Sick Buildings & How To Avoid Them

The CBC recently reported on the increase in demand for Calgary cleaning companies in offices and other public places. Yes, it's flu season again in our city and ever...

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Sick Buildings & How To Avoid Them

Posted by Krista Kehoe on Thursday, January 31st, 2013 at 12:36pm.

Flu in CalgaryThe CBC recently reported on the increase in demand for Calgary cleaning companies in offices and other public places. Yes, it's flu season again in our city and everyone seems to be affected somehow, whether or not they've caught the bug. But do you really have the flu, and what does this have to do with a real estate blog? More than you might think, actually.

Sometimes it's hard to tell if you have the flu, or if your symptoms are being triggered by issues in the building(s) you spend a lot of time in, especially since issues arising from air quality at home or at work can be very seasonal. Sick building syndrome (or SBS) is a range of disorders triggered by various elements in one's work or home environment. Symptoms stem from environmental hazards and can include chronic headaches, respiratory ailments, sensitivity of the throat, eyes, and nose, and/or a generally weakened immune system.

There are many variables that can have an effect on the air quality at your home or work. One such variable is the level of VOCs in the space. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals released from many paints, plastics, bonding agents, and even new furnishings and decor. They can be off-gas when a building is painted (no surprise there), when new flooring is laid down, especially carpet, when ceiling tiles and plastics are installed (for example, plastic/vinyl baseboards), and in many other situations.

The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the building is another element that should be taken under consideration to ensure air quality and avoid SBS. Systems should be regularly maintained, with an emphasis on the purification system. The ventilation system needs to be designed so that there are around 8.4 exchanges of air over any 24 hour period. If you're thinking about purchasing and one of your priorities is excellent health for the occupants, the air quality of a home or office should be one of your primary concerns.

Here are some tips to avoid sick building syndrome, from a real estate perspective, if you're in the market for a commercial or residential space:

  • Pay attention to the air quality when you do a walk-through. Does it smell musty or like chemicals?
  • Ask about the HVAC system. How recently was it serviced? What issues have they experienced?
  • What kind of purifier does the HVAC system have, if any? UV-C is a commonly used and reliable method for de-contaminating the air.
  • How recently was the interior updated, including flooring, paint, etc.? The answer to this question will give you an idea about potential off-gassing issues.
  • Look for signs of water damage include stained ceiling tiles. Moisture often leads to mold growth, which causes and exacerbates respiratory problems.

Your real estate agent will be able to refer you to an excellent home inspector so that you can get an expert opinion about the potential health hazards a listing presents. Qualified and experienced inspectors can go over your concerns with you before they tour the home or commercial space, keeping an eye out for any issues you'd like to focus on. Of course, your residence or office might not put you at risk for SBS at all. Most new homes and commercial buildings, constructed with these concerns in mind and upheld to rigorous health and safety inspections by the City of Calgary, should be safe. You might really just have the flu, and if you do, our condolences. Get better soon!

Krista Kehoe, Calgary real estate agent & REALTORĀ®

2 Responses to "Sick Buildings & How To Avoid Them"

Corey Zaal wrote: Thanks for the great article. I liked it so much that I've re-posted it on my blog with full credit going to you.

Posted on Monday, February 25th, 2013 at 3:35pm.

Krista Kehoe wrote: Thanks, Corey, glad you enjoyed it!

Posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013 at 4:47pm.

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