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Renovating Your Space? Guard Against Toxic Indoor Air With These Tips

asbestos in the wall

Are you thinking about fixing up your fixer-upper? You are in good company, according to HGTV-Canada.

Recent statistics indicate that more than half of all Canadian homeowners made major or minor repairs to their homes in just the last year.

With repair costs ranging from the hundreds to the tens of thousands, clearly it is an investment to upgrade your space.

But these are just the costs you know to calculate. There are other, less visible costs that can add up over time and turn your much-anticipated home renovation into a health nightmare.

Yes, we are talking about toxic indoor air.

The problem of indoor air toxicity during home renovations is so prevalent that whole task forces have been assembled to study and combat the problem.

In this blog post, we have assembled a shortlist of industry best practices so you and your family can stay safe during and after your home renovations.

Close Encounters With Home Renovation Contaminants

The first step to avoiding close encounters with common home renovation contaminants is knowing what to avoid.

The Canadian Committee on Indoor Air Quality and Buildings has taken care of this step for us by assembling a helpful guide of the most common renovation-related indoor air contaminants.

  • Asbestos (this is particularly relevant since nearly two-thirds of Canadian homeowners report living in “older homes,” in other words, those built between 1950 and 1999

  • Vermiculite (common ingredient in older insulation)

  • Lead

  • Mould and mildew

  • Mercury

  • Formaldehyde

  • Refrigerant

  • Radon, sewer gas and other gases

  • PCBs

  • Dust and particulates

  • VOCs

  • Combustion by-products (carbon monoxide, etc.)

  • Hydrocarbons

This is a pretty lengthy list. Is there anything that can tackle every single toxin?

The answer to this is yes... and no.

There is no single appliance or solution that can handle every single toxin that might get uncovered during a home renovation. But there is a set of solutions that can ensure minimal exposure from start to long after your renovation is finished.

Follow these tips to stay safe and healthy throughout your renovation.

Step 1: Identify Potential Hazards in Advance

Step one involves going back into the archives (mental or otherwise) to identify which major toxins you are likely to encounter during renovations.

You can think of this as doing risk management for home repairs.

You may or may not ever actually deal with the risk, but at least you are taking steps to be prepared if you do.

Here are two toxins that you may encounter during renovations and that require special safety precautions.

Lead

Canada banned the use of lead paint in 1960. But remember when we said nearly two-thirds of Canadian homeowners report living in older homes with build dates as far back as 1955?

When renovating an older home, you are likely to encounter lead paint at some point mid-project.

Asbestos

Asbestos was not banned in Canada until 1999. This tells us that the full two-thirds of Canadians still living in older homes will likely encounter it in some form or fashion during a remodel or major repair.

Asbestos has properties that can make materials stronger, fire-retardant and longer-lasting. It was commonly used to make insulation, tiles, siding, cement and plaster, among other things.

Any reputable contractor can help ensure that appropriate protections are in place for these and the other toxins mentioned in the introduction here.

3 Categories of Home Renovation Toxins to Avoid

In this list of common home renovation toxins mentioned here earlier, you probably noticed there are a few common categories. These are particulate (solid), gaseous and liquid.

Splitting the toxins into these major categories can make the job of protecting yourself during and after your renovation much more manageable.

Particulate (solid) toxins

Particulate or solid toxins may be tiny, even microscopic, but they are still considered solids. The best way to guard against inhaling solids is filtration.

The best filtration to tackle even microscopic airborne solids is the high-efficiency particulate air filter, or HEPA filter.

Modern HEPA filters trap and remove even the tiniest micro-particulates (as small as 1/100th the width of a single human hair) from the air.

Lead, asbestos, vermiculite, mould, mildew, dust and other micro-solids can be efficiently removed from your indoor air with a HEPA filter.

Gaseous and liquid toxins

For the purposes of indoor air cleanup, gaseous and liquid toxins are grouped together in a single category.

These toxins do not respond well to filtration – it is hard to trap a drop of liquid or a gas bubble!

What does neutralize both very effectively is purification. The most powerful air purifier in the whole world is our own sun. The ultraviolet radiation emanating from the sun is the inspiration behind the modern ultraviolet air purifier.

Today’s ultraviolet air purification systems use the most powerful band of ultraviolet light: band C. UV-C changes the molecular composition of liquid and gaseous toxins so they cannot do any harm.

Two More Home Renovation Air Quality Essentials

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends scheduling an indoor air duct cleaning following major home repairs or renovations.

This cleans out trapped toxins so they will not reinfect your indoor space before you move back in.

We always recommend installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) post-renovation.

The heat recovery ventilator not only provides continuous fresh air with continuous removal of stale, toxic air, but it also keeps the humidity balanced inside your home.

