Sick house syndrome refers to a house with poor indoor air quality usually a result of scarce ventilation. The house becomes uncomfortable, unhealthy, and even hazardous for the inhabitants.
The inadequate ventilation is more common in new homes which are insulated and sealed so well for energy efficiency that fresh air does not enter, not such a problem with drafty older homes where curtains move when the wind blows outside. It is especially prevalent during too hot or too cold months when houses are kept closed up for heating or air conditioning and air flow is decreased.
Any house can suffer from polluted air depending on chemicals which are being released from building materials. That new smell of freshly completed construction is from harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which results in headaches, nausea, irritated eyes, noses and throats. It can be from formaldehyde, mold and mildew, gases like nitrogen dioxide and some that are odorless like radon.
Typical sources of VOCs are paints, fabrics, and carpet. Formaldehyde can be in cabinets and countertops, carpet, fabric, fiberboard and some particleboard. Mold and mildew can be caused by air conditioners, humidifiers, ductwork, water intrusion such as roof and plumbing leaks, and lots of trees and other growth keeping the house damp. Nitrogen dioxide is usually from fireplace smoke or wood-burning stoves. A natural gas which is more often an issue in homes with basements but is more prevalent in the soil and rocks of certain regions is radon gas. Once detected, there are corrective measures to take for alleviation. Another toxin is airborne particles from carpets and ducts and use of hairspray, bleach, and certain cleaning products.
A major deterrent is choosing toxin-free products and building materials such as no-VOC paints and formaldehyde-free cabinets and wood products. Avoid furniture made with particleboard or seal it well with a finish.
Alternative solutions are available such as air purifiers and ionizers, dehumidifiers, and whole house super filters installed on heatpump systems which all have advantages and disadvantages. Dehumidifiers remove moisture, but not mold spores or contaminated air, work in small areas, must be emptied often, and are a source of biological growth. Air purifiers reduce particles in a small area but not humidity, have filters that must be replaced frequently, and alter air’s molecular composition.
The Environmental Protection Agency does not certify or recommend air cleaning devices. Heatpump super filters are quite expensive and must be replaced often. There are products like E.Z Breathe® that expel contaminated air, control moisture and air quality for up to 7,000 square feet per unit, and have no air filters to change or water reservoirs to empty. Read the website for more details.