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I’m a renter, and I’m getting closer and closer to moving, and the more I look at ads, the more I realize there’s a lot to be concerned about with moving and environmental sensitivities.

In my younger, keener days, I would see an ad with “updates, new carpet” and other newly-added niceties and think “Yeah! That sounds great!”

But after this last apartment I moved into last year, I now know “new” isn’t necessarily a good thing. For months after moving, I had a runny nose, itchy eyes, and more, and the only thing I can blame is my new building.

I’ve sinced learned about things like “off-gassing” and “Volatile Organic Compounds.”

Gas Mask Man

Low emissions in your space

That new-carpet smell people love to talk about? That’s off-gassing. Depending what your carpet’s made of, it can be all kinds of bad. But don’t fear — if you’re doing your research, there are healthy carpets out there too. (They’re just not in the budget for landlords of high-turnover 95-suite buildings, I guess.)

If you go digging around our site here at BuildDirect, you’ll see things sometimes listed as “Floorscore-certified,” which means it’s a low-emissions flooring product. Or maybe it’s described as a “low-VOC” item, and that means it emits way less of these “volatile organic components” than maybe a competing product might. Research pays off, but so does asking the right questions before you buy.

We encounter VOCs everywhere in life today, from going for a pedicure at a nail salon through to tobacco smoke. They’re not some fabled thing we’re only going to run into if we’re in a bad environment — they’re really around us in a lot of spaces. Some of us are more susceptible than others are, and we learn to be aware of what to look for. When you’re talking about your home, it’s one place where you can negate society’s assault on your senses, so picking the right supplies means everything.

“Sick Buildings”

In doing my research, I was reminded of a term borne in the ‘80s, when the World Health Organization declared that “Sick Building Syndrome” was a thing. Some of the tenants of my building and I all feel we might be in just such a building.

According to the EPA’s fact sheet on SBS: “Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, e.g., headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.”

From poor ventilation to products used, from mold to rot, there are a lot of causes for why and how a building can make you sick, including using the wrong building supplies can be problematic for some people. Using natural stone, green-treated woods, and other solutions exist for those who are sensitive.

Ways to guard against VOC exposure when renovating

There are other ways to keep your exposure to VOCs to a minimum when you’re working on your next projects:

  • Have maximum ventilation available when you’re painting or staining things. Benzene is a known carcinogen and you do get exposed during these tasks. Proper ventilation keeps this exposure to more safe levels.
  • Don’t buy more than you need of sealants, paints, and other chemical-based supplies. Even when closed, they continue to leak emissions, and it can be hazardous long-term if you’re keeping these things around. Instead, find a way to safely dispose of or donate the unused portions. Many organizations and civic outlets can help you on this front. Investigate locally.
  • Don’t ever mix products. Even if it seems relatively benign to you, you’re not a chemist and you don’t know what reacts with what, or how, so it’s a dangerous way to play. Just look at the old volcano experiment in school with baking soda and vinegar. The outcomes can be surprising.
  • Know what you’re buying. Did you know wood floors can emit formaldehyde? In fact, many pressed wood products can, and do, emit some. That’s why we’ve written this helpful document to teach you more on its dangers. Many of our product pages list whether they’re a greener option for your next project, so it’s worth looking for. 

breathing

BuildDirect, and even retailers,  offer eco-friendly, no-VOC paint and many other low-emissions products.

Don’t underestimate your home’s ability to make you healthy — or sick. That persistent cough you have could be grounded in building products around you, or poor ventilation, or allergy-inducing situations like mold growth.

You can “green” your space by ethically disposing of all unnecessary chemicals kicking around under sinks and in storage, and you can choose non-VOC products for everything from painting to carpeting, curtains, counter materials, and flooring. They may cost more, but if you suspect your environment could be part of what’s keeping you down for the count, it’s an investment that will pay off for years to come.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.