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Radon And Indoor Air Pollution

The month of January is dedicated to raising awareness about radon gas. As a nation, we take this time to acknowledge the threat of this toxic gas along with other home air quality hazards. Mold and asbestos are two very common hazards that can compromise home air quality as well. The most important part about sustaining a healthy living environment is knowing what to look for and how to properly deal with such hazards.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is harmful to humans if exposed for prolonged periods of time. It is caused by the breakdown of radioactive metals like uranium, radium and thorium found deep underground. When present in the area, radon gas often infiltrates a home’s air supply through gaps and openings in its foundations. There is also the possibility of it seeping into the water supply and corrupting the home air quality through that. This becomes a problem when the contaminated water is used, releasing radon into the air and serving as another outlet for direct exposure.

What makes this airborne toxin such a threat is it’s nearly untraceable characteristics. The colorless gas has no odor or taste. Without proper air quality testing and diagnosis in a house, radon can easily go unnoticed. Symptoms of exposure include, but are not limited to, wheezing, hoarseness, persistent cough, chronic chest pain, and frequent infections such as recurring bronchitis and pneumonia. Long term exposure will often cause further damage to the human body, inducing prolonged health complications that may become chronic or even life-threatening. Certain types of lung cancer are now being attributed to radon exposure as it increases the risk. These effects are quite alarming considering that 1 in 15 homes are estimated to have elevated radon levels. So what can you do to stop it?

One way to protect against radon is to routinely inspect the home yourself. Look out for cracks and openings in your home, especially in basements or ground floors. Be sure to invest in an air quality monitor, as this will provide you with an accurate reading of your home’s air quality. Lastly, if exposure is suspected, hire a professional or licensed expert to examine your home. This will bring your whole family peace of mind that you’re living in a healthy environment.

Mold & Asbestos

Aside from radon, two hazards that may be present in your home are mold and asbestos. These substances will compromise your home’s air quality and wreak havoc on your health if they are not identified and mitigated properly.  While both pose serious health risks, they often can go undetected in a home. 

Mold is a type of fungus that grows in a place of excess moisture. It may appear green, black blue or even white at times. These places of excess moisture are caused by high humidity levels, flooding, exterior leaks, plumbing issues, HVAC malfunctions and improper ventilation. Such conditions will cause mold growth on floor tiles, ceiling tiles, drywall, insulation and frameworks. Unsanitary conditions and poorly kept living quarters will lead to mold growth as well. With the tendency to develop in wooden fixtures, carpet, fabric and other upholstery, it’s important to keep these items in good condition.

A few dangerous types of mold that can develop in a home are Stachybotrys (Black Mold), Chaetomium and Aspergillus. Once in the air, mold spores can cause respiratory issues, flu-like symptoms, headaches and even memory loss. Ways to prevent mold growth and its health effects are:

  • Control the moisture levels.
  • Purchase a humidity monitor to keep track of the moisture.
  • Add a dehumidifier to areas that are mold-prone.
  • Take care of spills, damp materials and clean your home regularly.
  • Hire a professional to inspect the home, maintain appliances and the HVAC system.

Asbestos was a popular additive that was used in construction mainly for fireproofing and heat resistance. It wasn’t until 1989, that asbestos use became partially banned in the United States. If asbestos is found in materials like drywall, adhesive, floor tiles, popcorn ceilings, pipe wrap and electrical insulation, they are referred to as asbestos-containing materials or ACMs. These ACMs can break down and release debris into the air. Researchers found that exposure to the substance when airborne is hazardous and could even cause acute health problems years after exposure. While the substance is more common in older homes and buildings, it is important for any homeowner to be weary of the materials being used when building or renovating the home. If you suspect ACMs are a threat in your home, it is best to hire a professional to inspect and test the materials in question.

Exposure to asbestos is something that can’t be taken lightly. Where radon and mold have immediate health consequences, the inhalation of these microscopic fibers can cause a plethora of health issues anywhere from 10-50 years down the road. Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and pleural effusion are just a few severe diseases to name.

