California Study Finds New Homes Are Toxic


Sources of Formaldehyde: Home purifier expert

A year ago we complained that energy efficiency was obviously a good thing, but not at the cost of air quality and the health of occupants. Energy efficient houses are built to be as airtight as possible, filled with materials and cleaning products that release all kinds of hazardous chemicals, and yet there is no legal requirement for heat recovery ventilators.

Now Linda Kincaid at Green Building Elements points us to a new study (pdf here) from the California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board that finds that 67% of new homes do not meet the minimum California standard for air changes; it seems that nobody opens their windows or runs their kitchen exhaust fans enough to adequately ventilate their homes.

And to nobody's surprise, "nearly all homes had formaldehyde concentrations that exceeded guidelines for cancer and chronic irritation, while 59 percent exceeded guidelines for acute irritation."


67% of homes don't meet the minimum code standard.

The abstract concludes:

New single family detached homes in California are built relatively airtight, can have very low outdoor air exchange rates, and can often exceed exposure guidelines for air contaminants with indoor sources, such as formaldehyde and some other volatile organic compounds. Mechanical ventilation systems are needed to provide a dependable, continuous supply of outdoor air to new homes, and reductions of various indoor formaldehyde sources are also needed.


60% exceed levels of formaldehyde high enough to cause significant irritation and cancer risk.

That's why we have said that we need to ban formaldehyde and put a heat recovery ventilator in every green home. But the results of the California study show that it isn't enough; heat recovery ventilators should be mandatory in every new home. They are in the Province of Ontario and other jurisdictions. I wrote in Planet Green:

There is an inherent contradiction-the greener the home is from an energy point of view, the worse it is from an air quality point of view. That is why it is so important to use building materials that don't outgas, to avoid cheap particleboard or other materials that give off formaldehyde, to use green cleaning supplies, and if your windows are closed for most of the year, to install a heat recovery ventilator.

The California study makes it very clear: Every new house needs an HRV. It should be the law.

More on Air Quality in Houses
Big Steps In Building: Ban Formaldehyde
Get a Heat Recovery Ventilator if You Seal Your House Up Tight

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