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  1. #1
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    Feb 2019
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    New construction home, allergies & asthma

    Hi everyone,

    I’m a bit stumped as to what’s going on with our air quality and allergies in a new construction home that we moved into and from looking around this seems like the right place to ask about it.

    My wife and I are both experiencing allergies in the new home (moved in 2.5 months ago), as well as friends who come over. She’s stuffed up/runny nose and itchy eyes (to the point where she isn’t wearing contacts anymore - she’s been wearing them daily for the last 10 years I’ve known her). I’m stuffed up all the time and my asthma has been acting up. The asthma has been up and down - to the point of considering going to the hospital one day, to mild another day.

    We’ve had a few guests have similar problems - runny nose and really itchy eyes.

    Leaving the house, my nose clears completely up and breathing gets back to normal. I have pretty bad allergies to mold, though it is new construction. I’ve looked around with an infrared camera that I have and there’s nothing too much out of the ordinary that I can see.

    Hopefully there’s some sleuths here that can help pinpoint where to look further, I’m getting a bit desperate for an answer. Here’s some info that may help:

    1) It’s a bungalow with walk out basement. In floor heating in basement, forced air upstairs (though basement has vents, too, just less flow directed during winter), and an HRV
    2) Our bedroom/bathroom/closet is on the left side of the house, the guest bedrooms on the right side, with the living room/kitchen/dining room (all open) in between.
    3) I have the worst symptoms in the bedroom and dining/living/kitchen area, but seem much better on the other side of the house.
    4) Downstairs I’m fine and my allergy symptoms go away fairly quickly while down there.
    5) Running a HEPA filter in the bedroom or main living area makes things better symptom wise
    6) Our bedroom/bathroom/walk in closet all have an exterior wall. The back wall of the closet is shared with the garage.
    7) We have fairly low humidity 26%-30% depending on outdoor temperature. The basement is lower humidity than upstairs, it's in floor heating, but I'm fine down there.
    8) In furnace room, there's a lot of air infiltration due to poorly sealed pipes and cables coming in through wall. Builder will be fixing this.

    I have a Dylos DC1100 Pro and these are the sorts of readings we are getting (0.5 micron, 2.5 micron 0.01/ft^3)

    Downstairs: 28, 3 to 50, 10 depending on the area, but excellent according to the scale
    Upstairs Living Room: 450, 50

    The following were taken after my wife left for work:
    Master Bedroom: 2,000, 200 (bedroom bathroom, closet are all connected/walk through)
    Master Bathroom: 2300, 200
    Walk in Closet: 3300, 220 (has wall shared with garage and one exterior wall)

    The high counts in the bedroom seem to settle down after some time - an hour later they were cut in half. Wonder if the counts are raised from car exhaust entering into our walk in closet from a poorly sealed wall against the garage when she leaves for work (or from wood stove chimney, see below). They seem to be highest in the morning, though I believe the counts in those three rooms are always higher than the rest of the house.

    Our place is kept very clean -no pets, all hardwood and tile, not carpets, and vacuum/dust at least once a week.

    Guest bedrooms: 240, 40

    I tried putting in a Lennox HC MERV 16 filter 3 weeks ago and leaving the furnace fan on. That dropped the counts big time (down to 60, 20) in the main area and a 200, 30 in the master bedroom. Allergies improved a bit, but friends coming over were still having problems. The counts started rising back up after 2 weeks of that filter, so not sure if it’s losing efficiency that quickly?

    The numbers above are without the fan running, so mostly what is just in that room, not recirculating.

    The left side of the house, where the symptoms seem worse (and Dylos counts are higher), has a neighbor that is in a recessed valley. There’s a retaining wall at the side of our house and they have a large garage with a wood stove. The wood stove is running 24/7 and the roof of the garage and chimney are a few feet above our property level/grass. I never smell wood smoke, but can see it smoking occasionally, though mostly burning clear. This is about 50 feet from the walk in closet (and exterior wall that our closet/bathroom/bedroom shares).

    I’m stumped. My initial worry was mold as I’ve had similar asthma symptoms to mold before. My wife doesn’t have any mold allergies that I’m aware of, same with our friends. I’m waiting on air sampling results for mold just in case, but it seems less likely given age of the home. The particulate matter from the chimney seems more likely to me due to the high counts in rooms that have the outside wall near the chimney and the chimney being basically at shin level. We have a baby, so my main concern is that they are in a healthy environment.

    Running a HEPA filter will get the counts in house down to like 20, 10. But it's a pain in the butt, and I want to make sure that's not just a band aid solution.

