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Homes today are being built with greater and greater energy efficiency. In the interest of lower utility bills, we are finding ways to keep the air we’ve heated or cooled inside. Things like spray foam insulation, better window construction, and better building practices keep our homes energy efficient by limiting air exchanges with the outside. Sometimes older homes are being retro-fitted with these energy-efficient technologies too.

Energy-efficient homes should have an HVAC system that exchanges air with the outside air. Still, these do not always exchange enough air to exhaust enough harmful chemicals in the indoor air adequately.

With all of these advancements, there is a downside. Some might call it the law of unintended consequences. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are off-gasses from new building products and finishes. That “new house” smell is VOCs that hang in the air. If it’s in the air, it’s in our lungs.

These chemicals will diminish over time, but the energy efficiency of new homes will allow the compounds to build up to levels that can be problematic for some people. And at certain levels, these compounds can interact with other compounds to create new chemicals/odors in the space.

The Dangers of VOCs in New Homes

And not everyone is susceptible to these VOCs. In a family with a new home, only one person may react to the chemicals. This can put everyone else at a disadvantage in understanding why one person is sick and everyone else is happy and healthy.

Reactions to VOCs can vary too. Itchy eyes, burning nasal passages, and throats are typical reactions. Some can experience extreme lethargy and nausea, as well as headaches. Breathing difficulty, nosebleeds, and vomiting have also been seen. Sometimes the symptoms can mimic other illnesses, so physicians are stumped as to a cause. The indoor air environment is not always considered a source of illness.

One telltale sign is to note where a person feels ill. Are you better on vacation (isn’t everyone better on vacation?) than you are at home? Is someone who doesn’t spend much time at home less affected than someone who spends most of their days and nights in the house?

Here’s an article by the EPA on: VOC Impact on Indoor Air Quality

Sources of VOCs in a New Home

Formaldehyde is another gas that can collect in homes. For example, the new luxury vinyl plank floors can off-gas this chemical. Other building products may emit formaldehyde too. There is another test for this gas. It only takes about 20-25 minutes to take this sample.

Another VOC source is the cleaning chemicals or fragrances we introduce into our homes. Even things like hand sanitizers or baby wipes give off VOCs. What’s in your garage? An attached garage can impact the living space.

How to Fix the Problem

So, what should someone do if they feel their home is making them sick? After all, this new home should be a place of peace and happiness. Well, the first step is to determine if your levels of VOCs are elevated. VOC testing is available from BIOSWEEP® of Alabama. A home of up to 2,000 square feet can be tested with a single sample. Homes of over 2,000 square feet may need another sample. It takes about 1 ½ hours to do the sampling and less than a week to analyze them. 

What is the remedy if high VOCs are found to be the problem? Here at BIOSWEEP®, we have an answer. Our BIOSWEEP® technology, which is a great odor-elimination tool, has been found to have a profound effect on the various VOCs in homes and businesses.

We have applied our VOC-reducing protocol on homes and given homeowners relief from the troubling effects of VOCs. A recent project was on a new home in Dothan, Alabama. The family had been in their new home for only about six months. Mom and the small children were very lethargic and nauseated at home. Dad, who worked out of the home, didn’t seem to suffer any adverse effects. When they went to the beach, everyone felt better. Testing revealed elevated VOC levels – not enough to say it was severe, but certainly high enough to cause some problems to sensitive individuals. We ran a BIOSWEEP® treatment, meaning everyone had to leave home overnight. They were able to return the following day. In a follow-up conversation, Mom said that everyone was acting normal again.

Another example was a local health club that had a stairwell painted by a contractor. This contractor used outdoor enamel paint to coat the indoor masonry block of this stairwell. The result was that folks started complaining of headaches each time they took the stairs. So, taking the stairs wasn’t healthy after all. After an overnight treatment with our BIOSWEEP® technology – no more headaches or strong odor.

Give us a call at BIOSWEEP® of Alabama if you think VOCs might be an issue in your home or business.