So whether it’s radon, mold or asbestos, homeowners should  keep detailed records of all foundational issues and construction or renovation projects done in the past. A home’s history will tell a lot about its future and environment.

2020+1 or 2021? New Year + New Options for SawHorse Clients

In spite of the pandemic, we made it through 2020. This video best explains some of the exciting things that we were working on in 2020 to make you customer experience better in 2021:

I do have fond memories of spending time with friends at the clock ticked midnight ushering in the year 2000. A new day, a new, a new decade and a new millennium all occurred at the same time. There were also other fun celebrations over the last 20 years as well with my family. However, I have to say seeing 2021 for the first time at a social distanced TV celebration looked better than I expected. 2020 as a number could have been great if it were not for the pandemic. Lots of our vendors and product manufactures put a lot of effort into developing products that revolved around 2020. One even had 20 new colors that were introduced in 2020.

2021 is a New Year and it is a positive year for many reasons. We have a new vaccine which brings hope to all of us. We’ve seen the economy recover from the crashes in 2020. With regards to construction, the pace of new homes, home sales and renovations has not slowed down. Unlike 2008, this housing boom is NOT a bubble. The current boom is barely able to keep up with the demand for new housing. Housing sales outpace homes built which is good for the seller. Even with cost increased as a result of disrupted supply chains, housing did not slow down.

So what does this mean for you?

We’ve also been busy coming up with new ways to improve our process and find better ways of constructing homes that will benefit you. We’ve also entered into some solid strategic partnerships that will help us with your projects.

2020 in review

  • We rebooted our YouTube channel to create content to explain building science and design options for your home. We created a playlist dedicated to fresh air and and ventilation. Thanks to you- we’ve received close to 100K since we started “YouTubing” again.
  • We created some DIY content for Hometalk to help people have some fun projects to work on during quarantine.
  • We formed a partnership with a green building directory called Rate It Green. Our article on Energy Recovery Ventilators got thousands of views and we have been creating content for their YouTube Channel.
  • This increased access to manufacturers that want for us to help promote their products means that we get better customer service from them for your projects.
  • In addition to the Youtube channel, and New Strategic Partnerships we launched our website on a more blog friendly platform so we can share our thoughts and ideas with you all more frequently.

Plans for 2021

  • Continue to interview manufacturers so you all can learn about the latest building products for your home or business.
  • We are know for renovations, however will be promoting new homes built to EarthCraft House and LEED for Homes standards. We’ve seen an uptick in new home requests and want to make sure they are healthy, comfortable and energy efficient.
  • We will continue to explore advanced home construction techniques to make your home better.
  • More announcements coming soon!

Additional Reading

Natural Ventilation: A house needs to breathe…?

Many still believe that a house needs to have air leaks in order to breathe through “natural ventilation”

The myth that “a house needs to breathe” is still considered fact by many. 100 years ago houses did not have thermal control via insulation. Back then, air movement in the building assisted with drying the structure out in the wet season using natural ventilation. This was 100 years ago and today our standards for comfort and health are much greater. We no longer burn wood or coal as a primary heat source. We also don’t want to give half our paycheck to the utility company to have conditioned air and hot water.

This pandemic has brought to light many building science principles include ventilation and air filtration. The experts recommend that we wear a mask that filters the air before it reaches your nose or mouth and gets transported to your lungs when pathogens or harmful particulates are in the air. OSHA even requires this for our workers. Especially when working around materials such as drywall that have silica that can cause lung damage. Most prefer a tight fitting mask to one that allows particulates to enter your lungs.

Education is the key

Several weeks ago I engaged with several builders on a forum. One of them brought up the antiquated concept that that building must be leaky to breathe. I was polite and stated that the current consensus is that we must “build tight (no holes) and ventilate right.” Not to mention that the energy code also requires insulation and air sealing to reduce the energy needed to operate the house and keep it comfortable.

Inspired by the exchange that I had on the forum, I added this topic to a new “Green Myth Buster” series that I created for a green building website called Rate It Green. My friend, Dan Edelman from ROCKWOOL was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on the topic. We successfully debunked the claim that “A House Needs to Breathe.”

