Archive for the 'Health risk' Category

August 29th, 2012
By Yves Carignan

Airtight homes keep in heat… and many other things.

At the beginning of my career, I had the privilege of working for a company specializing in residential ventilation called Venmar. The company is well-known in the industrial area of Drummondville and has developed and still developing products related to the treatment of air in residential and especially light commercial applications.

In the 90s, the homeowners wanted to find a solution to the obvious signs of excess moisture in the home; that being condensation on windows. Upon the arrival of the cool nights of autumn, each house with inadequate ventilation or excess humidity ended up with this issue. This occurred because we increased the airtightness of houses, trapping in air and therefore moisture which would normally “leak” out of the home. The captive humidity and cold outside turns this excess moisture into condensation on the windows of the home. The solution was to install a mechanical ventilation systems, such as those manufactured Venmar.

Several years later, breathing problems were becoming more and more prevalent and we put the blame on industrial pollution and the poor quality of the air were breathing outside. But for some time, we also noticed that the air in our homes is often 10 times more polluted than outdoor air! Why? Due to of all products used in construction; cements and other binders, paints, solvents, etc.

A U.S. study by Perkins + Will for the National Institutes of Health lists 374 pollutants, directly linked to lung disease, specifically Asthma in this study.

I leave you to read the study and even if I am not paid to tell you, please remember that the ventilation in your home is the best tool to get rid of these indoor pollutants!

June 7th, 2012
By Deb Villeneuve


Whether it’s after a rough winter or following other severe weather, you can take advantage of the otherwise undesirable situation in order to evaluate the state of your home and get a jump on any repairs or preventive maintenance required.

Not only will this pro-active approach save future headaches but it can pay off by avoiding exhorbitant emergency repair costs with a little prevention. Think of it as a free extreme test of the ability for your home to withstand the elements!

From the inside:

Take advantage of the rain storm to ensure that your home does not have any leaks. Concentrate on the foundations, the doors and the windows to make sure that there are no leaks that have gone unnoticed during dryer weather. It’s a good idea to take pictures of the water infiltration and the progression of the repairs as further damage can occur if you wait.

leaky window

Once the storm has passed or that winter has turned into spring, get outside to have a closer look. With binoculars in hand, examine the roof to check for curling, cracks, loose or missing shingles or shinles that have a smooth apprearance which is a sign that they have started to deteriorate and must be replaced.

Inspect the flashing to ensure that heavy winds or winter weather has not disturbed the edges around intersections or that rust has not settled in as this will undermine the seal and allow water penetration.


Make sure that your gutters and downspouts run freely and are clear of debris. If water spills over the edges, they may be clogged and will need to be cleaned. There are a variety of options that can be installed to keep gutters clean which include metal or planstic screens, stainless steel netting or molded plastic covers that allow water in while keeping debris off.

Inspect how the water flows, pooling may indicate that the gutter has sagged or that the 1 inch per 20 feet minimum slope has been undermined. This slope should be even more pronounced in areas that receive heavy snow or rain. Sagging can occur if it has not been secured at 2 foot intervals.

Downspouts must be secure and direct water al least 3 feet away form the foundation in order to prevent cracks and other damage.

Finally, inspect the pool and any other out door fixtures on your property. Take pictures of any damage and communicate with the manufacturer or the installer in a timely fashion in order to ensure that you can take advantage of guarantees.

June 2nd, 2011
By Vivian Martin

In our energy efficiency series of articles featured each Thursday, we provide strategies or information on how to make your new home energy efficient and comfortable.

Heat recovery ventilation systems allow R-2000 homes to maintain high indoor air quality without excessive additional energy costs.

As shown in the diagram below, a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) consists of two separate air-handling systems – one collects and exhausts stale indoor air; the other draws in outdoor air and distributes it throughout the home.

Components of a Heat Recovery Ventilator

Heat Recovery

At the core of an HRV is the heat transfer module. Both the exhaust and outdoor air streams pass through the module, and the heat from the exhaust air is used to pre-heat the outdoor air stream. Only the heat is transferred; the two air streams remain physically separate. Typically, an HRV is able to recover 70 to 80 percent of the heat from the exhaust air and transfer it to the incoming air. This dramatically reduces the energy needed to heat outdoor air to a comfortable temperature.

