or environmentally ill individuals. Functional Remediators follow the protocols of Functional Environmental Professionals that include containment, negative air and air scrubbing. Just as the dandelion will spread its white seeds when blown on, contaminants can be spread through a building during remediation. Improper remediation can make an unhealthy building even more toxic.
The Healthy Infusion Program Brings Functional Professionals Together
It is not enough to treat symptoms of illness. We should have healing.
It is not enough to test for an environmental risk. We should strive to correct the cause or reduce the exposure and its return.
It is not enough to spray a “one size fits all” chemical and declare a building free of toxins. We must treat with sensitivity to the occupants and using methods to contain exposures during treatment. We must change the conditions that cause a toxic environment.
Functional Professionals are a team that is focused on identifying the underlying conditions and improving the causes and conditions that can be improved.
Simply put, the Healthy Infusion Program is designed to bring the functional professionals together to address the source of environmental hazards and the path toward good health.
Where do we go From Here?
We know that our modern world has created many environmental risks that can affect each person differently. We need to understand the complexities of the life today and not dismiss the concerns of those that are affected by elements of our changing, complex and often toxic environment. We need to work together to provide the best outcomes for environmentally ill individuals.
Click Here for a .PDF copy of this article News Years Resolution for Your Home.pdf
We look to the New Year for a fresh start and better times. Why not include our homes in that time of renewal ?
What catches us off guard is that things often wear out a little at a
time. The extension cords rubs a little, moves a little and three years
later has bare exposed wires that can start a fire. That process happens
with every part of our home.
Make your Home a Safer Place
Everyone knows to install and regularly check the smoke and carbon
monoxide detectors. It is important enough that it needs said again.
through your home and check for water leaks and mold. These can sneak
up on any homeowner. That tiny leak can cause a big mold problem over
time. The earlier leaks are found , the less damage they cause and the
easier they are to correct.
Have the radon checked in your home. Radon is the second leading cause
of lung cancer and South Western PA area has over a 50% failure rate.
your clothes dryer vent for blockage. Blocked vents can also cause the
dryer heater component to overheat and fail. At best a lint blockage in
the dryer vent can cost you a couple of hundred dollars in appliance
repairs. On the hand, dryer vent pipe blockage is a leading cause of
fires and carbon monoxide in the home.
We live in a world of chemicals. Some to clean, some to make things
smell, some to make things work better and others to make our homes
look pretty. Many of the chemicals can make some of us very ill.
Check the bottles and cans in cleaning closets for leakage. Remove
chemicals such as pesticides, paint thinner and gasoline from inside of
your home and garage. Storage in an exterior yard shed is a safe
Have your furnace cleaned and serviced each year. Hire a furnace
company that also checks for carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks.
If you have and use a fireplace, have the chimney cleaned and checked
each year before use. Check every heating appliance for safety,
especially the portable heaters.
Consider having a home inspection. We usually only consider these when
purchasing a home, but having a home checked for safety by a
professional can be a good thing while you are still living there. It
also could be a great gift for a senior or other family member not able
to keep up with their home maintenance.
There are over 200 million appliances that have been recalled. Check
for recalls to avoid fires or save major appliance repair or
replacement. You can check www.CPSC.gov or use a fee based data base
entry service to list and automatically recheck your appliances each
month such as: http://www.appliancerecallcheck.com/
Prepare a Plan for Disaster
A natural disaster or serious world event could leave us unable to pick
up our cell phone and find our families. Massive power or
communication failures are no longer only a possibility in science
fiction. These failures have become a possible means of terrorism.
It takes moments to plan locations for a family to meet if
communication systems fail. There should be a local place and one
outside of the area. It could be a landmark or the home of a relative.
It takes moments to discuss and decide where to meet if things go
Create an Emergency Kit. Food, fuel and light are critical for
survival. Take a moment and consider all of the items that will not work
without power and create an alternate plan. The best resource for
creating emergency kits is www.Ready.gov. They have many sample lists
designed for a wide range of needs such as families, seniors, businesses
and many other groups.
Without electricity, the Automatic Teller Machine will not spit out
money into your hand no matter how much money is in your account or how
many times you ask. Keep some cash on hand in a safe place.
Take a pictures or a video of your home's furnishings and its
contents. It is a reality that disasters can occur in any home, even
yours. It could be a fire, flood or major theft, but each of these
disasters require documentation of the home and its contents for
Once you have the pictures or video of your home, store a copy of that
information "off site." You can upload them to a cloud service or simply
hand a digital copy to a close friend or relative. The object here is
to avoid is losing your backup pictures in the disaster they were taken
Improve Your Home's Environment
These suggestions will make you feel better in your home. It is your
castle and should be the very best it can be. Ironically, your castle
should be a lot more comfortable than a real castle.
Take a couple of weekends and pick from the list of chores that can make your home healthier and more pleasant.
As a final suggestion, walk through and look at what is inside of your
home. We are talking about your pictures, furnishings, clothes or even
paint colors. If what you see conjures up bad memories or feelings:
get rid of it ! If you notice something that is hidden away that makes
you feel good, get it out where you can see it. Now! That can be a
wonderful New Years gift to yourself.
