Learn to Diagnose and Treat a Sick Home

Physician's Money Digest, September30 2003, Volume 10, Issue 18

Biography Magazine

Physicians tend to patients' health,but they probably give littlethought to their homes' health. Arecent reportshows that sick homes have been aroundfor centuries, due to wood smoke, gaslighting, coal dust, lead paint, asbestos,and other substances. Even though someof those pollutants are less commontoday, more are being created. Naturalsubstances like mold also can be verypotent. Leaks, inferior construction, orfloods can create a moist environmentconducive to its growth.

Toxic Pollutants

The causes of pollutants can often betraced to building materials and techniques.The most common sources forcontaminants are manufactured woodproducts (eg, particle board and furniture-grade plywood), which can give offformaldehyde; carpeting, which canhold allergy-provoking particles; andcombustion appliances that aren't completelysealed (eg, wood stoves, fireplaces,and gas ranges). Problems alsocan occur without proper mechanicalventilation systems to allow fresh airinto sealed homes.

Some people are more susceptiblethan others to toxic pollutants. Thosemost vulnerable are the very young,very old, and those already sick with anexisting condition. The most commonsymptoms to watch for are those thataffect your respiratory system or cerebralfunctioning (eg, inability to thinkclearly or hyperactivity).

Case in Point

Biography Magazine

According to the article, John and Lynn Bower's problemsbegan when they purchased a run-down1850's farmhouse in 1976. The more theyrebuilt the house, the sicker Lynn became.They decided the problem wasformaldehyde, a chemical found in manyof the building materials they used.

However, after moving several times,Lynn's problems continued periodically.More research determined that her conditionwasn't brought about solely byformaldehyde. A wide range of cleaningproducts and other toxins she was exposedto had broken down her immunesystem, a condition called multiple chemicalsensitivity. The Bowers' researchhelped them better understand how tobuild a healthy home.

Resolving the Problem

They have since built several healthyhomes, selling some of them, and writtenbooks about the process. In 1993, theyfounded the Healthy House Institute (812-332-5073; www.hhinst.com) to help othersdetermine if and why their house is sick.It can be difficult to determine exactlywhat triggers the symptoms. If youthink your house is making you sick butyou don't know why, try living somewhereelse for a week and see if you feelbetter. Once you determine your house isthe cause of your problems, investigatefurther to see if your symptoms are betterin 1 room than another, or during 1season vs another.

Also examine whether you feel betterwhen the furnace is on compared towhen the air conditioner is on. You canrun tests if you're unable to identify thepollutants. The cost can be anywherefrom $100 for a mail-order test to severalthousand dollars.

It may be that you need to make aminor adjustment, such as installing amechanical ventilation system in yourhome. It also could require a moreexpensive fix, in which case, moving toanother home might be the more prudentanswer.