NTE Podcast: Constructing a Healthy, High-Performance Home
Water is essential for life, yet can cause so much destruction. Building a healthy home requires the use of many materials, very few as important as what we’ll be discussing today. Etienne Gubler of Siga North America joins us today to discuss how his company’s tapes, wraps and membranes can eliminate the destructive element of water intrusion, and allow our well-built homes to last far beyond the typical service life we get here in North America. Plus, we take a few questions from the mailbag.
Constructing a Healthy, High-Performance Home
Andrew Pace: Jay and I talk an awful lot on the show about keeping moisture out and controlling humidity in the home once it’s actually in there. But how do you actually go about doing that when building a new home? Well, today we’re going to hear from an expert. We’re going to hear from the CEO of Siga North America. Siga manufacturers custom tapes, high-performance raps to keep that humidity out. Then we’ll take a couple of questions from the mailbag. Today on Non Toxic Environments.
Welcome back to Non Toxic Environments. Jay, good to be with you this week. This is actually kind of an interesting show for us.
Jay Watts: Tell me how Andy.
Andy: Well, the other day I’m on the phone with Etienne Gubler with Siga, Siga tapes and building wraps and so forth.
Jay: Say that name again? Say the other name that was really good French. What was that?
Andy: Etienne. Etienne Gubler.
Jay: Perfect. Wow. Okay. I’m excited.
Andy: Okay. I know at Etienne is correct. I’m probably slaughtering his last name. Etienne if you’re listening, when you are listening, I apologize. My French is not very good. Etienne and I were discussing his products and I thought ‘I’m going to hit record. Do you mind if we hit record?’ So it was a really good, a really good interview. Just talking about the high performance building industry and how their products kind of fold into it.
Jay: Man. I want to hear it. I want to hear it.
Andy: Well. All right. Tell you what, let’s hit play and you can let me know what you think. So here it is.
Andy: Etienne, it’s so good to have you on the show today here in Non Toxic Environments. I’ve been really interested in speaking with you for quite a while now ever since one of my clients introduced me to your products probably close to a year ago. We’ve found that the idea of using custom tapes, custom wraps and so forth on a home to eliminate mold, eliminate air and water intrusion, this idea is not only good timing because we have a lot of projects throughout the country right now that are kind of at this stage. But we’re looking at this as really the wave of the future, the wave of the building future. So first of all, thank you for coming on the show today.
Etienne Gubler: Thank you for having me Andy.
Andy: If you can just give everybody a brief synopsis of what Siga is all about and a little bit of history of the company?
Etienne: Yeah, absolutely. Well, once again, thanks for having me and for the opportunity to be here today. So Sega is a space family business that was founded in 1966 and we have one clear mission and vision that unites all of us and we strive for a world of zero energy loss buildings. So this has been a part of our journey from the from the get go. I couldn’t agree more with what you just said that times are changing right now and what’s also changing is the environment. We do need to act, we have to really start thinking about how can we build more sustainable for the future so that there is a future, a livable future? Therefore, I’m once again really thrilled that we can have the conversation.
Andy: For all of our listeners who been tuning in for our 70 some episodes, you all know that my focus has always been on health of the human occupant. But in that process, as we talk about things like energy efficiency and global environmental concerns, as I’ve always said, those two items are also very important. This is one of those products, or I believe product lines that sort of dips into all of those aspects of green. So it’s not just human friendly but it’s environmentally friendly energy efficiency. That’s why I believe this is a fantastic topic for today. So if I may kind of jump right into it with Siga, one of the most talked about issues right now is the use of spray foam insulation in building, especially in residential construction. Again our listeners know that I’m not a fan of spray foam because of the inherent toxicity of it. But one of the reasons why the building community is really promoting spray foam is because it helps to seal in gaps that helps to take care of some issues during construction that are just problematic for builders. I see this as a perfect opportunity for your product. So do you think that the use of the Siga products would allow us to get beyond spray foam? We eliminate the spray foam and go to other ways of insulating our homes?
Etienne: Yes, I do believe that. I think if we look at spray foam and in the relation in our products, we kind of have to separate. So spraying foam as an insulator, right? And spraying foam as an air sealing strategy, as an insulator, and that’s probably your explanation by the industry currently still really likes to promote the product or use the product because you get quite a high R value per inch of spray foam. That’s kind of why. Everyone loves it because they are cheaper, they give you a relatively high R value. So in that regards, that’s going to be a little bit more challenging to come up with without the products. But it’s totally, totally doable. My concern and our focus at Siga is we are a tape manufacturer. We make tapes, we make membranes to air seal homes. I have a few points, concerns with spray foam in general. In particular, two things that can happen with spray foam is spray foam or foam in general cracks over time. I’m not talking about year long, I’m talking about 20, 30, 40 years down the line. Also something that actually a lot of the foam manufacturers will tell you- that foam shrinks. Over time. So now if you fill a cavity with your foam and you rely on that on, on being your airtight seal, then that stuff can shrink and it can crack. Because if that happens you all automatically introduce air leakage into your building. So that’s kind of where the taping has as a durability advantage for sure.
