Is Your New Home a Sick Home?

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What is a Sick Home?

Most people spend well over 90% of their time indoors. That makes indoor air quality far more important than outdoor air quality for our health. The term “Sick Home” describes a home with poor or even hazardous living environments. Historically, the typical culprits were things that we have all now heard of:

Asbestos – If your home was built between 1920 and 1978 there is a chance that you may be exposed to asbestos. It was commonly used in building and insulation materials. Breathing high levels can increase your risk of lung disease and cancer.

Lead- Many homes built in the U.S. before 1978 contain lead paint. Lead paint poisoning affects almost 900,000 American children each year. If you live in an older home, consider testing for lead paint.

Radon – Radon is an odorless, invisible gas prevalent in some areas of the country that can increase the risk of lung cancer, especially for smokers.

Each of these items has either been eliminated from new homes or today’s building codes, properly implemented, have stipulated processes and procedures that mitigate their impact on today’s homebuyer.

Current Indoor Environmental Concerns

Some harmful chemicals, especially in carpet, can be detected by the odor they emit. They just smell “new”. You can open up a kitchen cabinet door and smell. If it smells “funny,” formaldehyde may be present. If you see discolored walls, it may be mold. In PA, all modular home manufacturers are required to certify that all materials used in home construction contains NO formaldehyde.


Also, some types of building materials emit vapors that are harmful or irritating to many people. Some typical sources of airborne pollutants in the home are carpets, furnaces, fireplaces, and pressed wood cabinets.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) consist of a range of chemicals that are released into the air over time. Often described as that pleasant, “new home smell,” VOCs can be harmful. Many chemicals are used to manufacture carpets and can include such things as acetone, formaldehyde, benzene derivatives, toluene, xylene and more. These chemicals are known to cause breathing issues and neurological symptoms. Some of these chemicals are also known carcinogens. Paints and varnishes are also sources of VOCs. Some typical signs of short-term exposure to VOCs includes headaches, nausea and irritated eyes, nose and throat. Many products today are labeled “Non-VOC” so you know they are safe for indoor use. Non-VOC products are the items typically used in modular home construction.

When is a Good Thing a Bad Thing?

Asthma is a terrible disease which afflicts about 34 million people in the U.S. When irritants build up to such a high level in the home an attack can be triggered. While steps have been taken to eliminate many of the chemicals and irritants in today’s new homes, lack of ventilation can also make homes uncomfortable and unhealthy to live in. If fresh air can’t enter the house, it gets filled with internal pollutants.

Sick House symptoms develop because the house literally can’t breathe, especially in winter. Inadequate ventilation can cause a combination of things. New houses are insulated and sealed so well that no fresh air enters in. Moisture builds up but can’t escape making a perfect breeding ground for mold.

Homebuilders, the government, code officials, and technology has been busy building a more energy efficient home. Gone are the days when you could place your hand by an outlet and feel the draft as air came into the home. We have been so busy focusing on energy efficiency and lowering power bills that indoor air quality improvement, something so important to our health and our family’s health, has been lagging. As a result, it gets congested with internal pollutants. Our homes are so tight and energy efficient that now they have crossed over to becoming sick.

Is an ERV the Vaccine for a Sick Home?

erv-diagramWhen a new home’s exterior is so tight that little or no air leakage exists, the internal pollutants can build up creating a sick home. However, when air leaks in or out of a home it wastes the energy needed to heat or cool that air in the home’s living space. Today’s technology has introduced the ERV device (Energy Recovery Ventilation).

An ERV operates by passing the outgoing warm air from inside the house through an internal component called a heat exchanger. In the heat exchanger, heat from the outgoing air is transferred to the cool incoming air. This exchange (heat recovery) prevents the home’s occupants from being blasted with cold winter air. It also saves considerable energy because the home’s heater doesn’t need to warm the cold incoming air. In the summer, outgoing room air cools the incoming warm air, helping to maintain comfort.

ERVs can be operated by timers or controlled by humidistats. A humidistat is a sensor that detects humidity levels in a home. An ERV is often used to remove excess humidity, however, it can also be set to add humidity. Depending on how tight your home is, an ERV system may not be required to provide adequate ventilation, your home may just needs some help drawing in some additional fresh air. A cost effective way to do this is by upgrading bathroom exhaust fans and using humidistats which can be calibrated to bring in just the right amount of fresh air by pulling it through “leaks” in the home.

Benefits of Ventilation

Some type of ventilation is essential for airtight homes. If your home is new and airtight, or if you’ve spent time and money sealing air leaks in the building envelope, an ERV may be just the thing you need.

If you are not sure that ERV is right for your home you can find out by doing a simple test. Many companies now offer blower door tests as part of an energy audit. If the air exchange that is calculated from the analysis is 0.5 air changes per hour (ACH) or less, then an ERV is probably a good idea. The more airtight a home is, the more essential it is to create a supply of fresh air. The benefits of a well-ventilated home can profound effects on your family’s well-being.

More To-Do Items to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Introducing fresh through the use of an ERV can have a large impact on indoor air quality. However, there are many things you can do to eliminate or reduce many of the items that contribute to poor air quality in the home. Molds, chemicals, and VOCs can be eliminated from entry into the home from the beginning. Here are some other cost-effective ways to reduce or eliminate many pollutants.

  • Change furnace filter at least once a month.
  • Always run bathroom vent fan when showering to reduce moisture and discourage mold growth
  • Keep humidifier and air conditioning drain pans clean
  • Maintain and service all gas appliances and fireplaces
  • Don’t smoke in the home
  • Repair basement leaks to keep moisture out the home
  • Air out or ventilate outdoors new carpets, drapes, or furniture before bringing them inside
Modern Modular Construction

Today’s modern modular home utilizes construction processes that make it very energy efficient. The materials used are certified to contain little or no VOC’s. Air quality is much higher in a modular home built under the strict processes of assembly-line like construction compared to outdoor construction which can let moisture content in wood and dust in vents wreak havoc on later air quality in the home. Modular construction is the modern, healthy way to build your new custom home.

About the Author
Ken Semler

Ken Semler

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Hi, I am Ken Semler the founder of Impresa Modular. I am passionate about our company and the homes that we provide. Modern modular construction enables us to deliver healthy, safe, and energy-efficient living spaces. Impresa Modular is a licensed/registered/certified builder/contractor in almost every state. I believe that modular homes provide the best way to deliver virtually unlimited design flexibility at the greatest value.

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