The RIC Good Wood Guide


­ is your dwelling a safe place?

­ by Dorothy Bowes, ASEHA

While air pollution is thought to be a problem related to outdoor air, the same pollutants can be found indoors. We spend up to sixty percent of our time indoors and our homes are not always the safe places we would like them to be.

Tight buildings

Modern buildings are designed to be energy efficient to maintain temperature and save energy, but as a consequence of this they do not breathe. This allows air pollutants to accumulate inside a building as they cannot escape.

Some things that contaminate indoor air...

Sources of indoor air contamination include:

  • cigarette smoking indoors
  • gasses given off from poorly ventilated cooking appliances and heaters
  • pesticides, fungicides
  • other materials within the home that emit unhealthy chemicals.
  • Some of these unhealthy chemicals are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They can cause ill health and are commonly found in:

  • carpets
  • chipboard
  • furnishing fabrics
  • clothing
  • pesticides
  • cleaning products
  • toiletries
  • cosmetics
  • hobby products
  • People pollution

    People can add to levels of indoor air pollution with recently dry cleaned clothing and perfumes. Perfumes can contain hundreds of ingredients and are very potent additions to indoor air contamination.

    Outdoor air pollution contributes too...

    Recent studies have found that contaminants that were once thought only to be in outdoor air are present in indoors as well. In the case of ozone, this can be generated by office equipment. Photocopiers are a major source of ozone contamination indoors.

    Chemical cocktail

    All of these pollutants present together within any indoor environment area 'chemical cocktail', the result of which is called 'sick building syndrome'. Long periods of exposure to this 'chemical cocktail' can cause a large range of health problems, but there are things you can do to avoid these chemicals within your own home.


    When you are planning your home, ensure that the design has good cross-flow ventilation to maximise the air exchange rate.


    Open your doors and windows as much as possible to allow indoor air pollutants to escape.


    Don't choose materials such as chipboard and insulation that will emit VOCs. Choose low solvent paints and other products carefully.

    Floor Coverings

    The most inert material for flooring is ceramic tiles. Carpets and soft vinyl floor coverings can contribute to the levels of VOCs that can contaminate your indoor air. If you are mould or dust allergic, do not carpet your home ­ at least avoid it in your bedroom where you spend most of your time.


    Avoidchipboardandsyntheticmaterials.Solidtimber,metalandglassarebettermaterialstoworkwith. Care needs to be taken with timber to ensure that iti s not treated with pesticides and finishes that emit VOCs. Powdered metal and glass are more inert.

    Soft furnishings

    Syntheticmaterials,dyes,pestandstainresistantfinishesemitVOCs. Natural materials such as 100% cotton or silk are generally less of a problem. Some people are allergic to wool so it may not be a suitable material. Leather emits VOCs due to the chemicals used in tanning and the finishing process.

    Pest control

    Chemicals used for pest control contribute to indoor air contamination. Termi-Mesh or a basalt barrier reduces the need for under-slab chemicals.

    Cleaning Products

    These can also add to the overall levels of indoor air pollutants. Disinfectants, detergents and air-fresheners contain a cocktail of chemicals.




    Health Effects

     VOCs ­ Several hundreds of VOCs have been identified in indoor air, including formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, hydrocarbons, alcohols, ketones, ester, ethers...  Perfumes; hairsprays; furniture polish; cleaning solvents; hobby and craft supplies; pesticides; carpet dyes and fibres; glues; adhesives; sealants; paints; varnishes; paint strippers; wood preservatives; dry cleaned clothing; moth repellents; air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; contaminated water; plastics; paper products; printing ink. Eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination, memory; nausea; damage to kidneys, liver and central nervous system; some VOCs cause sensitisation reactions involving eyes, skin, respiratory tract and heart; carcinogens cause neurobehavioural problems; formaldehyde may induce allergic reactions.
     Pesticides ­ organic and inorganic products used to kill pests, weeds, insects, termites, rodents.  Domestic pest control; fungicides in paints, glues and other building products; disinfectants, herbicides and other garden products.  Many of these are nerve poisons, liver poisons, reproductive poisons, endocrine disrupters and sensitisers. Some may induce allergic responses, headaches, asthma, and rashes.
     Lead Paint; water pipes; some ceramic glazes; motor exhausts. Nerve poison; can cause behavioural problems that may not be reversible; impairs growth and neurological development.
    Carbon dioxide Poor ventilation; fuel stoves and heaters; faulty chimneys. Respiratory depressant; changes the acidity of the blood; heaviness in the chest; can decrease the ability to perform strenuous exercise.
    Carbon monoxide Vehicle exhausts; cigarette smoke; gas stoves; wood stoves; oil heaters; kerosene heaters; unvented fuel-burning appliances; faulty chimneys. Fatigue and drowsiness in healthy people; shortness of breath and chest pain in people with heart disease; irritability; headaches; impaired vision; nausea; dizziness; confusion; poor coordination; flu-like symptoms; starves the body of oxygen; heart damage.
    Nitrogen dioxide Car exhausts; industrial emissions; fuel-burning appliances; gas stoves and heaters; faulty chimneys. Lung, eye, nose and throat irritant; bronchitis; decreases pulmonary function in asthmatics; lowers resistance to influenza; chest pain.
    Sulphur dioxide Combustion of sulphur-burning fuels; kerosene heaters; vehicle emissions; industrial emissions. Obstructs breathing; decreases lung function; eye, nose and throat irritant; choking; coughing; bronchoconstriction.
     Biological contaminants ­ dust, mould, fungus, pollen, bacteria, animal and human dander, insects, arachnid excreta. Plants; animals; birds; humans; pillows; bedding; house dust; wet or damp areas and materials; standing water; carpets; refrigerator rubbers; old books; air conditioning. Allergic reactions; asthma; sinus; bronchitis; eczema / rashes; bronchial asthma; hypersensitivity pneumonitis; eye, nose, throat, skin irritation; legionella.
    Environmental tobacco smoke Tobacco products. Tobacco smoke can contain 3,800 compounds, many of which are carcinogens and mutagens. Associated with lung cancer; may contribute to heart disease; eye, nose throat irritation; headaches; bronchitis; pneumonia.
    Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) Fireplaces; woodstoves; unvented kerosene heaters; vehicle emissions; tobacco products. Irritants; cause lung injury, cardiovascular effects; some are carcinogens.
    Asbestos Insulation materials; dust; some wallboards; some cement products; ceiling tiles; floor tiles. Asbestosis; lung injury / cancer; mesothelioma. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen.
    Wood resins Plant terpenes from softwoods (pine, spruce, cedar, cypress, hemlock); pine cones; tung oil; turpentine; essential oils; perfumed plants and flowers; some chemicals used for pest control. Some are sensitisers; headaches; respiratory irritation.

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