Andy: That’s a really great segue here. We’ve been discussing on previous episodes of the show, the idea of doing things such as… I’m a big fan of formaldehyde free fiberglass and I really liked the blown in blanket systems that are available now. And in order to make those really effective, you have to still go through the process of air sealing, all of the typical penetrations where wood meets wood, and it could be an uneven joint. Again, this is where spray foam helps the builders because they see it fills it all up, as you say, 20, 30 years later, when things shrink a little bit, those gaps now become problematic again. So does Siga make products that can be used in a blown in blanket system where you can literally tape all of those connections or those potential air intrusion points before the installation process?
Etienne: Yes, absolutely. You just mentioned the most crucial point before the installation process. If we talk about air tightness, actually we need to talk before we start framing. Okay. That’s extremely important because you can make your life so much easier by having your air strategy figured out before you start to frame and with a few tricks you can actually avoid a lot of the added labor that can happen if you just basically have completely framed your house and then you start thinking about air tightness. So to answer your question and yeah, absolutely. We do have tapes, we have interior vape retarders and I got to talk about them a little bit later. That can be used in combination with blown in insulation such as blown in cellulose or the formaldehyde free fiberglass that you just mentioned. There are three major strategies and if we talk about air sealing and I can make it very simple, you can either have your air barrier interior of your wall. So that will be, for example, if you use a vapor control layer, like a vapor retarder on the inside of your of your starts, option number one, option number two is you can have so-called mateable air barrier. You can use your shealing and tape your shealing, and that’s going to be your dedicated air barrier. For example, some of your listeners may have heard of the Huber Zip, something like that, that’s, that’s kind of midair barrier, mid wall barrier that they could use. Or you can use your tape OSB or something like plywood. Or you can also have your air barrier outside of your walls on an exterior by utilizing a weather resistive barrier any other materials that will then go on top. So these are your three options.
Andy: Up here in the upper Midwest, it’s a building code that you have to have a vapor barrier on the warm side of the installation. So it’s got to be on the inside of the insulation before you erect your drywall, right? But then very commonly what’s happens is you’ve got your exterior sheathing, whichever product you use, and then builders will use just a common building wrap that by definition or theoretically, it keeps wind out right and it keeps rain out. But we all know that these homes under construction are left open to the elements for a few weeks or longer before your siding goes up. The building wraps start to lose their effectiveness because the wind gets at them. It starts to tear a little bit. You’ll get wind driven rain between the seams. What happens is moisture gets into that cavity wall and now you’ve got a vapor barrier and the inside, a vapor retarder on the outside with the building wrap and a lot of moisture in the cavity. And so ideally what we would like to do is, and there’s two schools of thought here: one is to build a wall that’s completely air tight. The other is to build a wall that breathes, I think that down to where in North America you’re building, because I think it changes from region to region. What are your thoughts on that? If we were to use a Siga product on the outside as a vapor retarder, I know you’ve got some larger membranes that can do that, correct?
Etienne: So here I have to say we currently… Maybe they do not have an exterior vapor retarder in our current portfolio, the majority of our products are used in mild to cold climates. Clients that are heating dominated, such as a where you are right now, right? So where we have cold winters and so I’m talking about, I would like to address what you just said. You basically have two thoughts of school. You can have breathable walls or non breathable walls. Non breathable walls,this is kind of playing a part, like the comparison of playing Russian roulette, it can go very well and nothing happens or you can actually have a big, big problem because if you have a leak in a nonpermeable wall, that moisture will stay in there and it has no chance to really get out and your structure can actually rot away. So that’s kind of what we don’t want, but we really promote in all our products are very clearly designed for that other world, the breathable wall, the permeable wall. And so you saw also some of the differences and I have to make sure that we get the terminology right. You can absolutely work, with multiple air tightness layers so you can have more than one dedicated air barrier in your wall. . As long as you have a more permeable layer on the outside. That’s very important. Let me give you an example. If you use a very permeable weather resistant barrier system on the exterior wall then on the interior of you all use one of those smart vape retarders you may have heard of it. If you use that combination you and you tape all the seams and everything and we totally recommend you to do that, tape it on the inside, tape it on the outside, you will actually have two air barriers. But these are not vapor barriers. They are vapor permeable so that moisture can actually leave your cavity to the outside. And in summer when the diffusion comes, when it’s more wet and humid on the outside, your wall can also dry back. So that’s kind of the best case scenario in my opinion. If you can build a permeable wall that allows, that is designed to maximize the outward drying. We want this moisture to go out, but you have a little bit of backup plan by using or utilizing a smart membrane that if there ever is some moisture in the wall during those summer days that it can also dry back. So that will be the best.