Air Exchange

The HRV system installed in an R-2000 home can change all the air in the house over a three-hour period. Most HRVs are also equipped with automatic humidity sensors that increase the ventilation rate when needed – for instance, when you use the shower. Exhaust air is normally collected from the kitchen and bathroom areas, where most moisture and odours are created.

System Connection

To ensure that outdoor air is supplied to all living areas in an R-2000 home:

  • For homes that have forced-air heating – the HRV is usually connected to the heating system ductwork. This requires running the furnace fan continuously to distribute outdoor air throughout the house, increasing operating costs. However, the improvement in air quality is significant.
  • For homes that don’t have forced-air heating – the HRV is connected to a specially installed network of small-diameter outdoor air ducts.

Read original article at the Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE)

Looking for more information on energy efficiency technologies?

Try the Office of Energy Efficiency of Natural Resources Canada or read other Drummond posts in the energy efficiency series.

Each Thursday, we will feature a blog entry about energy efficient new homes, covering a range of topics from building innovations to ratings systems to “score” your home’s efficiency. Subscribe to the DrummondHousePlans blog to make sure you get the latest news on how to make your new or renovated home energy efficient.

May 17th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

Protect your health and prevent further damage to your home by following this step-by-step guide to restoring your home after a flood.

After a flood, it’s important to restore your home to good order as soon as possible to protect your health and prevent further damage to your house and belongings. Whether you do the work yourself or hire a contractor, this handy checklist will help you organize the clean up.

Immediate action is important. Your house and furnishings are less likely to grow mold if they are dried within 48 hours.

Before You Begin

Put your own safety first. Avoid electrical shock. Wear rubber boots. Keep extension cords out of the water. Shut the power off to the flooded area at the breaker box. Ask your electrical utility for help if needed.

Record details of damage, with photos or video if possible. Contact your insurance agent immediately and register with your municipality—your municipality may have resources you need, such as future financial assistance.

Set up a step-by-step action plan to:

  • remove all water, mud and other debris
  • dispose of contaminated household goods
  • rinse away contamination inside the home
  • remove the rinse water
  • clean and dry out your house and salvageable possessions.

Be prepared to make difficult decisions about what to keep and what to throw out. Household items that have been contaminated by sewage, or that have been wet for a long time, will have to be bagged, tagged and discarded according to local regulations.

Assemble equipment and supplies:

  • gloves, masks (N95 respirators) and other protective gear
  • pails, mops, squeegees and plastic garbage bags
  • unscented detergent
  • large containers for wet bedding and clothing, and lines to hang them to dry
  • you may also need to rent extension cords, submersible pumps, wet/dry shop vacuums, and dehumidifiers or heaters.

Store valuable papers that have been damaged in a freezer until you have time to work on them.

Read the full article at the CMHC website…

This fact sheet is part of an excellent series of articles developed by the CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

January 30th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

The BC government is phasing out the old inefficient incandescent light bulbs, as a way to help us save money and become more energy efficient, but as a result, there’s a lot of myth-making going on about the compact fluorescent bulbs. Here’s a quick guide to help you discuss them with a disgruntled workmate or neighbour.

Myth #1. The old incandescent bulbs have been banned.

This is simply not true – the new regulations simply govern light bulbs in the 75-100 watt range. Philips has a range of Halogena Energy Advantage bulbs that are dimmable, contain no mercury, and meet the new standard.  

Myth #2. The waste heat from the old bulbs helps heat my home, reducing the amount of natural gas I need to burn.

It is true that the old incandescent bulbs produce waste heat – this is why they are so inefficient as lights. If you’re burning gas for heat, the argument goes, removing the bulbs means burning more gas, increasing your greenhouse gases. 

But let’s pause to think. Electricity in North America is constantly traded across borders. BC Hydro imports between 5% and 15% of its electricity, depending on the depth of snowpack, mostly from coal and gas-fired power in the US. When we use less power, it’s the imported power that we reduce, so even if the new bulbs increase the use of gas, this is balanced by the decreased use of imported coal and gas fired power. Also, since most bulbs are close to the ceiling, the waste heat rises, where it’s neither useful nor near the thermostat that regulates gas heating. In warmer months, it’s just waste heat, plain and simple.

