Home » Using stone and ceramic tile for a healthy building environment
A young student has problems breathing when he is in school. He experiences itchy eyes, a runny nose and a constant headache. When he is not in school, he does not experience any of these symptoms. A young mother goes to work everyday and comes home feeling lethargic; she gets plenty of rest but she is always tired, but just during the week when she is at the office. When she travels, she cannot understand why she is not as tired as when she is not traveling. She reasons to herself that she should be more tired when traveling. These types of stories are becoming more commonplace. In many cases, these types of symptoms point back to â€œsick building syndrome.â€
Sick building syndrome is the result of the off-gassing of volatile organic compounds that may be present in building materials. These can include chemicals, odors from fibers or fumes from building materials as they are curing and drying. Many of the building materials used in today's construction methods contain products that can cause some of the problems mentioned at the outset. There have been many questions and potentially even more solutions to these issues. While the construction business and the materials and methods used to build our buildings are vast, I will focus on just one area. That is the use of stone and tile as a finish material on floors as opposed to other types of flooring finishes such as carpeting, resilient or wood flooring and as a wall finish as opposed to using paint, vinyl wall covering or fabric wall covering. I will also answer several questions in this discussion. Why is stone and tile healthier for the building environment? Why is there a movement towards creating a healthier building environment? Let's examine the trend towards healthier and â€œgreenerâ€ buildings.
Background on the Green Building Movement
The term â€œgreenâ€ - when used in discussions that concern buildings and construction - signifies healthy and environmentally friendly products and buildings. Before we can address the reasons why stone and ceramic tile should be used as a finish material, we need to understand the green building movement. The respiratory and allergic reactions of building occupants can be traced back to reactions that they may have with some of the products that are in the structure. In one study, â€œit was determined that people are indoors approximately 90% of the time.â€ (Ahuja, 2004, p.2) With that in mind, good indoor air quality is very important. The design community has long recognized this fact, and it has inspired federal and state organizations to create programs that are designed to target the issue of indoor air quality.
As of 2005, there are â€œ29 programs currently runningâ€ that have established guidelines to address this issue (R. Dooley, 2005, p. 1). One example of a state that began to enact standards for clean indoor air is California. For example, note what the State of California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to say on the matter of finish materials and adhesives that contain formaldehyde (a known polluter of indoor air): â€œOne of the most common pollutants found in indoor air is formaldehyde, a carcinogen often emitted by pressed-wood products, adhesives and fabrics. It can cause severe headaches, sensory irritation, nausea, rashes and cancer. In its testing, the State of California EPA OEHHA has identified up to 60 hazardous substances, including formaldehyde, that are commonly used in buildings. The project specifications for the Capitol Area East End Complex have established maximum modeled indoor-air chemical concentrations for those compounds and formaldehyde.â€ (Air Quality Sciences, 2002, p.25).
More and more end-users and design professionals are recognizing that a healthy building environment is an essential part of the community. Hand in hand with the health issues of our buildings comes the sustainability and quality of building materials used. What does this actually mean? Simply put, sustainability can be defined as how long will the products used in a structure last before they have to be replaced or repaired. For example, for the purposes of our discussion, how long will tile wall cladding last as opposed to a coat of paint or an application of vinyl wall covering? Along with using products that do not harm the environment or humans, sustainability is also becoming a hot issue within the building community. The health and sustainability issues go hand in hand, since the frequency in which finishes are replaced impact the indoor air quality of buildings. With that said, the use of environmentally friendly products makes sense.
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