ABCs of a sick building

Camosun carpentry instructor speaks from personal experience

Sick building syndrome has been officially documented by Health Canada since the early 1990s.

Poor ventilation and/or a build up of one or more contaminants known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs  cause allergic reactions and illness amongst those who spend time in the buildings.

Camosun College carpentry instructor Geoff Murray teaches his students about the syndrome and how to prevent it. Moulds growing in walls or in carpets are the result of poor ventilation or improper sealing of homes. Older homes that have been renovated are particularly vulnerable to becoming a sick building with off-gassing from inorganic compounds in carpeting and paints. Even adhesives in wood can decrease air quality. (If you must have carpet, consider wool carpeting with jute backing, he suggests.)

Murray shares a personal sick building experience with his students from the early 1990s when he and his wife moved into a 1930s James Bay house that had recently been renovated. Within weeks his wife became ill. Sick building symptoms can include eye, nose, throat and skin irritation as well as nonspecific hypersensitivity to odours and tastes. It wasn’t until his wife got better while on vacation that the couple figured out it was the house. “It was sealed up super tight but the crawl space hadn’t been sealed and dampness was coming up causing mold,” he recalled. They quickly moved out. “And when we bought our first home the first thing I did was seal the basement.” New building regulations require energy saving new homes to have heat return systems installed. Murray suggests homeowner discuss with their architects and general contractors the many new kinds of organic products that can be used during renovations in order to maintain good air quality in a home.

Did you know:

Fifty per cent of all work-related deaths in B.C. are from occupational diseases, most from exposure to asbestos.

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