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Healthier building materials. Smart move!

Carpenter Tools

How often have you hired a contractor and told him what you want, without also considering healthy choices in building materials?

Contractors will usually use the cheapest materials around, without the slightest thought about how they may affect your health. This often applies to homeowners as well, as they endeavor to do their own home improvements – obviously without the intention of hurting their own health, it just doesn’t cross their mind, after all, if it’s on the shelf at the big box home improvement stores then it must be safe to install in your home, right? Wrong!

I live by this statement as a person and as a home improvement contractor, and can that tell you that no matter what anyone promises you, no one will look out for your best interests better than you will.

This includes our government, which must perform the balancing act of regulating the safety of home improvement products while also trying to please big business and collect tax dollars. Look at it this way: how many people die from tobacco related illness from smoking cigarettes? Why does the government not just outright ban the production and sale of cigarettes? After all, they do have the ultimate power to do so…

To some extent the same goes for building and construction materials, even though they may adversely affect your health: easily available, and used in mass quantities by new home builders across the country!

The Ontario Minimum Building Code is just that: “a minimum” in order to help keep new home construction and renovations affordable. When was the last time you looked at how much a new home is selling for? “Affordable” is the least you’d think about!

The truth is, there are no government standards currently in place as far as which health-conscious building products should be used, and a builder will not issue you a certificate of any kind to reflect this. It will take years to fully realize the damaging effects and impact on our health.

Commonly known that VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds,) they can be harmful to our health, however until the industry changes and more studies are done, products containing VOC’s will not be banned from the marketplace.

The alternative is to use products that emit little or no VOC’s, and they are available on the market – the only drawback is their relative high price, which is what is keeping them away from the frugal builders and contractors. It’s fairly simple: Do your research and insist that your new home or renovation project only uses VOC-free or low-VOC products.

Simply put: ASK

As a contractor that has done countless renovations, I can tell you that a maximum of three people have ever asked me which materials I am specifically using, and what the available choices are, with regards to not off-gassing into the home after they have been installed.

Simply ask, and if your contractor does not immediately show knowledge and express interest in your question, move on to the next contractor because you are dealing with either and ignorant amateur or someone not interested in doing things properly to reflect your requests.

Don’t be afraid to take charge

This may not be an easy situation as builders love putting up their standard “cookie cutter” homes, and although they do offer pre-determined options and upgrades, they sometimes do not like change. Most new home purchasers aren’t familiar enough to get involved in asking questions regarding safe building materials and choosing products that will not impact their health in the future, and most people will just focus on the final result of the renovation. If more individuals got involved in asking for safer, healthier materials, builders would be more knowledgeable and already have a list of what’s available in the market.

Questions to start with

  • Painting your entire home with a “Green Sure” designation paint that emits zero VOC’s – this is critical if you already have health issues or are particularly sensitive to the chemical odours that are emitted by regular paint.

  • Did you know that your kitchen cabinets can make you sick? And that “stink” they emit is all about VOC’S. Ask for kitchen cabinets that are made of formaldehyde-free plywood, and avoid using MDF (Medium-density Fibreboard) – not only will you stay healthier but your kitchen will be of the highest quality and durability, for generations to come.

  • Hey that’s a carpet of gas! Some carpeting is made from non-biodegradable synthetic materials which can contain over 100 carcinogenic agents, including formaldehyde and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Ask for carpeting that’s manufactured with natural, untreated wool that employs Jute – a hemp product for baking.

  • Your home’s floor sheathing, which is usually OSB (Oriented Strand Board), or if you’re in luck it may be real plywood – unfortunately both of these materials will create VOC’s in your home, which may grow mould under some circumstances. A green alternative is BluWood® ( Have your builder construct your home or renovation using BluWood – a pre-construction, factory-applied, two-part wood protection system, which protects wood from fungus and wood-destroying insects such as termites. BluWood can be applied to all wood framing, roof and other trusses, plywood, beams and rafter components. It can be sawed, nailed, painted or adhered. It has no odour, non-hazardous, non-polluting and non-carcinogenic, and it can be recycled just like non-treated wood can.

  • Mould needs a food source! Take the paper out of regular drywall and the source of food necessary for mould growth is removed. Ask your home builder or contractor about this relatively new concept of “paperless” drywall, and its particular benefits for moisture-prone interior walls such as those in basements and bathrooms.

Looking for more information? Visit the “Your Health & Your Home” link at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s website

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Bobby Assadourian ("Just Ask Bob") is a General Contractor, column writer, book co-author and owner of Triple Inc. Renovations company in Hamilton.

#health #renovations #contractor #home #silverandgold #magazine #seniors #boomers #green

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