    Sorry for the long message, it's a brain dump as I'm trying to figure this all out.

    Does anyone have any ideas on what I should do / look into? Ways of ruling things out or a more systematic approach?

    Cheers and thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Millsboro, DE
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    Have you checked for construction debris in the ducts? Hire a pro to remove a floor diffuser and check the metal "Boot" fitting, he'll be able to do that without cutting himself on protruding screws.

    "Blower Door" testing will ID leaks through the building envelope, but with today's Energy Codes, that testing is required and we don't see leakage.

    Wood stove 24/7: If you have a negative pressure in the home, you might be pulling in combustion products; have the Pro check that while he's there.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2003
    Location
    Madison, WI/Cape Coral, FL
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    This is the hardest of indoor air quality problems to fix.
    During cold windy weather, home naturally change air at fairly high rate. During calm winds and mild temperature, the natural air change rate declines to near zero.
    The easiest way to measure fresh air change rate is to use a CO2 meter. Outside air is +-450 ppm CO2. A home needs a fresh air change in 3-4 hours. 50-80 cfm of fresh air will purge indoor pollutants and renew oxygen. Also consider that you have a wood burner, bath fans, kitchen hood, water heater, and a clothes drier. All should exhaust air to the outside. They all need fresh air to operate. Add wind and stack effect, you have a lot of air movement. I am concerned that you could back-draft the wood burner during low fire with a couple exhaust fans.
    Your indoor %RH is fairly low. What is the outdoor dew point verses the indoor dew point? This is also an indicator the air change rater. No air change and the windows sweat. The more air change, the closer the indoor air dew point is to the outdoor dew point.
    When mild weather comes, you will have another set of problems, like not enough air change and indoor moisture problems.
    Make sure that wind and exhaust devices to not back draft the wood burner. Moisture in your framing during construction could account for some mold. The effect should decline quickly as the materials dry out.
    Keep us posted.
    Regards Teddy Bear
    Bear Rules: Keep our home <50% RH summer, controls mites/mold and very comfortable.
    Provide 60-100 cfm of fresh air when occupied to purge indoor pollutants and keep window dry during cold weather. T-stat setup/setback +8 hrs. saves energy
    Use +Merv 10 air filter. -Don't forget the "Golden Rule"

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
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    Electrostatic air filter devices can filter allergens from the air, because they filter small particles like dust or mold.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2019
    Location
    Edmonton, AB Canada
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    Quote Originally Posted by ferd1942 View Post
    Have you checked for construction debris in the ducts? Hire a pro to remove a floor diffuser and check the metal "Boot" fitting, he'll be able to do that without cutting himself on protruding screws.

    "Blower Door" testing will ID leaks through the building envelope, but with today's Energy Codes, that testing is required and we don't see leakage.

    Wood stove 24/7: If you have a negative pressure in the home, you might be pulling in combustion products; have the Pro check that while he's there.
    I agree with Ferd that constrcution debris in ducts can cause allergies. I also prefer to use modern humidifiers to stay safe from allergies. An echo friendly home would be a good idea

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
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    3
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    Thread Starter
    Quote Originally Posted by teddy bear View Post
    This is the hardest of indoor air quality problems to fix.
    During cold windy weather, home naturally change air at fairly high rate. During calm winds and mild temperature, the natural air change rate declines to near zero.
    The easiest way to measure fresh air change rate is to use a CO2 meter. Outside air is +-450 ppm CO2. A home needs a fresh air change in 3-4 hours. 50-80 cfm of fresh air will purge indoor pollutants and renew oxygen. Also consider that you have a wood burner, bath fans, kitchen hood, water heater, and a clothes drier. All should exhaust air to the outside. They all need fresh air to operate. Add wind and stack effect, you have a lot of air movement. I am concerned that you could back-draft the wood burner during low fire with a couple exhaust fans.
    Your indoor %RH is fairly low. What is the outdoor dew point verses the indoor dew point? This is also an indicator the air change rater. No air change and the windows sweat. The more air change, the closer the indoor air dew point is to the outdoor dew point.
    When mild weather comes, you will have another set of problems, like not enough air change and indoor moisture problems.
    Make sure that wind and exhaust devices to not back draft the wood burner. Moisture in your framing during construction could account for some mold. The effect should decline quickly as the materials dry out.
    Keep us posted.
    Regards Teddy Bear



    Thank you everyone for taking the time to reply to this - I really appreciate it. Sorry for the late reply, I was away on vacation and got completely sidetracked with our screaming baby.

