Wellness and Asthma Prevention in the Home
Open cell spray foam application.
by Julie Fornaro
In a staggering statistic, nearly 26 million Americans suffer from asthma, including more than 7 million children. The chronic, often lifelong disease is not only serious, but can actually be life threatening to many. Those unfortunate to suffer with asthma can be affected daily by both natural and manmade triggers, which make breathing more difficult. Many of us assume that the majority of these triggers are encountered outdoors, but they are in fact often airborne and can (and do) infiltrate homes causing problematic and dangerous asthma attacks inside.
Indoor air quality is a key component of healthy homes, which have taken center stage among architects and builders as part of the growing wellness movement, broadening more commonly practiced sustainability initiatives into the realm of human health. As building leaders continue to enhance best practices for wellness and air integrity in homes, asthma prevention should be prioritized, if for no other reason than the sheer number of Americans affected by it.
“I recall when Ty Pennington brought the asthma issue to light at the Sprayfoam Convention, before the wellness phenomenon had even taken off,” said Kurt Riesenberg, executive director of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA). “He spoke specifically about his mother who suffers from environmental respiratory sensitivities and noted widely to the audience that he had avidly sought ways to help her alleviate her suffering inside her home. This issue is a real concern for many.”
What triggers asthma attacks in the home?
Asthma triggers are present in the daily environment and include pollen, smoke, pet dander, dust, mold, ozone, chemicals and even changes in the weather. When an asthma sufferer breathes in a trigger, the airways respond by creating extra mucous and swelling, making breathing difficult. Not surprisingly, the American Lung Association (ALA) links asthma directly to air quality and particle pollution. The association’s recent ALA State of the Air 2017 report found that 38.9 percent of people in the U.S. live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution. The report also found an unrelenting increase in dangerous spikes in particle pollution. The number of people exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution now sits at 125 million.*
Particle pollution increases the risk for those afflicted when it infiltrates the home. This breach of triggers into the home occurs when the envelope lacks a proper seal. Once the triggers get inside, asthma sufferers are prone to full blown asthma attacks in a place they should feel most secure and safe from them.
Why sealing your home matters
One common way to prevent particle pollution infiltration in the home is by utilizing high performance building products that create air tightness (for more on this see the Air Barrier Association of America). Because asthma triggers include mold, mildew and dramatic temperature changes, an ideal home seal will act as a barrier and effective moisture, thermal and air control solution, as is achieved with spray polyurethane foam insulation. The improved air-tightness resulting from spray foam better controls indoor humidity, which can reduce the occurrence of mold and mildew. Additionally, it is extremely effective at providing energy efficiency which, in addition to providing long term energy cost savings, reduces hot and cold pockets that can be asthma inducing. Because of the insulating properties of spray polyurethane foam insulation, this thermal control is achieved with less energy demands on heating and cooling.
The material also dramatically reduces the pollen, dust, airborne chemicals, exhaust (from attached garages), and other triggers from entering the home while allowing for controlled and filtered ventilation of the building. Proper ventilation is an essential part of the indoor air quality solution as common items found within the home will also emit potential asthma triggers. These items include carpeting, paint products, adhesives, solvents, new furniture, smoke from fireplaces, cosmetics, perfumes and household cleaners, to name a few.
While spray foam creates an air tight seal to prevent the infiltration of outdoor triggers, indoor triggers can be addressed with the use of an energy recovery ventilator. The ventilator enables the healthful and energy efficient exchange of stale indoor air with fresh and filtered outdoor air, working in concert with the spray foam insulation to ensure a total indoor air quality solution.
With thermal, moisture and air control handled, there is a significant reduced likelihood of asthma attacks, while enhancing comfort indoors.
“This was the solution that Ty implemented in his mom’s home and he has confirmed that it made enormous improvements to both her comfort and health,” added Riesenberg. “Frankly I found his story moving because I know people with asthma and it is terrible. Our industry really can make an important difference for these people by making smart choices. It’s really that simple.”
It is important that anyone suffering from asthma and respiratory sensitivities consult with their doctor about additional prevention methods and solutions. And any builders looking to install spray foam insulation should always seek out professional installers, ideally those with a Professional Certification obtained through the SPFA, as well as with experience in dealing with the prevention of asthma inside the envelope.
“For families and progressive builders concerned about these important issues and who want to reduce the likelihood of asthma attacks indoors, proper insulation with air-sealing is a no-brainer,” said Riesenberg. “It’s among the easiest ways to achieve a healthier, safer home,”
About the Author
Julie Fornaro represents the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA), the educational and technical voice of the spray polyurethane foam industry. The organization advocates for best practices in the industry and offers a Professional Certification Program for industry participants. Contact Julie@sprayfoam.org.
*ALA State of the Air 2017 Report can be accessed at this link: http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/key-findings/