‘Normal’ levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other indoor pollutants posed a life-threatening risk to our client, so we needed to eliminate all existing sources of toxic out-gassing. This included:
Sealing all exposed particle board, including the edges of doors and the underside of counters
Eliminate sources of irritating dust and other particulates (delete all carpeting and drapes)
Replace the furnace and water heater with high-efficiency equipment w/ state-of-the-art filtration
Perform all work in negative pressure so that all the dust and VOC’s created during construction were vented to the exterior
Our client had hired a nationally-renowned expert on healthy homes to create the protocol under which to remodel. For example, we isolated the garage from the home and then set up the garage’s exterior person door with a wall fan so that the garage became a work space under negative pressure. Even the kraft paper we used to protect the flooring had to be a particular brand and aired out in the garage for a certain period of time prior to entering the home! Every single product had a unique protocol defined for it.
Here’s another example: if there was anything we wanted to use (say, a particular adhesive) that wasn’t listed in the consultant’s specifications, we were required to inform the consultant, and if he tentatively approved the choice we would then mail the product to our client in California. After an initial sniff test was performed to be sure she had no apparent reaction, she would sleep with her head next to the product for a specific number of nights to affirm that, yes, there was no apparent reaction given this additional time exposure.
This health concern effected the choice and installation method for each and every product. The specified flooring — pictured below — had to out-gas in the negatively-pressurized garage for a specific number of days prior to entering the conditioned space.
The remodeling work itself was straight forward. The job site protocol was more unique than the actual work, so our photos focus upon these health strategies. Our experience with green building and healthy indoor air quality in Bellingham and throughout Whatcom County made us a perfect fit for operating under such a stringent environmental protocol.
Prior to hiring us for this remodel, our clients had been in touch with a local HVAC sub who will remain anonymous here. Would we be willing to do the job using this sub who would be paid directly by our clients? We said ‘yes’, so long as we were not responsible for their work. We arrived at written agreement that defined this liability exposure and then, quite frankly, it went down hill from there! First, one of their installers cut a large ceiling hole (for a return air register) in the wrong location; later this same dude fell through the ceiling!
Imagine what happened later…
It came time to fire up the new forced air furnace and gas water heater for the first time. The sub pre-arranged with us which heat registers should be open inside the house so that we could isolate these rooms, thereby managing where the initial fumes went and how they were routed. On site were the HVAC installer and our Project Manager. So the dude lights up the furnace in the garage and flames ignite immediately! We’re not talking about the flames in the combustion chamber, though. This was an unintentional fire! He had left a piece of rigid packing insulation inside the furnace box, as well as the instruction manual wrapped in plastic.
Our Project Manager grabbed his fire extinguisher but hesitated, thinking this: if he pulls the trigger then all of the extinguisher chemicals would infiltrate the duct work throughout the home as well as dump this same chemistry into the rooms with the open heat registers! Given all of the work expended thus far to protect indoor air quality, dare he pull the trigger?
If not, the house might burn down.
Thankfully, he pulled the trigger and shut the fire down!
Although we minimized the damage done by the clients’ subcontractor, said damage was significant: the furnace and all ducting were replaced; two different cleaning firms were hired to provide what we might term hospital-grade air cleaning and surface cleaning procedures. In the end, though, we returned the air quality to where it needed to be and we were heroes yet again!
Sure wish we used our own sub!