Consider “controlled ventilation” instead

Like your body, you want to control where the air comes into the house. A mask that has holes in it is not affective. When you bring “fresh air” into the built environment you want to be able to control where it is coming in. Air coming in from a musty crawlspace or attic that is full of coal residue should not be considered FRESH.

Current building codes and green building standards state that air should enter into the structure through a controlled ventilation system. The air will be filtered (for pollutants) and the air could be conditioned as well. Fresh air brought either directly into the HVAC system OR a balanced air system such as an Energy Recovery Ventilator should be installed. Cold air in the Winter or “hot and humid” air coming in during the Summer will increase the heating or cooling needed to condition the air. Conditioning air for humans to be comfortable is one of the top demands on our energy supply.

Top Ventilation Solutions

Most of the top green building programs require “whole house ventilation” systems to be installed. Some newly constructed homes may reap the benefits of updated building codes and new building science techniques recommended by green building programs. We build to the standards set by EarthCraft House and LEED for Homes. These same whole building ventilation strategies should be implemented when design HVAC systems for existing homes as well. We recommend finding and sealing all of the air leaks, improving the insulation then designing the ventilation system. If these steps are completed out of order, then the HVAC system may not work properly.

Balanced Ventilation- Neutral Pressure Systems

Neutral Pressure Ventilation Systems brings in fresh air from the outside while expelling polluted air from the inside. Systems such as Energy Recovery Ventilators are able to exchange the energy from the conditioned and humidity so the “fresh air” comes into the structure at a similar temperature and humidity level as the existing air in the house. I have an article and several videos listed below that explain the science behind ERV’s.

Balanced Ventilation- Positive Pressure Systems

Positive Pressure Ventilation Systems bring fresh air from the outside directly to the return side of the HVAC system. This air is filtered and conditioned as it mixes with the existing conditioned air in the house. If the humidly levels are not ideal, humidity control systems can either add or take away humidity from the incoming air depending on the time of the year.

Let us help you fix your home [holes & ventilation]

Our team can help make your house more comfortable, healthy and energy efficient whether we are designing a custom new home or renovating an existing structure.

Contact us today to get a free phone assessment of your needs so we can schedule the appropriate next steps to solve your problems.

Additional Resources

Here is an article that I wrote for a Green Building Website called Rate It Green that explains ERV’s in more detail:

https://www.rateitgreen.com/green-building-articles/demystifying-ventilation-and-energy-recovery-ventilators-ervs/146

Videos that we have created on related to this topic:

Zip System and Air Sealing Techniques

Energy Recovery Ventilator unboxed and explained

Positive Pressure System- Aprilaire

ROCKWOOL Insulation outside the air barrier

Other Resources:

Rate It Green: Green Building Material Directory

SAWHORSE HELPS COMBAT BAD INDOOR AIR QUALITY WITH CLEAN AIR VIDEOS

Indoor Air Quality aka “IAQ” has received lots of attention recently. The world has just started exploring the quality of air and how to make it better. Green building programs have been aware of this for decades and have some good building science principles already in place. We don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

Thought Leadership and Green Building

We’ve been renovating and building for over 40 years in the Atlanta market. SawHorse was the first firm to offer design + build for remodeling in Atlanta. We were the first contractor to partner with Southface to renovate homes using the EarthCraft checklist. Our promise to our clients is that we will maintain a culture that is forward thinking and constantly improving.

A major part of green building is making sure the occupants of the built environment are safe and healthy.

Commitment to improving your home’s Air Quality

One major cause of health issues in houses is bad indoor air quality. The EPA says that the pollution INSIDE the house can be 2-5 times worse than outside air. For that reason we launched a campaign called FRESH AIR FRIDAYS. We will share a new video each Friday dealing with Indoor Air Quality (IAQ).

Here is a link to our IAQ video playlist created to help you keep your family safe and healthy.

If there is a topic that you would like for us to cover, please leave a comment below OR leave a comment on our YouTube channel.

Additional Content

BLOG: “Build Tight + Ventilate Right” Dispelling the myth that “A House Needs to Breathe…”

VIDEO: Whole House Humidity Control with Aprilaire

Marvin Window and Door Options for Your Home

Picking out windows and doors for your home is a big decision. If you make the wrong choice, then you will be replacing them sooner than later. There are many manufactures on the market and in this post we will explore the options for Marvin Windows and Doors.

New Names for Old Windows Lines

Marvin has recently decided to change up the names for their windows to there is less confusion. The original line of windows and doors was just called “Marvin Windows and Doors.” These included their solid wood doors and windows and the wood core windows and doors with aluminum cladding.

They also has a line of called Integrity Windows and Doors that had a fiberglass core with wood cladding on the interior. They also had a line that was solid fiberglass with no wood classing called Integrity All-Ultrex.

In 2019, they rebranded bringing all of the lines under the name Marvin. They have renamed the types of windows and doors and added a few new lines as well.

Marvin Signature Collections

Marvin has 2 different lines within the Signature Collections. The “Ultimate” Collection is the more traditional and in line with the old Marvin Windows and Doors brand. They have also added a “Modern” collection to the Marvin Signature collections as well.

“Ultimate” Collection

The Marvin Signature Ultimate collection is an wood core for the windows and doors within the collection. One options is for an all wood window or doors with no cladding- just the wood. The option that we recommend is the wood core with aluminum cladding to protect the sash and the frame from the elements. The aluminum cladding is extruded with a durable finish coated with Kynar.

“Modern” Collection

The Marvin Signature Modern Collection is the same as the Ultimate collection, except that it is designed to look more modern. The intent was to create a sash and frame that looks like a store front window. This line performs better than store front windows since they are more durable, energy efficient and DON’T LEAK! They have also increase the maximum dimensions of the Modern collection to give architects and designers more flexibility with their designs.

Marvin Essential Series

The Marvin Essential Series is an all fiberglass window and door. It was previously called Marvin All-Ultrex. Fiberglass is much stronger and more durable than other non wood options such as PVP and Aluminum. Fiberglass and expands and contracts at the same rate as the glass in the window which helps the lifespan of the glass and prevents glass failure.

Marvin Elevate Series

The Marvin Elevate Series is fiberglass like the essential series, however there is an option to add wood cladding on the interior. This gives you the look of a traditional Marvin product with the durability of the fiberglass core. The fiberglass windows also rate slightly better energy wise than the wood with aluminum cladding.

Which window and door is best for your project?

That is a good question and it really depends on the design. For the projects that we work on our “go- to” window is elevate since it is price competitive and worry free when is comes to maintenance. We also learned from feedback from our clients that they want the option to change of the color in the future. The fiberglass is easier to prep and paint than the Kynar finish on the Signature collection.

Even though you can paint the fiberglass, you don’t need to. The Marvin Elevate, Essential and Signature all come prefinished so no paint is needed on the exterior of the window. The essential is all fiberglass and the color is consistent on the interior and the exterior of the window.

If you need help with the design or construction of your home, contact us today so we can share even more options with you.

Thanks for helping SawHorse win “Best of Houzz 2020”

Thank You! Houzz just awarded us “Best of Houzz 2020” for customer service. We were not expecting this award and we got it because of people like you. We are honored that you all had such great things to say about us. The SawHorse staff will keep working to exceed your expectations moving forward as well.

Matt Hoots in Atlanta, GA on Houzz

Most awards require a submission package or nomination from a 3rd party. In this case, these requirements . Houzz awarded us “Best of Houzz 2020” based on your projects, reviews and engagement with our profile.

How we use Houzz.com

We have been using Houzz as a tool to help you all organize your projects and share ideas that you like with us. We’ve also created some ideabooks like the one listed below to give you all idea about what is possible for your home.

In addition to projects portfolios and ideabooks, Houzz also has a place to leave testimonials. They “review the reviews” and this will take several days to vet them before they populate. Unlike other social media sites, this extra step insures that you all are reading real feedback from real people that have worked with SawHorse.