School Professionals and Surviving the School Building Mold Science Project
With the return of students to school, many school districts are fighting environmental and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) challenges, particularly mold problems. When we experience any school environmental issue such as mold, it can be front page headlines, TV, talk show fodder and Facebook news feed material.
Environmental issues in schools are not “just another student health issue”. These problems are a public relations nightmare, a staff human relations mine field, a facility management challenge, a budget buster, a political fiasco and a liability time bomb.
It’s not just mold. The environmental issues that can confront a school district and its administration include:
Lead in drinking water
Insects or insect treatment chemicals
Toxins (bus and car fumes as one example) brought in through HVAC “fresh air” systems
The sources for the exposures vary widely and unpredictably. Many of the problems started with compliance mandates that did not anticipate the environmental consequence. As an example, energy saving equipment and designs can create indoor air quality potential issues. Even asbestos started with well-intended fire protection mandates. The most common sources of environmental problems in schools include:
HVAC design mistakes
Moisture and leak problems
Original material selection
Material and equipment defects
Mixtures of events and construction conditions
Budget constraints limiting prudent maintenance
Problems created during renovations
Mold exposures are a timely example of how this whole environmental freight train gets rolling. The reason we find many mold problems when students return to school at the end of summer makes sense when looking at the most common sources of mold contaminations:
Even the very best school environmental plan is only a meaningless series of words until there is action and accountability. For action to happen there needs to be someone in charge with the authority to make things happen.
The EPA Tools for Schools program can provide a good background for “in house” management if that is the best method for the school district’s circumstances. Hiring an outside consultant is another approach which does have its benefits. It can allow for outside review and add credibility to the image that a school is taking prudent measures to protect the health of students and employees. Outside consultants have the advantage of not being subjected to pressure from school district staff.
To Do List for everyday facility environmental planning:
Establish a written system in place
Hire or assign a “person in charge”
Share the program and outline procedures for all staff
Create a communication system process for problem identification
Communicate needs such budgetary requirements to address potential problems
Correct the underlying causes that allowed contaminations to occur
Try to hide environmental problems
Paint over or disguise real issues
Withhold information such as bad lab testing results
To Do List for Environmental Events such as floods or discovered environmental risks such as mold, asbestos, contagions, pests:
Bring in qualified professionals immediately
Assign a spokesperson to handle media and public inquiries
Take action to limit personal exposures
Take all possible action to mitigate the damage to people or property
Communicate with staff and students about any health risks
Communicate with the solicitor for the school
Damage good will by hiding the situation from the public
Allow exposures to occur when a risk is first suspected
Risk personal safety by having issues cleaned before they are defined ‘
Selecting the right staff member or outside professional is the key to success of every system put into action. The best plan in the wrong hands can be worse than no plan at all. The advantage of engaging a staff employee may be constant on-site monitoring and in some instances cost savings. The potential advantages of an outside firm are access to specialists and an “on call” presence not influenced by the staff at the facilities.
Potential considerations in hiring an indoor air quality (IAQ) coordinator or team.
Training and credentials in the field
Experience and relationships in the related industries
Ability to evaluate conditions, write a plan and make and implement recommendations
Skill in testing for potential exposures or independent relationships in the field
A policy of not releasing suspected condition information unless the designated contact
An ability to deal with the media when authorized as the contact.
Building and executing a plan to maintain and healthy environment is school buildings is a win-win for all parties. From the asthmatic student who is avoiding chronic events, to the staff and tax payers, all can benefit from doing the best possible indoor air quality.
The issue of needing
healthy classrooms concerns most of us. They are essential for quality
comprehension and education as well the welfare of your youth.
One of many examples
is lead poisoning. The ingestion of lead from peeling paint affects the soft
tissue of a child. It can permanently affect the IQ of a child and cause
behavioral problems that affect them the rest of their life. Ingestion can be
secondary from hidden causes. It could be dust from the paint in the closet
where classroom books are stored over the summer. Lead dust can come from peeling paint scrapings
when a cafeteria is painted or on china plates used to serve lunches. The
source can be imported plastic toys in a kindergarten. There are a host of
other potential issues including pesticide residues, radon, fumes from idling
buses, mold, CO or CO2.
We know that there are classrooms and school buildings
that are making our children sick. Parents and teachers often do not know where
to start to identify or correct the situation.
That is nothing new.
We tend to think that today’s problem is a new problem, and often it isn’t. The
quote below “says it all” in that regard.
“In the construction of buildings, whether for public
purposes or as dwellings, care should be taken to provide good ventilation and
plenty of sunlight….schoolrooms are often faulty in this respect. Neglect of proper ventilation is responsible
for much of the drowsiness and dullness that….make the teacher’s work toilsome
-Health Reformer, 1871
The EPA states that there are so many sources of indoor air pollution in childcare facilities that the air is considered to be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
We want to select daycare facilities that are aware of these risks and have an active program to reduce the chance of your child being hurt by exposures. Look for a daycare that: