Sick House or Sick Building Syndrome can sound like a big, scary issue, but to be honest, it really is an underlying problem in more homes than we may realize, including your home.
The truth is that our homes contribute to our health and wellness. And the other truth is that they can derail our health and wellness too. If the environment that you live in is free from most toxins (like being outside in fresh air), your body will reap the benefits. Your body will feel better.
But in the same breath, if your home is filled with toxins, your body is now in an overworked mode. And once the body goes into this state of furiously detoxing, it just can’t keep up. And this is when we see body burden, brain fog, fatigue and suppression of all sorts of our systems.
And unfortunately, we don’t think to look at our homes until AFTER our body becomes burdened, overworked and burdened down.
Here we’ll take a look at just what a sick house is, what it can mean for your health and then how to heal your house and prevent sick building syndrome in your own space.
WHAT IS A SICK HOUSE OR SICK BUILDING SYNDROME?
Essentially a sick house or sick building syndrome is a space that in turn makes those living in the space sick or ill. This can be due to a number of factors, but includes:
An Extremely Tight Building: While energy efficiency may sound like it is the absolute best solution, it can cause an extremely unhealthy environment in your home due to the lack of fresh air getting inside. That being said, there are some improvements that have been made to energy efficient buildings that in turn brings in fresh air. Things like air exchangers and other fresh air systems can help, but homes retrofitted with energy efficient windows, insulation and doors can have this tight building syndrome.
Airborne Building Contaminants: Contaminants from building materials that may be old or new contribute to this sick building condition. This is usually from dust or gasses and vapors in the air inside the building or home that are directly from building materials (old materials being things like asbestos and lead, new materials being things like silica, drywall, formaldehyde).
Biological Contaminants: These contaminants are basically living organisms, or the byproducts from living organisms and include things like dust mites, pet dander, mold, bacteria and viruses in your home. These biological contaminants can enter the home from our habits and lifestyle, or they can be in the building materials. These contaminants can build up in ventilation ducts, carpeting, humidifiers and even in furniture fabric.
Humidifier Fever: If you have a whole home humidifier, there is a potential for it to get contaminated with microorganisms. Once the contaminated humidifier produces water vapor to be spread around your home, it can cause respiratory infections, asthma or flu-like symptoms. Essentially it causes an inflammation of the lungs by colonized humidifier bacteria.
HEALTH IMPLICATIONS OF A SICK HOME
While our bodies are resilient, they are also great barometers of what exactly is going on around us. Symptoms should not be ignored because that’s our body’s way of telling us that something is off. Most acute symptoms of Sick House Syndrome look like the following:
- Eye, nose or throat irritation
- Dry or itching skin
- Difficulty in concentration
- Sensitive to odors
- Allergy symptoms
- Cold and flu-like symptoms
- Asthma attacks
Long term health issues can arise if a home environment is not improved and you’re living in this space for a long period of time:
- Increased risk of cancer
- Lung damage
- Personality changes
- Chronic asthma
- Pregnancy problems
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR HOME IS SICK
The best barometer for a sick home is if you yourself are sick. Quite often, our homes don’t get diagnosed until after we do ourselves. And isn’t this an awful truth to hear? We often have no idea that our home has an issue until our body, our lives or our family’s wellbeing is compromised.
Often this particular problem is pinpointed by a functional medicine practitioner who is aware of what type of toxins a home can have and how it can play a role in our health and wellness. General practitioners do not always look to our environment as a root cause of a health issue.
Another SURE-TELL is if you’ve had testing done on your home or your indoor air quality monitor tells you there is an issue. These tests are so insightful into what is truly going on inside your space. Oftentimes they can detect issues that we don’t necessarily see or feel right away.
HOW TO DEAL WITH SICK BUILDING SYNDROME IN YOUR HOME
First and foremost, proper ventilation and large amounts of fresh air from the outside is key to healing your home. Oftentimes fresh air is needed to dilute the toxins inside while also allowing them to be displaced outside.
Second, it’s important to know if it’s time to call a professional. If your home was built prior to 1978, there is potential for toxins like asbestos and lead to be present in your home. If you suspect potential lead or asbestos in your home due to its age, you have the option of calling a professional mitigator to safely remove these toxins from your home.
Third, do a visual inspection for mold and areas that may potentially have high levels of moisture. You can use a hygrometer and move it from room to room if you need help determining humidity levels. But what we know is that levels of HIGH humidity in a home encourage off gassing, mold growth and dust mite reproduction.
And finally, get your home tested for contaminants or get an indoor air quality monitor. This post will walk you through how to get started with whatever route you choose. Most contaminants in your home are not seen to the naked eye, and so it’s important to have your home assessed with an environmental test.
HOW TO PREVENT SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
Obviously prevention is worth a lot here since it can save you from toxic body burden over time. These are some super simple ways to prevent a sick house and begin to restore your own health:
Ventilation: It’s free and essentially involves almost ZERO effort on your part: opening windows and running fans. This is my number one tip to ALL homeowners in just about any place. (If you live in an area with polluted air, this post will help you out). Essentially just opening your windows and letting fresh air in frequently during the day (as weather allows), is the key to creating a healthier indoor space. Even in the winter, I will open a window or two for 10 minutes at a time just to get some fresh air in to dilute toxins. You can also run vented fans to help move indoor air outside. This post will give you a step by step plan to ventilate your home.
Clean & Remove Dust: Be a boss when it comes to cleaning up your home. Removing dust on a regular basis, vacuuming (as well as deep vacuuming), replacing furnace filters and just general cleaning to reduce dust is going to be one of the BEST ways to reduce toxins inside your home. Many building contaminants and biological contaminants will end up mixed in with dust or attached to dust in your home. By removing the dust completely, you also remove the contaminants.
Keep an Even Climate: Keeping your indoor air temperature at an even temperature instead of letting it fluctuate all over the place will assist your indoor air pressure. The reason this is so important is that when our indoor air pressure becomes negative, our home can actually draw in toxins from the soil beneath the home (such as radon) and toxins from the outside in general. The other part of a healthy climate is keeping the relative humidity levels on the low side. Of course, not too low, but ideally between 35% – 40% is perfect to keep mold away, VOCs from off gassing and dust mites from reproducing.
Low Fume Cleaning Products: Be hyper aware of what you’re bringing into your space. Avoid using any sort of insecticide or bleach in your home EVER. (EarthKind is my favorite, natural pest deterrent and is safe for your home). Choose a cleaner such as Aspen Clean that has been verified by EWG as a safe and healthy cleaner for your home.
Fragrance Free: I cannot stress this enough. Do your body a favor and rid your home of ALL fragrances. From cleaning products to laundry products, perfumes or candles, plug ins or wax melts — they ALL have toxic fragrances in them. If your home is extremely energy efficient, those fragrance toxins have NOWHERE to go, and so they stay inside your home. Avoid bringing them in if possible.
Periodic Mold Testing: Getting a mold test may not sound like fun, but it is SO worth it. A lot of time mold is one of the toxins that we really DON’T know is in our home until there is confirmation (in the form of test results). The great news is that mold testing does not need to be extremely difficult or expensive. It can be a simple, routine test you perform at home, just like a routine health exam.
Sick House Syndrome is a real problem and can often go undetected. But as I always say, being aware of what is going on and what potential issues you may have at home is the BEST way to stay on top of it.