Houzz.com provides tools that help you share ideas with us and we created a video to better explain how to use this function. The “Ideabook” allows for you to organize your thought and ideas and share them with us with through Houzz.com. For instance, when you plan to renovate a room in your house, you create an ideabook for that space. If you plan to renovate multiple rooms, you have the ability to create multiple ideabook.

Let us help you get started

If you need assistance with your projects, contact us so and we will get you started with these tools. Our team will begin with collecting your thoughts and ideas and assist you to project completion.

“HOW TO GET A PERMIT IN SANDY SPRINGS, GA” PERMIT PROCESS AND CHECKLISTS

About Sandy Springs

Sandy Springs is the 6th largest city in Georgia and second largest in metro Atlanta according to its website. In 2005, Sandy Springs incorporated and started to provide some of its own services. This included providing building permits and inspections. SawHorse enjoys working with our clients in Sandy Springs. We are very familiar with the requirements to get permits and inspections for your new custom home, custom renovations or light commercial projects.

The city of Atlanta has a reputation for strict guidelines and standards that need to be met in order to get a permit. Compared to the City of Atlanta, getting a permit in Sandy Springs used to be much easier. It can be argued that Sandy Springs is more challenging that the City of Atlanta with the adoption of its latest zoning ordinance in 2017.

Since 2005, several things have changed in their permitting and enforcement process. Here are some items you need to be aware of if you still working off the old permit checklist:

New Zoning changes in 2017

Survey and Site Plan Requirements for your permit

  • You will need a full “tree and topography” survey for any addition that you work on. Check the date on your survey. You might need a new one because the zoning has changed in September of 2017. A comprehensive survey is standard for all municipalities now, not just Sandy Springs.
  • The new zoning codes can be found on this site Some of the changes that could impact your property might be changes such as the side yard setback increase from 10 feet to 15 feet depending on your zoning.
  • You will need to survey your property and parts of your neighbors property. Most surveyors only survey your property, however here are several items on the checklist that need to be added to the survey or site plan:
    • Canopy calculations for trees
    • Up to 250 feet surveyed on adjacent properties

Permit Checklists and in person Plan Review

  1. If you submit a set of plans without consulting the new checklist- you will get a full copy of the checklist as part of the plan review from Sandy Springs. Our advice is to do your best to comply with ALL of the items on the list the first time around. Here is a link to the list of items that you will need on the set of plans when submitting for a permit.
  2. Sandy Springs officials are very helpful and willing to meet with you/ us before submitting the permit documents. They take appointments every Thursday to review any questions and offer guidance on how to navigate the new codes. We have set up meetings for each of our current and prospective clients. We have come away from them with a better understand of how they will enforce the zoning and building codes.

Other permit considerations

  1. Pools– their checklist states that “Pool Permit will be required prior to SFASP approval. See Pool Permit Checklist…” NOTEwe got a pool permit first on one of our projects according to this checklist, however in a plan review they asked why we got a pool permit separate from the building permit. Next time we will apply for both at the same time. The note on the checklist since there is internal confusion at this time.
  2. The Chattahoochee River runs through Sandy Springs. If you are planning a project within 1000 feet of it you need to get special approval. Contact ARC- Atlanta Regional Commission.
  3. Neighbors Trees– Must create an escrow account to hold funds for trees that could be damaged on neighbors property as stated in 9.3.8 E:
    • Where the City Arborist determines that due to approved construction or land disturbance activity an applicant may remove a tree pursuant to the terms of this Article, and the applicant is required to pay for the lost tree canopy of the removed tree, the applicant may, at its election, propose alternative construction or site design methods to attempt to preserve the continued viability of the tree. Should the City Arborist determine that the proposed alternative construction or site design methods will reasonably result in the survival of the tree, that portion of the funds required to pay for the lost tree canopy of the tree pursuant to this Article must be paid into an escrow fund maintained by the City.

We can help you

We will continue to edit this as we learn more and get feedback on on different projects. I’ll also create a list of items to be expected in ALL municipalities based on state codes.

Don’t let all of these items dissuade from doing your project. If you do not have a design team yet, please contact us. We will guide you through the design and permitting process. If you already have a set of plans can can still help with permitting and construction.