Andy: So that brings up a really interesting question. I believe we’ve dealt with a couple of projects across the country where the HVHC systems were specifically designed to create an amount of pressure that pushes against the walls and pushes the moisture out. And so as you’re talking, you want it to dry to the outside. So with your products, this actually would be a very good scenario to use that type of an HVAC system along with your products to facilitate that.
Etienne: Well, I think at the end of the day that pressure is generated. It’s a physical process, because basically if you have a warm humid climate, let’s say winter scenario and you have a cold exterior, that moisture will automatically move. It always flows from the warmer, more humid to the colder and dryer environment. That’s the diffusion flows. So that’ll happen anyways. Yeah, but what you are describing to me sounds like almost over pressurizing your home a little bit. I don’t fully know about that or where the air would come from. I guess that would be kind of a big one. And then keep in mind if, if this would be the system to rely on, um, air always goes both ways, right?
Andy: If it can come out it can go in. Well, and that’s, that’s the key really is in construction is to control sort of when and where that air comes in. And if we know that, if we plan for that, then you can design a structure that will be standing a hundred years from now. If and then that’s really goes back to the way we used to build homes. When everything was sort of open. We didn’t really care about air tightness. And then all of a sudden in the late nineties, early two thousands builders decided to start tightening up the homes. I mean, started happening in the 70s with the oil embargo in commercial construction. But in residential, it really started to be done an earnest and the in the late nineties, early two thousands. But what what builders forgot about is the fact that, Oh yeah, there are humans living inside of this house and they actually need fresh air. And so that’s when they started incorporating the use of energy recovery ventilators to bring in that fresh air. What you said just earlier really struck something for me, which is ideally in a perfect world, if we could build walls that were guaranteed 100% airtight, that would be the best way to build because you could specifically control when and where fresh air came into the building. But because we can’t, because the laws of physics don’t allow for it, we have to then do our best to make sure that the walls properly breathe. And that’s where your products really come in well.
Etienne: Absolutely. I think, if you allow me to segue a little bit, you did mention though, a mold. And I think mold is a very important topic that we should talk about. Just for fun let’s look at mold quickly, what I call it the recipe for mold. How do we make good mold? We need three major ingredients. Okay? We need a food source. A good four source would be cellulose. A lot of things have cellulose in it. You’re talking about mainly wooden frame buildings. There is already something. It could be your insulation, it can be your dry wall. There’s a ton of potential food sources that we have. Next we need is moisture. And moisture can come in either through leaks, it can come if we have a very high humidity level or it can also introduce moisture into our walls if we have condensation happening.
Etienne: And then last but not least, we need oxygen. So we need some air in order for that mold to grow. Usually we need an air flow for those mold spores to start sitting on our surface. Right? So if we look at mold, you mentioned early on, in the early days of air sealing, unfortunately people didn’t fully understand enough about it, right? They in good faith sealed up their homes, like made them super airtight. They did kind of two mistakes, right? Mistake number one was, they trapped themselves with some very harmful chemicals. It was kind of air tightness, how we get there, kind of like the spray foam as scenario. I don’t want to talk bad about spray foam. But I mean there are definitely spray foams out there that are very chemical and they off gas. That’s not great for you. Especially if you’re sensitive to these chemicals. Then it’s just kind of, Hey, you, you just trapped yourself out. Congratulations. You’re home is super airtight in the beginning. Right? But I mean, you sit in this chemical chamber, but that being said, so back in the days they made it super airtight and the issue that I see is, they didn’t fully understand- you trapped something and if there’s ever any moisture getting into those walls that it can’t dry out. Now maybe you didn’t have leak, but guess what? Everybody who ever frame the home knows the wood is pretty wet when we build it. When you move in into your house, your house is not dry. They may be calling it dry but it’s not, it takes more than a year in some cases up to three years for a house fully to dry out. So you basically just enclosed that moisture and that’s sitting there right now. So, and you mentioned perfect airtime. This is difficult, right? To achieve. And yeah, there you go. So mold can happen.