80% of British Columbians are already using CFLs, resulting in 600 gigawatt hours of electricity savings per year, the same as the electricity consumed by more than 50,000 homes. If this came from a mix of imported coal and gas-fired power, it would generate 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) a year.

The belief that using the new light bulbs will cause BC’s GHGs to rise comes from measuring our GHGs as a strictly provincial affair, excluding our imported power. As soon as BC is 100% self-sufficient in green power, the energy saved by using the new bulbs will allow more green power to be exported, helping to reduce the need for coal and gas-fired power outside BC.   

Myth #3. They contain mercury! 

Yes, they do contain a tiny amount of mercury. Tuna contains mercury too, which comes from the air pollution that coal-fired power plants produce. Francis Rubinstein from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that if you broke a bulb and did a good job of cleaning up, your mercury exposure would be like taking a tiny nibble of tuna. If you closed all the doors and smashed the bulb with a hammer, it would be like eating a can of tuna, since fish absorb the mercury in air pollution from coal-fired power.

So it’s no big deal, unless you make a daily habit of smashing the bulbs. If you do break one, open a window, leave the room for 15 minutes, and then brush up the waste – don’t vacuum it. For more safety details, see, and the Environmental Working Group’s Guide.

In 2009, the US-based Environmental Working Group produced a Shopper’s Guide to Light Bulbs, and recommended seven bulbs which have the lowest mercury and also last the longest: the Earthmate Mini-Size, Litetronics Neolite, Sylvania Micro-Mini, Sylvania DURA-ONE, Feit EcoBulb, MaxLite, and Philips with Alto.

Myth #4.  They produce a sickly flickering pale light.

Yes, it’s true – some do. So don’t buy those ones! Buy quality bulbs! If you want warm yellow light, look for ones labeled with a lower colour temperature (Kelvin) around 3,000. If you want a white light, look for bulbs marked “daylight, with a high colour temperature around 5,000. Here is another useful guide to buying a CFL bulb, which also has lots of good advice from on-line readers.

Myth #5. They don’t work with dimmers.

True in 2007, but not today. If you want a CFL bulb that works with a dimmer switch, they’re more expensive (and waste more energy), but you can buy one.

Myth #6. They don’t last as long as promised.

In California, the utility PG&E found that instead of 9.4 years of useful life, the reality is closer to 6.3 years, with a faster burn-out rate in certain locations such as bathrooms and recessed lighting. But a regular light bulb burns out after 1,000 hours, so the new bulbs still last six times longer.

Myth #7. They don’t come on immediately.

No longer true in most cases. In my home, all but two of our 47 CFLs come on almost immediately.

Myth #8. There’s no safe disposal mechanism.

For sure there is – recycling programs for residential CFLs are mandated by provincial regulation. You can find the nearest recycling drop-off at

Myth #9. They produce “dirty electricity”.

This refers to the myth that the new bulbs produce harmful electromagnetic radiation, and the experience that some people have a bad reaction to the UV light. It does appear that some people who suffer from lupus and certain skin conditions can be negatively affected by some bulbs, in which case they should buy a bulb marked as low UV, with a glass cover. For the vast majority of people, who have been using billions of bulbs all over the world for many years, there are no negative health effects.  

Myth #10. They don’t work in really cold weather.

This is generally true – so look for ones with a special cold cathode weather ballast, which are good down to -23ºC.    

How Much Will I Save?

BC Hydro says that if the average household replaced all its incandescent bulbs with CFLs, it would save 830 kWh a year, which comes to around $60. BC Hydro’s CFL Fact Sheet says that replacing one incandescent bulb with a CFL will save $52 in electricity over the life of the bulb. BC Hydro says that 80% of British Columbians are already using CFLs, that we are already realizing 600 gigawatt hours of electricity savings per year, the equivalent energy consumption of more than 50,000 homes. 

For more good information about the new light bulbs, see BC Hydro’s Guide

What about LED lighting?

LED (light emitting diode) bulbs are more efficient than CFLs – but they are still very expensive ($20-$40), and their light is still very focused and limited. Prices will fall, and the technology will improve; in ten years they may well be the #1 bulbs.

So remind me – why are the old inefficient bulbs being phased out? They use four times more energy than the CFL bulbs, so making the switch plays a small but important role in helping us save energy, save  money, reduce the use of coal-fired power, and protect our children’s future. And that has my whole-hearted support.

Article Souce: Author Guy Dauncey, President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

January 11th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

The most popular sizes of incandescent light bulbs will disappear from most store shelves in B.C. within the next few weeks and the most common replacement lights cost up to 10 times more to buy.

Ikea stopped ordering incandescent bulbs last August. Canadian Tire stores have no more than a two-month supply of 75- and 100-watt bulbs, while the London Drugs warehouse is already empty.

“The stores might have up to a three-month supply,” said London Drugs administrator Maury McCausland. Then again, maybe not.

“We’ve seen a spike in sales of incandescent bulbs with some of our older customers coming in and stocking up,” he said. “But the younger people really want the energy savings.”

“Compact fluorescent lights [CFLs] and halogen lights have absorbed 60 per cent of the light bulb market in just the past two years,” McCausland said.

The province ordered retailers to stop restocking the two most popular incandescent bulbs by Jan. 1 as part of the transition to more efficient lighting technologies required by the federal government’s new standards. In 2012, all of the common sizes of incandescent bulbs will be banned for sale in Canada, as they are, or will be, in many western nations.

For simple light bulb replacement, consumers usually opt for compact fluorescent lights that match the general shape of a common light bulb and screw into the medium base used in most overhead lighting.

“We have clearly seen CFL sales trend up over the last two-three years,” said Glen Gillis, manager of the Cambie Street Canadian Tire. “Over the last few years, the CFL line of products has grown far beyond the twisty style bulb … customers are becoming aware of the increasing options in CFL products and we expect sales to continue to be very strong.”

CFLs use only 25 per cent of the energy that a regular light bulb draws to produce the same amount of light. But prepare yourself for a sticker shock. CFLs cost anywhere from five to 10 times as much as a regular light bulb, ranging from $5 to $12 each. On the upside, they tend to last about eight times as long.

Switching a single 100-watt incandescent bulb to a 25-watt compact fluorescent light bulb can save you $30 in energy costs over its lifetime, according to BC Hydro. Energy savings like that can significantly reduce your home’s carbon footprint, particularly in regions where electricity is generated by burning coal. In jurisdictions such as B.C. where the carbon footprint of hydroelectric energy is very small, energy savings help reduce the need to build expensive new power generation infrastructure.

Fluorescent lighting does carry an environmental cost. Because the bulbs contain mercury vapour, they must be handled with care and properly recycled and the mercury may leach into groundwater or find its way to the ocean.

Big advances in technology are helping ease the fluorescent light’s bad reputation for light quality, earned over decades of casting flickery, hard light in institutional settings such as schools and hospitals, according to Silvie Casanova, a spokeswoman for Phillips Lighting.

New-generation fluorescents can produce softer, more natural light and can be designed to work in lamps, recessed light fixtures and even with dimmer switches, all historic weaknesses of the technology.

“There is another alternative to CFLs and that is another incandescent light, the halogen bulb,” said Casanova. “It uses 30-per-cent less energy than the conventional incandescent bulb.”

“You really have three options: the more advanced incandescents such as halogens, CFLs and LEDs,” she said.

LED lights are beginning to emerge as the favourite choice for people purchasing new lighting systems, rather than just replacing burnt-out bulbs. LED lights can last 25 years or more under normal use.

“LEDs are already 15 per cent of our business and that’s up 68 per cent from last year,” Casanova said. “We expect that by 2015 LED will account for 50 per cent of lighting sales.”

LED lights and their high-tech cousin, the OLED (organic light emitting diode), are the lighting technologies of the future, agreed David Feldman, co-founder of online lighting retailer Ylighting. In OLED technology, the illumination comes from a thin layer of organic material incorporated into super-thin flat panels that emit light.

“LEDs are definitely a growth part of our business,” he said. “But CFLs will be around while we still need replacement bulbs for medium base fixtures.”

Legislative pressure and technology expanded the available range of light size. “It’s not just about putting 60- or 75-watt light bulbs in every part of the house,” Casanova said. “You can think about how you are going to use a light and how you want to cast that light before you choose a light for your specific application.”

Article Source: Vancouver Sun – The Green Man Blog

Footnote: CFL bulbs require special handling and disposal. This article from Jetsongreen may be of assistance.

January 6th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

With Canadians spending more than 90% of their time indoors, much of it at home, the “healthiness” of their home is a serious issue. Poor indoor air can have a detrimental impact on people’s well-being, from a general sense of feeling tired or “under the weather” to contributing to, or even triggering, allergies and asthma.
A home’s air is affected by many things: off-gassing from building materials, finishes and furniture; excessive moisture leading to mold growth; improper ventilation, and incomplete combustion in heating systems. Our daily activities also have a big impact-moisture from cooking, bathing and laundering; off-gassing from household cleaners; hair, dander and litter dust from pets and even emissions from equipment in a home office.

Today’s new homes are built to give you the best possible indoor environment—a comfortable, enjoyable home with clean fresh air, a comfortable moisture level, and no molds or lingering odours.

Construction and design

Good indoor air quality begins with solid construction that prevents air leakage and moisture penetration. Eliminating dampness and cold spots not only increases comfort, but also prevents mold growth. Exterior walls are well insulated with air barriers, vapour retarders and careful caulking. Energy-efficient windows help to prevent condensation. Open and spacious layouts promote good air movement throughout the home.


Mechanical ventilation is built into every new home, using exhaust fans to get rid of stale or excess moist air generated in the course of everyday living. Many new homes come with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV), which is a whole-house system that continuously brings in fresh air from the outside to all living areas of your home and exhausts the stale air. To make sure the system is not simply bringing in problems from the outside, the incoming air is filtered. It is also pre-heated by the outgoing air to save energy—this is the “heat recovery” part of the system.

Heating and cooling systems

In a brand new home, systems are selected and installed to safeguard homeowner comfort and the freshness of the indoor air. Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems operate cleanly and safely, drawing combustion air directly from the outside and venting exhaust gasses separately to avoid any risk of noxious fumes inside the home.

Building materials

By choosing the right building materials, builders can reduce the amount of pollutants or contaminants introduced into the home during construction. These include non-solvent-based glues and grouts, water-based paints, formaldehyde-free cabinetry and pre-finished hardwood flooring.

Finishing products

Many products are also chosen for their long-term effect on the indoor air. For instance, ceramic and other hard-surface flooring doesn’t trap dust and mites. Cabinets, countertops and sinks are easy to clean with mild, non-toxic cleaning agents.

When you begin with the right home, it is easy to maintain a healthy indoor living environment. For additional information, check Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Healthy Housing™ initiative.

Source: Canadian Homebuilders’ Association

January 4th, 2011
By Vivian Martin

What is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas that is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It is formed bythe breakdown of uranium, a natural radioactive material found in soil, rock and groundwater.

What is the Risk?

The only known health risk associated with exposure to radon is an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Radon gas and radon progeny in the air can be breathed into the lungs where they break down further and emit “alpha particles” (see figure 1). Alpha particles release small bursts of energy which are absorbed by nearby lung tissue. This results in lung cell death or damage. When lung cells are damaged, they have the potential to result in cancer when they reproduce. Cancers caused by radioactivity are started by chance and not everyone exposed to radon will develop lung cancer. The time between exposure and the onset of the disease is usually many years.

Your risk of developing lung cancer from radon depends on the concentration of radon in the air you breathe and the length of time you are exposed. Until very recently, the estimate of the risk from radon in homes was uncertain. However, two recent independent studies in North America and Europe have confirmed that the lung cancer risk extends downward to radon levels as low as 200 Bq/m 3. (See Glossary, page 47, for definition.)

Radon escapes from the ground into the outdoor air. It is diluted to low concentrations and is not a concern. However, radon that enters an enclosed space, such as a home, can sometimes accumulate to high levels. Radon breaks down to form additional radioactive particles called “progeny” that can contaminate the air you breathe.

Concern in Canada about indoor radon levels began in the mid-1970s. Some homes in communities where uranium ore was either mined or processed were found to have elevated radon concentrations. After this discovery, Health Canada surveyed the radon levels in 14,000 homes in 18 cities across Canada. Also, some smaller communities have been identified by provincial government agencies as having the potential for high radon levels in dwellings.

The majority of homes surveyed showed low concentrations of radon. However, a small but significant minority of homes in some locations were found to have high levels.

For the full guide, refer to the CMHC pdf – “Radon – A Guide for Canadian Homeowners”.


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