    We don't have any condensation on the windows (but they are triple pane). I'm not sure of the outdoor vs indoor dew point, but it was getting down to -22F, indoors kept steady at 72F. I can try and calculate it using an online calculator.

    There's no major air leaks that I've found with my infrared camera. I've found one circular cold spot in the ceiling and what looks to be a bit of cold air coming in under some flashing in one window, as well as our patio door. But that's me looking pretty hard.

    I had a few air samples taken for mold in both areas that we have the most trouble in and the results were:
    Living Room/Dining Room:
    Asp/Pen - Raw Count 13, Spore Count 280, 1 Hyphal Fragment
    Cladosporium - Spore Count 20

    Bedroom:
    Asp/Pen - Raw Count 6, Spore Count 100
    Cladosporium - Spore Count 20

    Spoke to the lab supervisor and she said this is all well within normal range.

    If it's not mold, I'm left wondering if it's:
    1) Construction debris (though the HVAC system was not turned on until after construction was complete)
    2) VOCs a possibility?
    3) The neighbor's wood stove

    As for construction debris, I've noticed that there's way more fibers in our dust, which is something we didn't see at our last place though we have the same furniture. Anything dark coloured seems to get covered with tiny little fibers very quickly, maybe that's a hint. I know on the side of the house that gives me the issues, one of the rooms below has insulation in the ceiling (under the upstairs floor) and interior wall for soundproofing, but I don't think there's any sort of sealing/barrier.

    The house is a wide layout. The middle of the house and the bedroom on the right of the house give me issues (pretty quickly get a stuffed up/runny nose, and some asthma). If I go to the rooms on the left side of the house, my congestion seems to quickly clear up. Slept in one of these rooms the other night as our little one was up all night and went to bed and woke up symptom free. Typing this from that room and it's night and day.

    The HVAC installer was by to fix an in-floor heating problem in the basement. He didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but I didn't have him check for debris (this was before the original post).

    What helps:
    I realized our HRV was never really running aside from when we showered as it was set to come on based on humidity levels. Running it for a bit of time every few hours does help a bit with the allergies.

    Also realized that the skyrocketing particle count numbers were due to an aerosol spray my wife uses in the morning.

    Running a portable HEPA filter seems to help. This one does remove VOCs/gasses, so that may be it as well?

    Some days are worse than others - it seems to fluctuate.

    Again, sorry for the long post. At a bit of a loss with where to focus on looking and I know that there's lots of people out there who would love to take my desperation money for some quick "tests".

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    Amarillo by mornin'
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    989
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    Just wondering what you have done/tried since this last post? Just a few things that jump out at me is when you said fibers in your dust. One of the places that fibers could possibly be coming from is parts of the duct work. You might have what's called duct board. Most people are ok with it, but your family might not be.

    I ventilate quite a bit in my home, way more than most. My home is a few years old now, but when we moved in the VOC was really high.

    This for some people the saying 'ignorance is bliss' was the same for me before I checked VOC just for the heck of it. Damn, it was pegged at night!

    I do building automation so I was able to source the VOC sensor easily along with CO2, humidity, etc.

    Anyways, since I started bringing in large amounts of outside air it has helped immensely. Do you know if your HRV is working correctly and large enough to do its job?
    "It's not that I'm smart, it's that I stay with the problem longer”
    Albert Einstein

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Location
    Austin
    Posts
    89
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    Keep on using your HEPA and confirming with Dylos.
    Unless your HEPAs have a lot of carbon be doubtful of VOC reduction.

    Here are two reliable sources that provided a VOC test kit. Much cheaper than calling someone that use the same two labs.:
    https://homeaircheck.com/products/ Least Expensive.
    https://www.fikeanalytical.com/ High Quality, recommended

    Your issue has to be either (1) Particulates (2) VOCs.
    HEPA work great on particulates. VOCs can be tougher.

    Fresh air intake and positive pressure, as Teddy is always reminding us, could be key.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2019
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    Honestly, after reading your post, I came to the conclusion that it can be either mold or construction debris in the duct. You should call a handyman to look into the matter. Mold can be hazardous to our health. Make sure to get it removed before it takes a toll on your life!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
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    Thread Starter
    Thanks again for replies/help. Still experiencing allergies and asthma in the home. The worst is waking up in the morning in the master bedroom and in the main living space which is beside the bedroom. In the bedrooms on the other side of the house, the allergies clear right up. I'm also much better in the walkout basement.