Andy: Let me just jump in there for a second because this is again a common theme in our podcast is that the average home that’s built today has anywhere between 400 to 600 gallons of moisture in the air. That’s just from the building process, the building materials as you say. Knowing that construction is taking longer, right now because of labor shortages and material delays and so forth, these homes are open to the elements for weeks if not months longer than normal. You get three, four, five days of rain and then the first sunny day that comes though they’ll start slapping on the siding and the roofing and all that moisture is locked in those cavities. And so you’re exactly right. I mean, as much as we’d love to say that homes are being built using kiln dried wood and it just doesn’t happen. Just as a side note here, we’re finding lumber arriving to job sites already with mold on it. The framers are just using it because well that’s, that’s the material he sent, that’s what I’m going to use. And so you talk about having a recipe for mold. Well one of the main ingredients is the actual mold spores themselves and the framers are literally building that into your walls. And so it’s even more crucial to have the ability to get the moisture out.
Etienne: Right, right. So yeah, for me actually, I mean first of all, don’t let any moisture in regards to use a very high quality weather resistant barrier, tape that barrier, think about connections that you have, be aware of penetrations that go through that vapor through that moisture barrier to really make sure. If you just put up a, let’s say a building paper or a self adhere membrane or something like that and you start to drill like a bunch of holes in it and nail in it, just think about what is this going to do. What’s going to happen if ever any moisture gets behind my siding> And that’s possible. So you have to think about and you have to address those penetrations and tape them properly, uh, just to ensure that you won’t get any leakages, you know?
Etienne: Um, so I think that’s an important one. And then the second point for me is really how do you avoid condensation in your wall? And that’s kind of when it gets more tricky because then we have to talk about how much insulation are you using? Are we shorted? We don’t have major thermal bridges. Generally speaking for our climates, by using exterior continuous insulation, you can already eliminate a lot of the thermal bridging happening. So that’s kind of like a more or less an easy fix in some parts it’s code that you need these exterior insulation. So that helps. Right? But then also thinking about, well, what about the moisture source that we have from the interior? And here, once again, I come back to our smaller vapor retarders or, or some sort. If we talk about interior vapor retarders, I think what’s important for everyone here is listening today to understand this, that there are different ways on how you do this. You can rely, for example, on your paint as being your vapor retarder slash air barrier, right? But as soon as you start hanging pictures or you start to do stuff and you start penetrating that quote unquote finished layer, you’re already damaging that.
Andy: You’re breaking that seal.
Etienne: You’re breaking that seal. That’s right. Exactly. You’re breaking that seal. I’ve moved into different places I never really consciously thought about, Ooh, actually that’s my vape retard, my air barrier here. Because one thing that will happen before that water pressure that we have…. you mentioned 400, 600 gallons, a lot of moisture. Or just generally when we breathe and cook and dry clothes and shower and whatever we do, right? We’re generating moisture. So that moisture once we heat the room, that generates a ginormous pressure and convection. So convection is the transportation of like hot, humid air through air, right? For example, if you cook water and then the steam rises and carries water, we call this convection. This is what we are most worried about. And actually one of the biggest reasons for building damage, because if you don’t properly air seal, let’s say for example a shower or something like that, that’s so much moisture every day that can get into your wall. And if that warm air, that moisture air finds a cold surface, you end up with condensation. And that is one of the biggest problems when we talk about mold, avoiding condensation in your structure.
Andy: Well, and here in Wisconsin, last February it got down to 40, 50, 60 below zero at night for a period of a week. Imagine your every day living in this home, cooking, showering, washing clothes, just perspiring in the home and that moisture has got to go somewhere, as you say. Imagine the cold temperature from the outside of the home pushing just doing everything it can to push through your walls. This is why you get, even with new windows in a new home, you’ll get condensation on the glass, on the inside of the glass because there’s so much moisture in the home. Older homes, that condensation, especially in winter time turns to frost or ice. This is what’s happening inside your walls, but you just don’t see it. And in springtime, when everything warms up, a water starts to collect and as was just stated moments ago, that process can occur if you’ve got the right environment, to create mold in the walls. So, the last thing I want to touch on because this is really interesting information and I will definitely link to a Siga in the show notes. We want to make sure all of our listeners have good information on this. But one thing I wanted to touch on to sort of end this is there, this doesn’t seem to me like rocket science. This seems to be something that the general public who are interested in building a new home or builders themselves can understand these materials and these methods very simply, however, the problem we have in our industry is the somewhat refusal of the building community to adopt anything that they consider to be different. And as we know right now, and I’ll use Wisconsin as our example here, here it has to be plastic vapor barrier Visqueen on the inside of the installation before your drywall on the outside, it’s OSB in a building wrap. If we had clients who wanted to move over to your products which are smarter, more technologically advanced, are you going to face a backlash from the building community or have you? And how do you sort of combat that?
