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Maximizing Air Quality in an Elder Cottage

The Inside Story on Building Healthy Homes for Seniors

Building a safe, healthy elder cottage for an aging senior includes restricting indoor air pollutants. In fact, any new construction project should strive to create the cleanest inside air possible.

The average adult breathes in about 3,000 gallons of air every day. The more polluted the air— and the longer the exposure— the greater the risk of health consequences.

Older woman stands in living room as she struggles with breathing. Caption reads "Indoor air quality and building for the elderly."Studies show Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors. Elderly people— those often most susceptible to indoor air pollution— spend even more time inside.

That can be a serious problem.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air can be two to five times more polluted that the surrounding outside air. In new construction, indoor air is sometimes 100 times more polluted than outdoors.

The World Health Organization (WHO) concludes a pollutant is 1,000 times more likely to infiltrate a person’s lungs if released indoors than outdoors.

Why the discrepancy?

In an effort to reduce waste, “green” buildings aim for greater energy efficiency. Today’s best environmental friendly buildings are more airtight and better insulated than buildings in bygone days. That’s the good news.

That’s also the bad news.

A tighter building envelope reduces the air exchange between indoor air and outdoor air. Consequently, indoor air quality (IAQ) suffers, as pollutants in the structure multiply.

New construction often includes wood products, paints, adhesives, sealants, ceiling tiles, wall coverings, cabinets, draperies, furniture, carpets and floor coverings, and other building materials which outgas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the interior. The first year after building produces the highest level of pollutants, although many products continue emitting airborne toxins for years.

Add cleaning compounds, disinfectants, pet hair and dander, cooking, smoking, and high humidity, mold, or fungus, and you are soon inhaling a toxic pollution cocktail with every breath you take.

Poor IAQ plays havoc with the health of seniors suffering with respiratory or cardiovascular problems, weakened immune systems, and other chronic diseases. Their compromised systems react badly to polluted indoor air. Poor IAQ may cause:

• Acute respiratory problems
• Bronchitis and airway infections
• Burning, itchy eyes
• Cancer
• Chest tightness
• Chronic runny nose
• Coughing
• Dizziness
• Headaches
• Heart disease
• Increased asthma attacks
• Mental fatigue
• Nausea
• Nose and throat irritations
• Physical fatigue
• Pneumonia (the #1 cause of death in the elderly)
• Reduced lung function
• Shortness of breath
• Skin irritations
• Wheezing

An accessory building unit (ADU) for elderly adults— generally known as an elder cottage, an in-law apartment, a granny pad, or a mother-in-law house— is usually relatively small. Indoor air pollution increases dramatically in confined spaces. (IAQ problems experienced in FEMA’s emergency housing trailers after Hurricane Katrina demonstrated this truth.)

Reducing Indoor Pollutants

Fortunately, there are ways to enhance indoor air quality.

During construction, the choices you make in building products, furnishings, electronics, and appliances make a huge difference in the IAQ.

Here are a few tips for building for healthier indoor air:

  • Build with proper drainage: Be sure drainage away from the foundation is adequate.
  • Ventilate during construction: Open all the doors and windows when painting, installing wood products, cabinets, and flooring.
  • Ventilate often: Even after the move in, air out the home several times a week, weather permitting, by opening windows and employing fans.
  • Keep the air clean: Install a great mechanical air-purifier, preferably with HEPA filtering. Some brands filter up to 99.9% of the particulate matter from the air. Change the filters regularly. Use HEPA vacuum cleaners with disposable bags. Dust with micro-fiber cloths.
  • Build in adequate ventilation: Mount exhaust fans near cooking, bathing, and, laundry areas— and use them.
  • Vent heating equipment: Be sure all heaters, combustible stoves, and fireplaces exhaust outside. Change filters regularly. Have all heating equipment checked by a professional annually.
  • Buy low-emitting building products: Pressed wood products and other building products with formaldehyde-based glues and resins are especially prone to outgassing. Before you buy, check online with independent, third-party certifiers of low-emitting products, like GREENGUARD for product recommendations and ratings.
  • Choose low-emitting furnishings: Decorate with items that are machine washable or have washable surfaces. Wash everything before using. (Laundering reduces formaldehyde emissions by about 60%.) If possible, air out new furniture for one month before use in a ventilated space with fresh air, like a warehouse.
  • Avoid carpeting if possible: Carpeting collects dust mites, pet dander, and particles, as well as outgassing VOCs. In addition, damp carpets increase the possibility of mold.
  • Reduce humidity: High temperatures and high humidity levels increase the concentrations of some VOCs, like formaldehyde. Keep humidity levels to 40%-60%. Use dehumidifiers if needed.
  • Repair water leaks promptly: Any organic material, when combined with moisture, can host mold. Mold, mildew, or fungus spores disperse into the air, compromising IAQ. Older people with asthma and compromised respiratory systems are especially vulnerable to mold.
  • Choose fragrance-free products: Whenever possible, buying cleaning products, air-fresheners, laundry detergents, and personal products that are free of fragrances.
  • Avoid smoking indoors: Naturally, avoiding smoking at all is the best health tip. However, if you must smoke, limit smoking to outdoors.

#1 Tip for Improved IAQ

Organic materials like lumber and wood products outgas, polluting indoor air. Wood houses require lumber be treated with strong chemicals to deter termites. Organic wood products— combined with high moisture— also supply the perfect environment to promote mold and fungus growth.

As an inorganic material, steel never outgasses. Steel is impervious to termites, so requires no harsh termicides treatments. And inorganic steel never feeds or promotes mold or other fungi.

RHINO’s steel building systems make strong, durable, healthy structures for the elderly— or anyone else. Call RHINO today for more information and a fast, free, friendly quote on an elder cottage— or any other personal, industrial, or commercial building project.

Call us today at 940.383.9566.