Best of all, the HRV recycles heat energy to reduce your home heating bills.

Get in Touch

Right now and through the end of February, save 10 percent off the cost of any of our three popular professional indoor air duct cleaning services.

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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Indoor Air Quality in the Workplace: 6 Signs Your Workplace May Have a Problem with Mould

man with headache in workplace

How common is mould? It is everywhere – literally. Mould spores are all around us in the air, water, and soil.

Some moulds are good. They make yogurt, cheese, soy sauce and many medications (including penicillin and other antibiotics).

Other moulds are bad. These require goggles and face masks and special equipment to clean up and dispose of.

While the former has saved many a life and nourished far more besides, the latter can strike fear into the heart of even the most stalwart home or business owner.

Mould spores are tiny and cannot be seen with the naked eye. By the time spores have colonized a space and spread to the point at which they become visible, the problem is often severe.

Luckily, mould generally announces its presence first through more obvious warning signs. In this blog post, learn what to watch for to get early warning your space may have a mould problem.

1. There is a persistent strange odour in the building

A strange odour is among the first and most common of the warning signs mould often sends out when it colonizes a space.

This odour has been described in a number of ways. But there are some similarities that seem to stay consistent regardless of the size of the space or the degree of infestation:

  • The odour is persistent and does not respond to air fresheners, fragrances or even ventilation efforts.

  • The odour smells dank, earthy, musty or grassy – some describe it more like “dirty gym socks.”

  • The odour becomes immediately apparent when first entering the space.

2. Certain areas in the building are consistently humid or damp

Depending on the age of your building and the state of any existing ductwork or ventilation system, some areas may be naturally more humid than others. Poorly routed ductwork, in particular, can often cause chronic temperature and humidity imbalances that will then lead to mould growth and buildup.

A basement or crawl space is usually damper and more humid than any area above ground. This is due to the nature of having a soil-surrounded space versus a space surrounded by air.

Condensation on windows, damp or soggy patches on carpeting or a higher natural humidity level (such as in laundry rooms or unvented storage areas) can also indicate areas at a higher risk of developing mould infestations.

3. The building was impacted by a significant leak or flood in the past

If you have occupied a commercial building for some time and/or you know of its history from a prior owner, you may be aware of a significant leak or water event that impacted it in the past.

Here, it is smart to find out all you can about any remediation work that was done (or not) after that event.

Poorly done remediation or a lack of remediation can leave trapped moisture or even cover it up with insulation or vapour barriers that actually end up encouraging mould growth rather than repelling it!

4. Workers are complaining of health symptoms

When mould infestation gets bad enough, it becomes possible to sense it immediately upon entering the infested space.

Headaches, runny noses, watery eyes, coughing and sneezing, headache, mental fogginess, daytime sleepiness, skin itching, rashes and respiratory symptoms can all signal that there is a mould problem.

The more workers are affected, the more likely it is the root cause of the health symptoms is mould in the building.

5. Employee health insurance claims are on the rise

Another possible indication that your building has a mould problem is when you see an ongoing increase in worker sick days and employee health insurance claims. Mould can cause health issues ranging from mild to severe.

On the mild end of the spectrum, persistent low-grade health symptoms like those described in number four above may interfere with productivity.

As the mould issue becomes more serious, worker sick days and health insurance claims may increase as occasional health symptoms become chronic and more severe.

6. There is visible discoloration or staining on surfaces

Yet another way that mould announces its presence is through visible discoloration and staining on surfaces.

Seeing darker patches, small dark dots, white powdery “dust” or what appears to be staining may actually be mould spores growing and spreading.

Is It Mould or Something Else? 5 Common Workplace Indoor Air Contaminants

Mould problems tend to be headline-grabbing by their very nature. Everyone is afraid of mould, especially when it is the dreaded black mould.

But mould isn’t the only type of indoor air contaminant that can cause air quality and structural issues in the workplace.

The five most common types of indoor air quality contaminants in the workplace are these:

  1. Microbials: bacteria, fungi, mould, mildew

  2. Volatile organic compounds: off-gassing from office equipment, cleaning supplies, solvents, pesticides, adhesives and glues, disinfectants, etc.

  3. Particulates: dust and dust mites, tobacco, combustion byproducts

  4. Harmful/radioactive gases and vapours: ozone, radon, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide

  5. People: use of personal care products including fragrance, deodorant, aerosols

Before assuming your workspace has a mould problem, it is worth doing an indoor air quality test to accurately determine the true cause of the symptoms you are observing.

Improving Workplace Indoor Air Quality

Today, many effective aftermarket tools exist to clean, filter, ventilate and purify your indoor air at work and at home.

Conducting an indoor air quality test will pinpoint the critical indoor air quality concerns and remediation needs to help you choose.