Etienne: Yeah, that’s a very good question. I would say generally speaking as always and with everything in life, whenever we as humans need to change or change is happening or something new comes, you have kind of two types of people, the ones that fight it and the ones that embrace it. I would say the embracers are definitely not the majority. And so, have you had backlash? No, not really bad I think and I really want to give also credits too to some of or many of the builders out there I got to meet here in North America. There are a lot of folks who really want to do a job, who are very proud of their work they’re doing and doing a fantastic job in trying to wrap their head around, it’s a lot to take in. The market is crazy, crazy saturated. There’s so many different players, many almost thought schools and I think it’s hard to navigate for builders in general, what to use and what’s good to use, to start with. Overall my observation is once we present them our product, they see that they are kind of easy to work with. You’re not really reinventing the wheel. I think we are very detailed oriented and that’s what you need. In order to build a good home, you have to think about all connection details. There is no room for just improvising on the job site. Air tightness and then of course the whole, let’s call it vapor and moisture management. These are concepts you have to figure out before you start to build. You need to know what are you building, how are you building it, how will this wall work? And I always say challenge the status quo. I know the Wisconsin wall as you described, it’s still standing and in some case nothing happened, right? But there are better that are better walls out there. And I think if there is a push from the homeowner who is involved, who wants to build a passive house, maybe even go that route or says, Hey, I don’t want that foam inside of my home. I want more like more natural products. I want something healthier or you’re forced to because of allergies. And that’s usually when people start to pay much more attention. We are here, we love these conversations. We have a team of 15 employees in the US and in Canada. This is for me kind of daily business walking people through through the product line and talking about different details, connections, people send us their plans and ask about, okay, how do I seal this? How do I do that? We have a huge online resource and our homepage that people can download for free some details. We’ve created this really awesome system guidelines with 3D renderings and just really to kind of take the guesswork out of it as much as possible. So yeah, I don’t have any scary story or angry people calling me, telling me, what are you guys doing here? Usually they call us and say, Hey, you know, I saw this product for spec or someone asked me about it, or I had a call the other day from Atlanta, a big shout out, a young lad there who just said, Hey, I believe this is the future I want to get on top. I know no one here does it that way, but I want to be an early adopter and listen, thanks so much for calling can’t wait to chat more.
Andy: Oh, that’s fantastic. This is great. I’m really excited about this and I know we’re going to have you on the show in the future because we’re in the process of designing some new homes right now where we’re going to be incorporating your products into the new home construction. So as those projects start to move forward we’ll definitely have to have you back on the show to discuss. Etienne, I can’t thank you enough for being on the show today. Folks, everybody will be getting the link to his website so you can download those details. We’ll have more information available for you at degreeofgreen.com. Etienne, thank you again for being here today and I look forward to speaking with you again.
Etienne: Absolutely Andy thanks so much for having me. And I’m looking forward to our next conversation.
Andy: So, Jay, here’s the thing. When Etienne comes on the show next time you’re going to be joining me because I know based upon what we just heard, you’ve got a lot of questions for him as well.
Jay: You bet. I do. I’m very excited about this. You know, these cutting edge products with people that are really pumped up and excited about it, it gets both of us excited. It’s kind of this where there’s a synergy happens, they’re excited about what they’re doing. Their products look really fantastic and sound fantastic and fit a real niche in the market. This is the stuff we kind of live for it.
Andy: It is. And you know what I really, really appreciate about his, his products and his company vision and so forth is that they understand… and of course he even said it in the interview when he says that, we have got to be careful about what we are doing in our industry because, folks, we only have one planet, there’s only one that we can take care of. Let’s do our best. Right? And so from an energy efficiency standpoint and a resources efficiency standpoint, we need to do our best, but they also understand the whole health component. THat’s why I thought for sure that this fits right into what you and I talk about.
Jay: Yeah, you bet. It does. Well, you know, the box is always full. Our mailbox, I’m referring to everyone.
Andy: Oh, the mailbox of course.
Jay: We appreciate all these emails. You’re flooding into us and we love to answer them. Every once in a while we’ll dedicate a whole show the mailbag. Let me start it off here Andy, I think I a dissertation here. It looks like it could be almost considered a short novelette. I’m just gonna I’m just going to read it as it is here and we’ll tackle it:
Hello, am a 40 year old woman who has struggled with chemical sensitivity for 20 years now. Mostly triggers migraines from smells of chemicals. I rent a home and I’m trying to solve a problem in my bedroom. The landlord had gross carpet that I noticed was moldy, so I ripped it out since there was a nice vintage hardwood floor underneath… I’m going to interject here, but it always blows my mind how we cover up these beautiful materials with carpeting and folks, if you’ve listened to Andy and I before, you know our feelings about carpeting.
Andy: Yeah, exactly right.
