Beneficial Buildings and Healthy Homes: Plastic Sheeting and Duct Tape

This is the third in a series of articles about what you can do to improve your living and working environments.  There have been many recent breakthroughs in technology, design, and science that give us new ideas to make our buildings safer, healthier, and better for our environment.  The “green” building movement has already made a lot of progress in publicizing techniques to utilize natural building materials, reduce energy consumption, and preserve scarce resources.  The emerging “healthy home” movement is working on ways to make your house (or place of work) safer from hazards, allergens, toxic materials, and man-made or natural disasters.

Please note:  This is general advice, not intended for construction purposes.  Check with a licensed architect or contractor, as necessary, for specific recommendations for your individual circumstances.

 

Duct Tape and Plastic Sheeting

If it weren’t so scary, it would be amusing.  On February 10, 2003 U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and U.S. Fire Administrator David Paulison reported to the American public that we can protect ourselves from biological weapons by surrounding our doors and windows with “plastic sheeting and duct tape”.  While there are lots of great uses for plastic sheeting and duct tape, we do not consider this to be sound home safety advice.  Let’s consider the idea for a minute.  Aside from the obvious ugliness, it wouldn’t work.  The following quotation is from the FEMA  (Federal Emergency Management Agency) “Guide to Citizen Preparedness”:  “10 square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide build-up for up to five hours.”  Since you couldn’t realistically make your entire house airtight, let’s say you were able to completely seal off a room of your house from all outside airflow.  In this case, a family of five could only stay in a standard 10 x 10 bedroom for one hour without needing additional oxygen.  One hour is not accepted as sufficient time for a biochemical hazard to disperse from contaminated outside air.  Even if you could succeed in waiting out an immediate danger, the rest of your house would still require decontamination.

We do not want to cause undue alarm, but neither do we wish to ignore what is a real fear for many people, especially those who live near chemical plants, or near the source of pollution (like heavily traveled streets and freeways).  Poor air quality is clearly a source of many different illnesses and diseases.  There are many allergy sufferers who would wish to prevent the outside air from irritating them during certain seasons of the year.

Instead of running to the hardware store for duct tape and plastic sheeting, we suggest a different, long-term solution.  You can pressurize a room of your house and install an air filtration system.  This is currently possible with existing technology.  Contact us for design specifications if this is an important consideration for you.

Lorianna Kastrop

Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc.

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