Health Risks of Building Components

Dr. Nabil Taha has over 27 years of structural engineering experience. Prior to opening his own engineering firm in Oregon in 1997, he was a Professor of Engineering at Northern Montana State University and at Oregon Institute of Technology. He has structural expertise in a wide range of building systems and can answer questions related to virtually any common building method. His focus is on green design and he is always willing to trying something new. Dr. Taha is dedicated to future sustainability through innovation; he creates solutions for beautiful sustainable and safe structures by melding old and new technologies. He loves a good challenge. He is Licensed in twenty three states and can design buildings and/or consult to assist with structural permitting in these states as well as internationally. As a prior College Professor, Dr. Taha is a teacher at heart. He loves to share his knowledge and offers educational seminars and trainings for the do-it-yourselfers and professionals alike. Dr. Taha's goal is to continue to grow and provide knowledge and services for those trying to make their dream project a reality. No project is too big or too small. For information about Dr. Nabil Taha and his engineering firm see www.structure1.com

Questions and Answers

Q: I am looking for formaldehyde free plywood...exterior grade...t and g suitable for flooring and sheathing. Do you know where I can find it?

A: (Leon) To the best of our knowledge no formaldehyde free plywood products are produced. However, formaldehyde emissions from Exterior and Exposure 1 APA trademarked plywood panels are very low.

Q: We are planning our earthen/concrete composite house, here in the monsoon climate of the PNW. We are considering an EPS product, but are unsure about the use of polystyrene, as we don't know it's properties and have sensitivities to chemicals and outgassing problems. Any information on this, perhaps how healthful a substance this really is?

A: (Kelly) EPS is very commonly used in the building industry, especially with Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF's) and Structural Insulated Panels (SIP's). I'm not crazy about the stuff for several reasons: It is a highly industrialized material that requires energy to manufacture and transport, etc.; it is very toxic if it ever burns; it could potentially outgass. For this reason I would recommend using a more benign substitute or making sure that it will be imbedded within the structure in such a way that it is less likely to outgass into your living evironment. The shotcrete panel systems above could be a good way to go; the EPS is encased in concrete and the mass of the concrete is available to moderate interior temperatures.

Q: We want to put in a sort of temporary wall to separate our kids' one room. We thought either sheet rock or a type of soy glue based non-formaldeyde plywood. My husband prefers the sheetrock because of price but I am wondering if there are any toxins in normal sheetrock to worry about. What do you think would be the best type of sheetrock to use, or what would you do? Would you go for the safe plywood instead?

A: Interior partitions are easily created with a few studs and some sheetrock. The only time I have heard of toxicity problems with sheetrock have been associated with a period of time when US contractors were using some batches of sheetrock imported from China that off-gassed some noxious sulfur that was quite corrosive. I think that if you make sure that the sheetrock you use is made in the US (assuming that is where you live) that you will be fine.

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I specifically disclaim any warranty, either expressed or implied, concerning the information on these pages. Neither I nor any of the advisor/consultants associated with this site will have liability for loss, damage, or injury, resulting from the use of any information found on this, or any other page at this site. Kelly Hart, Hartworks LLC.