Jay: So let me go on. So he ripped out this gross carpet and I noticed that walk away or he didn’t notice there was mold and on the hardwood floors underneath. The problem, and I’m sure why he had the carpet there is that he was covering a large gap on one wall between the floor and the wall, probably four inches was the gap where the floor meets the wall in one corner. My house is real old so it shifts a lot and I have no basement. I could see yellow insulation stuff in there but didn’t touch it as I wasn’t sure what was best to do. My mom helped me stuff of bunch of activated carbon in the gap and then we got two pieces of wood and nail them in to fill the gap, but the issue is I still smell what they can only assume is the insulation. It’s like a gross, sweet chemical smell.
Andy: Ding, ding, ding.
Jay: Hard to describe it, but it instantly triggers migraines and makes me nauseous. I thought we’d solved it by sealing the gap with the wood pieces, but I can still smell it through the wood smell it through. And the worst part I realized just now the gap was mostly covered by the wood, but the sickening sweet smell is still what I’m assuming is in the insulation. I realized was it was super strong when I had my nose near the electrical outlet, I’m resigned to the fact that I may not be able to use the outlets as I don’t know how else to seal off the smell. Right now I’ve just put like five layers of activated carbon and taped it around the outlet to seal it off. It looks ugly to have a taped off outlet and the bummer, cause I can’t actually use it, but if that’s the price I have to pay to keep the smells away, it’s worth it.
So would it help? Yeah, I told you it was a book.
Would it help in the tiny gaps between the floor where we pounded in the wood to cover the big gap? It was really hard to totally seal it because we can only pound the woods so far in and there’s still tiny cracks where I feel the smell of seeping out. Just wondering if you have any suggestions. I would love for the first time in years to actually be able to use my bedroom and sleep in there on a bed instead of my worn out couch. Trying to keep hope that there’s a solution. Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Carmen.
Andy: Well Carmen, that is a great question. First off, thank you so much for being so detailed, right. I don’t have any other questions for you, which is unique. Usually after a question like that I say well what about this and that, I don’t understand this. Honestly, folks, this is common in older homes that used hardwood as the original flooring material. Back in the day, when carpet first became popular, people were just ecstatic to put wall to wall carpet in to cover up the old hardwood floors because hardwood in a lot of instances wasn’t the masterpiece installation that we have today.
Andy: And that hole could be there because of an old radiator or an old piece of duct work that no longer exists. There’s many reasons why these holes could have a gap in the flooring like this and up the wall. So your first thought of filling it in is obviously the best. I think if you choose different materials to fill it with and wood does obviously makes a great base, what I would call it a good nailer or something to then attach another material to it. But you need to use something that would be considered a true vapor barrier, because what I believe you’re dealing with is insulation.
Jay: Right? I agree.
Andy: And that the yellow material could be one of many different types of insulation. First it could be old fashioned, a urea formaldehyde fiberglass insulation. It could be what’s called polyurethane foam insulation. It could be as simple as a can of great stuff from Lowe’s or Home Depot, just that the last person’s sprayed in there to help try to fill that gap and found out the hard way that you probably got six cans worth of gap to fill. And then they just covered it back up with carpet. All of these materials we talk about are releasing formaldehyde.
Jay: Well, that was that when we both kind of acknowledged that sweet chemical smell, that’s the big warning sign. A formaldehyde present.
Andy: Well, and it makes sense that you are now sensing that exact same smell through the outlets. Chances are the outlet covers, or the electrical boxes themselves aren’t gasketed, they’re not airtight. So actually this is what I’d recommend: if you can’t actually change out the electrical boxes themselves that hold the switches or outlets, you need to either get gasketed covers for them or just simply use a toxin free caulking material, something like AFM multipurpose caulk and put that behind the outlet cover and put the cover back on again.
Jay: Screw it back on, then that gives you a seamless barrier there that seals it all up.
Andy: Exactly. Now it just makes sense, right, that it’s something having to do with formaldehyde just based on that description of that sweet smell that’s causing that type of reaction.
Jay: And there is no way they can get into the wall cavity at this point in a meaningful way. So the only option is to do what you’re suggesting, which is treat the outlets themselves.
Andy: Treat the outlets and treat that gap that’s still there, the pieces of wood that you shoved in there, that’s a fine idea. But you also have to put a true vapor barrier covering the whole thing. So at this point, you may even consider getting something like a Denny foil product or tape that can be applied over the wood over that gap so it’s completely air tight and that should minimize or eliminate that odor from coming through there. Unless there’s any other gaps and openings that we haven’t discussed that should take care of the problem.
Jay: Yeah, I think that’s really wise advice. You know, folks many times and this situation is pretty clear cut, but there are instances where we’re not quite sure where the pollution is coming from. We’ve got a whole bunch of suspects and so what you do, they’re very logically, she’s kinda chop away at them one at a time, select the one you think is the most offensive and try to deal with that and then to step back and see if that made a difference. If it did, then you’ve taken care of the big one. It may not solve the problem completely, but at least you’re taking it one step at a time and you’re not overwhelmed. I think this is the part of the problem, especially with people that sensitivity who have been struggling. It’s real easy to get overwhelmed.