    We've had company staying with us over the past week and a few of them were stuffed up/blowing their nose a lot, and one was scratching their eyes quite a bit.

    I spoke with two industrial hygienists as well as Mycologist who runs a mold testing lab. They all thought that it wasn't mold and is chemical in nature - VOCs. They say this given the low mold spore counts from the air sampling and that it would be unlikely for multiple people to have symptoms with that low level. One thing that just crossed my mind is that room below the master bedroom has sound dampening insulation batts in the ceiling and walls. I'm wondering if this could could be the source of either some sort of VOC/chemicals or perhaps fibers. There's also a fair bit of newly painted cabinetry between the master bathroom/kitchen/pantry/mudroom.

    The one thing that 100% helps is running the HEPA filter. It does have a V-cell with 8lbs. of carbon + potassium permanganate. Maybe I should try removing the carbon filter to see if it still helps (would help narrow it down to particulates or VOCs?).

    An air change by opening a few windows and running hood fan in the kitchen helps tremendously, but I can't keep that going all the time

    I know the HRV is balanced at around 102cfm and believe it to be working correctly.

    I'm at a loss, really. I could spend money on another mold test in case of a false negative or pay for VOC/formaldehyde testing. The house still has 6 months left on the builder warranty, which would pay for fixing any issues that may be causing this. I just wish I had an answer and could get it taken care of.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
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    Amarillo by mornin'
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    Quote Originally Posted by thisagain View Post
    I know the HRV is balanced at around 102cfm and believe it to be working correctly.
    I have 100's (200 to 300 at a minimum) of CFM of outside air to keep the VOC's at bay. Maybe you can see if you can get more outside air?
    "It's not that I'm smart, it's that I stay with the problem longer”
    Albert Einstein

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Location
    Bay Area California
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    21,743
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    Saw your original post soon after you posted it, but didn't have any real ideas, so subscribed and have been following.

    What state are you in? In California, they began highly restricting VOC's quite some time ago due to reactions like you have been mentioning. In the beginning, created a bit of havoc in the building and auto painting industries, but they figured it out. Haven't even thought about it much in recent years.

    I remember a painter friend who ended up driving to Nevada for a couple of years and would bring home truck loads of paint for painting houses/homes, then he would have it tinted for whatever the end use was.

    Maybe you could buy some paint from California, re-paint the interior, and see if that changes anything. Odd idea, I know, but it sounds like you're going through hell.



    Quote Originally Posted by thisagain View Post
    Thanks again for replies/help. Still experiencing allergies and asthma in the home. The worst is waking up in the morning in the master bedroom and in the main living space which is beside the bedroom. In the bedrooms on the other side of the house, the allergies clear right up. I'm also much better in the walkout basement.

    We've had company staying with us over the past week and a few of them were stuffed up/blowing their nose a lot, and one was scratching their eyes quite a bit.

    I spoke with two industrial hygienists as well as Mycologist who runs a mold testing lab. They all thought that it wasn't mold and is chemical in nature - VOCs. They say this given the low mold spore counts from the air sampling and that it would be unlikely for multiple people to have symptoms with that low level. One thing that just crossed my mind is that room below the master bedroom has sound dampening insulation batts in the ceiling and walls. I'm wondering if this could could be the source of either some sort of VOC/chemicals or perhaps fibers. There's also a fair bit of newly painted cabinetry between the master bathroom/kitchen/pantry/mudroom.

    The one thing that 100% helps is running the HEPA filter. It does have a V-cell with 8lbs. of carbon + potassium permanganate. Maybe I should try removing the carbon filter to see if it still helps (would help narrow it down to particulates or VOCs?).

    An air change by opening a few windows and running hood fan in the kitchen helps tremendously, but I can't keep that going all the time

    I know the HRV is balanced at around 102cfm and believe it to be working correctly.

    I'm at a loss, really. I could spend money on another mold test in case of a false negative or pay for VOC/formaldehyde testing. The house still has 6 months left on the builder warranty, which would pay for fixing any issues that may be causing this. I just wish I had an answer and could get it taken care of.
    If you were a real tech, you'd solder a relay on that board and call it good to go.

    I do a triple evac with nitro to remove non condensables.

    I use 56% silver on everything except steel.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2003
    Location
    St. Louis
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    Are your sure it's not from the off gassing from all the new materials? Being -22* and 30% or less Rh can't hardly believe its mold. With triple glazed windows the house has to be very tight if the house is built like the windows. Can you crack a window and run a kitchen or bath exhaust fan pulling air through the house? Heat and energy recover unit might help if cracking of window helps.

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