Get in Touch

Right now and through the end of February, save 10 percent off the cost of any of our three popular professional indoor air duct cleaning services.

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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Pregnant? Don’t Let Toxic Indoor Air Harm Your Baby!

pregnant woman with hand on belly

Last year, Ontario made global news headlines when study results were published linking toxic indoor air to preterm deliveries and low birth weight.

More than 25,000 moms and infants participated in this study.

Exposure to airborne toxins delivered a 30 percent increased risk of low birth weight and a 20 percent increased risk of preterm delivery.

Here in Ontario, sulphur dioxide and other common toxins emitted by smelters, industrial plants and vehicle emissions are of particular concern. All can readily pass across the placenta to affect your unborn baby, as the research demonstrated.

What can you do to protect your family and your unborn child? Let's find out!

Where Are the Toxins Coming From?

The study traced the majority (67 percent) of the sulphur dioxide and associated toxins to Ontario’s utility plants and smelters.

Twenty-five percent was traced to emissions from other industrial sources.

The remaining 8 percent was found to come from vehicle emissions.

What Can You Do to Limit Your Exposure?

No matter how much you want to safeguard the health of your unborn baby, it simply isn’t feasible to stay indoors all day.

However, this is what the research team recommends when air quality alerts are issued. Stay indoors with the windows closed and keep windows closed when travelling as well.

Of course, this still doesn’t address the fact that outside air can easily become inside air, entering through leaks and cracks, wafting in through open doors and entering through vents and ducts.

It also doesn’t even touch on recent findings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that indoor air in North America is already up to 5 times more toxic than outdoor air!

Here, it almost seems laughable that the recommendation is to stay indoors. You are going to need to do a lot more than that to make sure you and your family have safe air to breathe!

How to Clean Up Your Indoor Air ASAP

Fear can be motivating. But it can also be paralyzing. The truth is, we have a global air quality issue on our hands today and sometimes it seems as if it is only going to get worse.

What you need to know is that there is a lot you can do to clean and purify your own personal air supply, even though you can’t always control the choices others make that may affect you.

The steps we are about to outline here will clean and purify your indoor air starting the very day you do them.

1. Schedule your indoor air duct cleaning and sanitizing service

(If you don’t have a central or ducted HVAC system, go ahead and skip ahead to step 2 here.)

Indoor air duct cleaning and sanitizing has only started to become popular in the last few years. The main reason it wasn’t popular before now is that no one really knew this service existed!

Today, thanks to a number of new research studies like the one we mentioned in the introduction here, plus other information available online, more is now known about how to remove toxins from our indoor air. This is how indoor air duct cleaning became common knowledge.

A professional air duct service typically takes less than half a day. Our team comes in and sends a tiny camera up into your air ducts. Then we look at the view with you and decide how to proceed.

If we see dirty, clogged ducts (which is usually the case), we roll in our negative pressure industrial rotobrush vacuum and pull all the dirt out. Then we send in a sanitizer to remove any remaining dust mites, bacteria, mould and mildew.

You really want to have your ducts cleaned before you do any of the other steps. This way, trapped toxins cannot be reintroduced into your indoor air when your HVAC system cycles on.

2. Install a heat recovery ventilator

A heat recovery ventilator is another one of those so-called new appliances that aren’t really new. It is just now getting the publicity it deserves thanks to new airtight construction standards designed to help reduce energy costs.

All new Toronto-area construction is now required to include a heat recovery ventilator to recycle heat energy and ventilate indoor air so it never gets stale and toxic.

3. Install a HEPA air filtration system

HEPA filtration is still the gold standard for removing airborne solids and particulate matter. A HEPA filter can remove solids as small as 1/100th of a single human hair! But HEPA filters are so dense that most residential HVAC appliances cannot work with them.

Installing a standalone HEPA air filtration system is a handy workaround.

4. Install an ultraviolet air purification system

HEPA filtration will take care of airborne particles. But for gaseous and liquid particulates, you need UV air purification instead. UV air purifiers use ultraviolet band-C light to neutralize harmful toxins by changing their molecular structure.

Like a HEPA filtration system, a UV air purifier can be retrofitted to work with any existing HVAC system. Both systems can work easily together with your HVAC units to filter and purify your indoor air.

5. Schedule your HVAC preventative maintenance and tune-up

Finally, if you have been putting off having your heating and cooling system serviced, it is time to get a date on the books.

The number one reason to do this is simple safety: the longer your HVAC goes without surface, the higher the likelihood of incomplete combustion sending toxic emissions into your indoor air. As well, clogged air filters, dusty blower motors and dirty coils represent a serious indoor air quality and home fire risk.

Get in Touch

Are you ready to clean up your personal indoor air supply but aren’t sure where to start? We can help!

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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