Home health check

The home is supposed to be somewhere you can relax and feel safe, but unseen dangers often lurk in the house.

Older homes may be riddled with unsafe materials that were once all too common in construction, but new homes are not immune to health challenges either.

From toxins to radiation, older homes can be rife with materials that have been phased out over the years due to health concerns.

Although many of these may be relatively harmless as long as they are left undisturbed, as the structure ages many of these compounds can find their way into the air in the home, causing potentially fatal health complications.

Air quality
Although many harmful substances have been removed from construction materials, modern homes still face health problems.

One of the biggest challenges revolve around air quality, as modern, energy-efficient building techniques create a sealed system in which pollutants can build up and trigger numerous health issues primarily related to the respiratory system.

According to George Manderson of Grimex, a professional cleaning and maintenance company in Cayman, the air quality in homes can be considerably worse than the quality of the air outside.
The company uses a particle counter to assess air quality, comparing the air immediately outside a building to the air inside.

“We’ve many times come across (a situation) where it’s 200 per cent worse inside than outside,” says George.

“We had one customer where it was 482 per cent worse inside than outside.”

As many modern homes are too sealed for the particles to escape, the only solutions available to home owners is to pinpoint the source of the particles and remedy it, or if that is not an option, install a high quality air filtration unit that will remove particulate matter from the air.

Although one might imagine mould would be a greater challenge to older homes, many new buildings also face the problem, which can often be traced back to the air conditioning unit.
In order to have a home cool down quickly, some owners choose to install oversized air conditioning units. However, that could in fact lead to humidity problems for the home.

“When it gets cold, the thermostat shuts down the system, but it hasn’t been running long enough to extract the humidity. You are actually better off with a smaller unit with a better SEER rating than with a big unit that will make it cold quickly,” says George.

As it is impossible to stop mould spores from entering the home, and the spores require oxygen, a food source (anything organic) and moisture to grow, the only element that can be controlled is moisture.

However, if the air conditioning unit is not fully conditioning the air, including reducing the humidity, the ideal conditions for mould growth can be created.

“An air handler is a perfect haven for mould as it’s moist, it’s dark, and it has a ready food source,” George advises.

“So you want to have the unit cleaned on a regular basis. Then you want to have the arteries cleaned, which are the ducts, because a lot of times dust can collect in the ducts, as you are pulling dust and dander into the system.”

George points out that ducts need to be cleaned at least once every year.

“Some people suggest every six months, but what we will do is check the ducts at the six-month mark and if they do not need cleaning yet, you can save some money,” he says.

Cayman Islands Spray Foam is another company that can help tackle the problem of mould, moisture, dust, pets and bugs in a house.

Spray foam is an insulating material that can seal your home from air and moisture intrusion, save on costly utility bills, strengthen your home, and protect your family’s health from dangerous mould, airborne pollutants, and allergens.

“This prevents mould and dust and the pests and bugs that might get in otherwise,” says Daniel James of Cayman Islands Spray Foam.

“When excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mould growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or un-addressed. There is no practical way to eliminate all mould and mould spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mould growth is to control moisture. Spray foam insulation is the key.”

Once prevalent in paint, lead builds up in the body and acts as a neurotoxin.

The primary cause of exposure is due to flaking paint, which releases particles containing lead into the air.

However, lead-based paint was phased out a number of years ago, which means that modern buildings are highly unlikely to contain traces of lead-based paint.

It is possible to test for the presence of lead in paint and special care should be taken when removing paint that is lead-based in order to limit exposure.

Due to its sound insulating and fire-retardant properties, asbestos formed a very popular component of construction materials, including tiles and drywall.

However, inhaling airborne asbestos fibres can lead to a variety of lung diseases over time, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The fibres build up in the lungs, so even limited exposure over a long period can have a devastating impact on health.

Although the asbestos would usually not make its way into the air, deteriorating building materials can release asbestos fibres into the air, while any renovation or remodelling work can release high levels of asbestos.