Andy: It is, it is, and you have to look at it as basically through the process of elimination, right? Taking care of these issues. Now, the other thing too here Jay is that once somebody has sort of sensitized, to that chemical offgassing, it’s going to be a little more difficult to get rid of it completely because now where you didn’t smell it before, didn’t sense it before because you got a big rush of it into the air… even if you got rid of that big area of it, you may still sense it. So you’re going to have to use the power of your nose and your best judgment to try to figure out, kind of sleuth out where else it could be coming from.
Jay: My clients don’t always like to hear this from me, but I tell them, if you’re off balance right now, if your sensitivities on a red alert, then the wisest thing you can do is to try to get yourself back into balance before you try to do some analysis. Because like you said, Andy, you’re not going to be really ready to be on that level of perception where you’re going to be able to solve all the problems. They don’t like to hear that because, well, how long? How long is that going to take? I mean, I got to stay away out of my house for like a week, two weeks, three weeks until I feel better? Yeah, you do. Why? Well, one, you want to feel better than get the heck out of there and two, you can’t go back and know anything unless you feel better. They’re always a little frightened below, I’ll go back, I’ll feel good and then I’ll get sick again. So it’s really hard, folks. I mean, Andy and I have dealt with this for 25 years now, and it’s in our hearts go out to everyone. But of course sometimes you just have to pull up your bootstraps and just kinda go for it. But I just want to bring that up because I know it’s difficult when we talk about having to solve these kinds of tricky problems. There’s a whole bunch of boogeyman and in the woodwork, where are they? Who is it, how do we get rid of them so well?
Andy: And you know, it brings to mind a discussion I had today with a new client. It’s when you’re dealing with chemical sensitivity, you’re so used to everything you come in contact with causing a reaction, everything just depressing your immune system more and more and more. And it’s just so hard to take. So I understand the level of skepticism that comes from folks who’ve been suffering with this for years or decades.
Jay: Well, the skepticism is at home too, right? I mean they’re feeling challenged and their mates at home, whoever they may be, may be highly skeptical, right? So you’ve got that skepticism too. So it’s a rocky road.
Andy: It is. Hey you know what else? One other thing I want to say here, Jay, because it just popped into my mind based upon this conversation with a client earlier today. A question came up like how do I test if I’m sensitive to a product or not? We’re going to have somebody on the show coming up soon that we’re going to talk about this because everybody will test differently. But what it comes down to is if you are dealing with a physician that you are comfortable with, you need to actually establish a set of protocols with your physician. How do I test to make sure that products are going to be safe, or are going to react? Whether you’re doing a muscle test, whether you’re doing some other type of tests that is, is giving you some indication that there is a sensitivity to it. Obviously, you know that the FRAT testing, mold tests, prism tests that are out there. These are all important. You’re gathering your facts, you’re putting together your decision making process of how you move forward, but you really need to work with a physician or an alternative healthcare physician who can help you determine if you are having a physical reaction.
Jay: I know who you’re talking about for an interview, you’re talking about our wonderful friend, Dr Lisa Nagy.
Andy: Yes, of course.
Jay: That we need to have her back.
Andy: Exactly. I’m just a wealth of knowledge. I’m thinking to myself, if I asked her this question, she would give us 25 minutes of an answer.
Jay: We’d be like on bated breath with all that.
Andy: Exactly. So, I got one for you. Rochelle Birmingham emailed us right after one of the last podcasts where we talked about the carpet care system. And she said, I’m asking a question specifically for the podcast. We are building a new home and cannot afford wool carpet. We currently have no sensitivities in our family, but we’re just trying to be proactive right now. If we put conventional carpet in just the bedrooms and use the AFM Carpet Cleaning System, is there a conventional carpet that’s a little safer to use and responds best to the AFM system? Thanks in advance.
Jay: I’ve never been brand centric about responding to this.
Andy: I understand.
Jay: I’ve only kind of in a way couch the answer by saying we developed that product for synthetic carpet. Which is kind of a broad way of describing carpet, but that’s generally how I’ve explained it. What would you add to that Andy, if you were trying to give them a more focused answer on exactly that kind of carpet?
Andy: Sure. First off, this is a very, very common question that I think people would love to ask. They just sometimes they don’t know how to put it into words and Rochelle puts it into words perfectly. Here’s the thing. We’ll carpet is generally going to be more expensive than synthetic carpet. Now it lasts eight to 10 times longer. But that upfront cost is prohibitive for most people.
Jay: That’s what their problem is.
