Making your basement into a clean, healthy, and usable space.
With spring cleaning and projects upon us the basement becomes a practical priority of the home. Whether finishing it for livable space, waterproofing before the thaw/rain, or spring cleaning, one of the first things that we should be asking is “what is the quality of the air down there?” Basements can be disturbed with various common indoor air pollutants.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are typically found in the manufacturing process of various items. The problem with VOCs is that they off-gas. In other words, these gaseous chemicals continue to detach from a product and continue to circulate in the air for months, sometimes even years.
There are hundreds of VOCs commonly found, but you’d usually find them in composite wood products like laminate flooring, furniture, or kitchen cabinets. They’re also found as ingredients in household cleaners and aerosol products like hairspray, for example. Most products that have to do with painting or varnishing contain VOCs, from the latex paint on your walls to the polyurethane finish on the balusters in the hallway.
VOCs can cause respiratory discomfort, asthma, and allergic reactions. Some have even been named Group 1 carcinogens, meaning that they will cause cancer at certain levels of exposure.
Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (mVOCs)
These are mVOCs that are produced by nature itself, rather than a factory. mVOCs include things like mold spores, bacteria, and viruses. As far as basements are concerned, mold is the largest contributor to poor indoor air quality, so the rest of the post will focus on the mold. It thrives in moisture and settled organic material, which makes the basement perfect for its growth.
Mold comes in all shapes and sizes, there is no single species that can infect a home. For that reason, its effects on health may vary. Most people will experience allergic reactions like coughing, wheezing, runny nose, irritating throat, while in other instances some people might have mild shortness of breath. There are, however, some molds that can be even more dangerous. Those who already have allergies or weak immune systems will react more severely to mold.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can become lethal quickly. Because it’s hard to detect, it’s known as the silent killer. Carbon monoxide forms under two conditions in your home. There is either a lack of oxygen in the air, so carbon monoxide forms instead of carbon dioxide. Or, faulty appliances that give off heat don’t vent properly and allow carbon monoxide to build up inside the home instead of outside.
Radon is a radioactive element that enters the home from the soil. Basements are especially susceptible to radon, although homes built on a slab can also have high radon readings. The problem with radon is that it decays once it enters a home. During this decaying process, it breaks down from its gas form into heavy metal solids like polonium and lead.
Most people are familiar with lead poisoning in older buildings. However, if your home has high radon levels, your basement will by default have lead in it. Another problem is that radon enters into the body and then decays into polonium a few days later. Unfortunately, at that point, polonium has already lodged itself in the lungs and settled as a solid. This ultimately can cause lung cancer and lead to death.
Particulate matter is a general term that’s used to describe broadly the particles that are suspended in the air. As you can imagine, particulate matter can contain many things, like gases, dust mites, dirt, smoke, atmospheric air pollutants, etc.
Most particulate matter is caught, thanks to filtration systems. It’s the particles that are less than 10 microns in size that are of highest concern when it comes to indoor air quality. Fine particles, which are less than 2.5 microns in size are an even bigger concern.
That’s because the body is unable to naturally filter out small particles, so those substances can easily enter the lungs or bloodstream.
Asbestos isn’t discussed as much as it used to be when it comes to indoor air quality, but it has to be mentioned when talking about basements. If your home was built before 1975, you very well might have asbestos-containing building materials lurking in your basement
The EPA recommends to leave it alone and not agitate the area. But realistically, as your home ages and you live and clean in your home, you’re bound to run into an issue with asbestos sooner or later. It’s best to call an asbestos inspector and play it safe.
We at Everdry Waterproofing provide a free Air Quality and Mold test when having your free basement inspection. It is our mission to provide a healthy and usable space in basements nationwide.
How to Improve the Air in Your Basement?
The ideal home ventilation system does the following:
- Removes harmful contaminants
- Controls moisture
- Heats/Cools to a comfortable level for occupants
- Brings in fresh air
Everdry Waterproofing provides a system that does just that. E-Z Breathe.
E·Z Breathe works by air exchange. Simply stated, it exhausts the stale air as well as the contaminants and moisture that come with it. Even though it is installed in one room, E·Z Breathe achieves whole home air exchange, by drawing air throughout the home to replace the stale air being exhausted.
E·Z Breathe is a ventilation system. Most homes have a closed loop system that simply recirculates the same air in the home over and over again. This causes a build up of contaminants, which can cause asthma & allergies, mold, smells & odors, and moisture that at certain levels become hazardous to the occupants of the home. E·Z Breathe creates an exchange of stale air for fresh air, thereby creating a healthy atmosphere.
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