Do you or someone you know suffer from allergies? The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recently conducted the Annual U.S. Prevalence Statistics for Chronic Diseases study, which concluded that 60 million Americans – one in five people – suffer from asthma and allergies. According to the study, this condition affects more people than stroke, cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes combined.
Asthma and allergies are typically suffered as a result of an overreaction of the immune system to foreign substances. These substances can be introduced to the human body through ingestion, injection, touch or inhalation. Symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, runny nose and a sore throat. In more severe cases, symptoms can include rashes, hives, breathing difficulties or even death.
Allergies may not seem like a huge concern to most people, but their economic impact is significant. On a yearly basis, more than 17 million Americans visit the doctor’s office as a result of allergies. Amazingly, the annual cost is estimated to be nearly $7 billion due to office visits and associated medications and treatments, but allergies also result in more than four million lost workdays each year, which accounts for an additional $700 million in lost productivity.
Currently there are no cures for allergies, but their effects can be minimized through prevention, and one of the easiest places to start is in the home. Eliminating dust, mold and animal dander can have a huge impact on improving indoor air quality, but how can that be accomplished effectively?
The flooring material in our homes is a good place to start. A recent study conducted by Harris Interactive indicated that the vast majority of homeowners in the United States believe that their family’s health is directly related to the cleanliness of their floors. The same study indicated the majority of homeowners believe that wood floors are most effective at improving indoor air quality.
This belief is supported by a University of Wisconsin Life Cycle Analysis of wood flooring, which scientifically analyzes the impacts of wood flooring on the environment, from a seedling in the forest, to harvest, manufacturing, installation and end-of-service life. The study compared floor coverings in regard to four substances considered to be harmful to the atmosphere: Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. All of these substances are considered harmful since they contribute to atmospheric warming and human respiratory ailments. The results of the study show that wood flooring had no emissions for methane, nitrogen oxide and other particulates and minimal emissions for carbon dioxide.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports wood flooring for promoting healthy indoor air quality as well. The EPA conducts numerous studies related to air quality and concludes that wood floors do not harbor allergens, microorganisms or harmful pesticides that can be tracked in from outdoors. The EPA also concludes that dust, mold and animal dander contamination – the most common causes of airborne allergies – is minimal in homes with wood floors because these substances are not embedded in wood.
Wood floors help to promote healthy air quality in other ways as well, even when it comes to greenhouse gases. Despite their bad rap, greenhouse gases are essential to life on Earth. These gases work in the Earth’s atmosphere to trap heat and warm our planet, which is essential for plant and animal life. But just like anything else, too much of a good thing can be harmful.
Environmentalists have been concerned for decades about the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in global warming. One of the elements that has received a great deal of attention in this respect is carbon dioxide, and it is important to understand its environmental impact.
There are two major forms of carbon dioxide: Anthropogenic and biogenic. Anthropogenic carbon dioxide is a byproduct of fossil fuel use, such as automobile exhaust. Biogenic carbon dioxide is a byproduct of biomass, and is considered impact-neutral on the environment. Through the process of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide and water are absorbed from the atmosphere, and oxygen is released back into the atmosphere. This process makes wood – and wood floors – a carbon neutral product. In addition, wood flooring actually stores carbon throughout its service life, adding to its carbon neutral status.
The finishes used in manufacturing wood flooring impact indoor air quality as well. Wood floor finishes contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are gases emitted from the finish that may have adverse health effects on humans. To limit human exposure to VOCs, the state of California established the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as a separate department of the California Environmental Protection Agency to monitor air quality. CARB is tasked with gathering air quality data, designing and implementing models for air quality improvement and setting air quality standards for the state. As a result of their research, CARB has established stringent regulations regarding VOC emissions.
In general, CARB regulations are the most restrictive in the United States. In other areas of the country such as the Northeast, regulations are governed by the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC). Areas subject to these regulations include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Generally speaking, OTC regulations reduce overall VOC emissions from products in an effort to reduce both environmental impact and human exposure.
Wood floors are easy to maintain as well, making it easy to minimize dust, mold, animal dander and other potentially harmful household contaminants. Simply sweep the floor regularly with a soft-bristle broom or dust mop to remove surface dust, dirt and debris. If the floor contains beveled edges, use a vacuum with a soft bristle brush attachment to remove dust and other contaminants from between the floorboards. That’s all there is to it.
There is no doubt that wood floors help to promote healthy indoor air quality, as well as a healthy environment. You can learn more about the many benefits of wood floors, and how current legislation impacts wood flooring, at the NWFA’s Wood Flooring Expo. The event will be held April 10-13 in Orlando, Fla., and will feature a trade show highlighting all the industry’s latest products and services. The event will also include educational sessions dealing with a variety of wood flooring topics, including new EPA regulations on lead paint that affect wood flooring contractors and anyone who remodels or renovates homes or other structures built prior to 1978.
For a complete list of exhibitors participating, and education sessions to be offered, visit www.nwfaexpo.org.