Andy: Exactly. Yeah. Here’s the other thing too, folks. Not everybody can tolerate natural wool. Carpet wool carpet contains lanolin. Lanolin is an skin oil from the sheep and lanolin can be problematic for people with sensitivity. So there are many reasons why some people would just say no to wool carpet. I to like to stay away from recommending a brand here because I’m a big believer that there is no such thing as a healthy synthetic carpet. What I will say is I always look for nylon as the synthetic fiber, I believe nylon, whether it’s virgin nylon or it’s what they call nylon six, which is a recycled material and recyclable, nylon itself as a synthetic plastic is a fairly clean plastic. So the biggest problem we’ll have to deal with is the backing that holds that fiber. And that’s where the carpet cleaning and sealing system will really come into play.
Jay: Right? Folks that information is on our website, AFMSafecoat.com under the carpet cleaning and a section of our website. So the details are there. You can check that out and then if you have questions further, then you can always shoot us an email and we’ll be glad to do a followup on that. So I think just to answer a question succinctly is, look for a nylon carpet. Then if you may find one that might be fine. You never know. Sometimes it’s fine, sometimes you don’t have an issue. I like the proactivity of their decision making. I think that’s really wise. I would say if you did make a decision on the carpet, you get it into your home and you’re having a problem, then you can look to us for a maybe a solution to help control the emissions.
Andy: There you go. And that’s quite honestly, this is a very common way of doing things. If you don’t remove the source actual source of pollutant, you seal it up. But I would also add that when it comes to carpeting, it’s one of those materials in the building and remodeling industry where you really do get what you pay for. The higher the price, generally speaking, the better the quality. So if you’re going to install carpet and you want to do it once and you’re going to go through the process of the sealing of that carpet, and that’s a very labor intensive process. I don’t want to sugarcoat that, right? There’s a lot of work involved in doing that three step system. So you purchased the best quality synthetic you can find because you want it to last the longest, so you don’t have to do this again.
Jay: Correct. So I have one. Let’s round it up with this one. It’s a little shorter than the one I introduced. All right. This is from, actually it’s from down under, it’s from Australia. It’s Marisa in Australia.
Andy: We really have a lot of listeners down under.
Jay: We do, we do she’s asking, I am looking for a nontoxic sealer for a concrete shower floor. I need something that will obviously handle pooling water. Okay. What can you recommend?
Andy: It should be fairly simple to recommend something here, but this is one of those situations where I would need to know a little bit more. Generally if it’s a concrete floor that has either a waterproof membrane underneath it, we’re not dealing with any moisture vapor issues like a head of pressure coming up from underneath. I’d probably recommend something like,, well there’s a couple of products. It depends on what the finishes that you’re trying to achieve. I liked the Penetrating WaterStop. I like the WaterShield. I think those two products are probably your best bet. Penetrating WaterStop by AFM will not leave any surface coating whatsoever. The WaterShield leaves a little bit of a surface coating, but it actually gives you more resistance to things like skin oils and so forth.
Jay: Right, right, right, right.
Andy: So I would say those are the two that I would recommend. I’d probably get a sample of each and see which one reacts the best for you.
Jay: Yeah, I’m kinda leaning towards our Penetrating WaterStop.. Just because I’ve seen it under a pool of water. It’s quite amazing. You’ve got a pool of water where the surrounding wet part of the concrete is very dark in color, but wherever the Penetrating WaterStop has been applied, the concrete there looks like it’s dry. It can be under three inches of water and it looks like it’s dry.
Andy: Excellent. So there you go. I liked that too because it doesn’t leave any surface coating and all that could get slippery when wet.
Jay: Right. It’s invisible. You don’t know it’s there.
Andy: Fantastic. So there you go. Penetrating WaterStop.
Jay: Well, Andy, I think that pretty much puts a period to our day to day, doesn’t it?
Andy: It does. And so we started off with a fantastic discussion with Etienne and Jay for sure next time I get a chance to speak with him you’ll be joining us so we can pepper him with questions.
Jay: Looking forward to that.
Andy: All right folks, and once again, thank you so much for joining us on Non Toxic Environments. Jay and I look forward to this day, every single week. It’s really a thrill for us to be here with you and to answer your questions and to be that, as folks have told me, that beacon of hope, that they can actually live in a healthy home.
Jay: Well think of us as your sounding board too.
Andy: Exactly. We really appreciate if you go to a degreeofgreen.com and sign up for our newsletter, as the summer months go away and we get into fall and winter, that newsletter will be ramping up even more and we’ll be sending out more information. Also go to iTunes and make sure to give us a rating and review that will help others find the show. Finally, make sure to keep on sending those questions in. Maybe we’ll feature you on one of the upcoming episodes of Non Toxic Environments.
Jay: Be well everybody, we’ll talk to you next week.
Andy: Thank you so much. Take care.