Interior materials

Traditionally, internal materials used in buildings were those that were cheap and readily available. This meant that wood, pottery, metal and natural materials were used for furniture, fabrics and finishes.

We now use large amounts of man-made materials and chemicals in our buildings. This can have a detrimental effect on our health, but as a society we place little importance on this. However, in other countries building related illnesses are gradually being more recognised by industry and governments. The causes of these diseases can be linked to materials used in building (eg. asbestosis) or the systems used within buildings (eg. legionnaires disease and humidifier fever). However, a growing concern is over a general malaise felt by people in certain buildings. It is called Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and was officially recognised as an illness by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1986.

SBS has multiple symptoms that include: headaches, loss of concentration, dry or watery eyes, lethargy, skin irritations, throat problems and nasal irritation. The causes of SBS are not clear but it appears to be a mixture of issues presented by poor lighting, ventilation, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), electro-magnetic fields, radon, moulds and other particulates.

Many of these products we use in buildings give off chemicals into the air throughout their lives. This creates a cocktail of chemicals that surround us whenever we are in a building.  Common pollutants come from paints, preservatives, insulation, adhesives, carpets, soft furnishings, cleaning products, air fresheners, plywood, particle boards like MDF etc.

Some of the main chemicals / pollutants found in homes include:

  • Phthalates - these are found in PVC products and are known hormone disruptors
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) - these are found in 'normal' paints
  • Benzene - is used to make paint, plastics and resins and is a known carcinogen
  • Formaldehyde - is used in plywoods, furniture and is a known irritant and carcinogen
  • Electro Magnetic Fields - these are given off by electronic products and are linked to childhood leukaemia, brain cancer and depression.
  • Particulates - these can come in the form of mould, pollen, perfumes and are irritants and can affect asthma sufferers

There are key areas that we can address to help minimise the effects of SBS and other health issues like asthma and various allergies.

  • Use natural products
  • Install good ventilation
  • Maximise daylight
  • Reduce chemicals in the home
  • Use plants that absorb chemicals from the air
  • Reduce the effect of magnetic fields
  • Treat materials, where required, with non-toxic products

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