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What is Sick Building Syndrome?


What is Sick Building Syndrome?

How Could Sick Building Syndrome affect me?


Cause & Effect

    Sick Building Syndrome can cause many effects and symptoms which can range from mild to severely debilitating.

    From physical symptoms of lethargy to headaches and pains through to mental illness and depression if left untreated.

External Factors

    The main causes can be external such as ground, air, or sound pollution.

    Other causes can include lack of light and ventilation as well as materials used in the building structure and furniture and furnishings.

Lack of Ventilation

    Chemicals produced by materials create gases and vapours and toxic dust (such as MDF or high VOCs used in paints).

    If areas are not well-ventilated then, over time, this off-gassing can build up to a dangerous level.

    These can then cause headaches and eye strain.

Lack of Daylight

    Melatonin production is stimulated by natural daylight.

    This resets our body clock to allow us to know it’s time to rise, but also then helps us to know when it’s eventually time to sleep.

    Lack of daylight, therefore, creates issues with melatonin production.

    This can then cause sleep disturbances which can then leave you feeling groggy and listless in the morning.

    If not managed, this can eventually affect our mental health longer-term.

Health & Immunity

    If left untreated, then this can lead to a downward cycle of sleep disturbance leading to reduced quality of health and poor immunity.

    Noise or light pollution at night time can also lead to poor sleep.

    Lack of energy and motivation can also disturb your biorhythms and body clock, creating issues such as eating disorders.

Insecticides & Fungicides

    Unfortunately, there are many common elements in a typical home that could harbour insecticide and fungicide chemicals.

    Some, such as household cleaning products, are easier to identify and replace with suitable alternatives.

    Others are more costly and more of a challenge such as furniture, furnishings and more structural materials. 

Toxic Materials

    These are often used in common cleaning products, so go and give your cupboards an audit!

    Chemicals to avoid include Acetone, Ammonia, Benzene, Ethyl and Methyl Alcohol, Ethyl Acetate, Formaldehyde, Toluene, Trichloroethylene and Xylene.

Warning Signs

    Symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Headaches
    • Acetone
    • Benzene
    • Ethyl & Methyl Alcohol
    • Trichloroethylene

  • Drowsiness
    • Acetone
    • Benzene
    • Ethyl Alcohol
    • Ethyl Acetate (lethargy)

  • Breathing difficulties
    • Ammonia
    • Ethyl Alcohol
    • Ethyl Acetate
    • Formaldehyde
    • Trichloroethylene
    • Benzene

  • Mucous membrane irritation
    • Acetone (nose & throat)
    • Ethyl Alcohol (eye)
    • Ethyl Acetate (eye, nose & gum)
    • Formaldehyde (eye, ear & nose)
    • Methyl Alcohol and Xylene (cough, catarrh)

  • Cognitive function impairment
    • Ethyl Alcohol (body tremors)
    • Toluene (impaired coordination, reduced reaction times, mental sluggishness, accident prone)
    • Trichloroethylene (dizziness, memory loss)
    • Xylene (confusion)

  • Nausea
    • Benzene
    • Methyl Alcohol
    • Xylene

  • Anaemia
    • Ethyl Acetate
    • Trichloroethylene

    Formaldehyde is also a potential carcinogen and best avoided.

Furniture & Furnishings

    As well as many household cleaning products, many materials used in both the furniture and furnishings and the building itself may also cause sick-building syndrome.

    If building from scratch, then it is important to research every element thoroughly before investing.

    Improving existing spaces is more complicated, but improvements can still be effective to improve the environmental impact.

Natural vs Synthetic

    Floorcoverings such as carpets, vinyl tiles and MDF, some plywood and new hardboard floorings can contain formaldehyde vapours and insecticides. The adhesives used in underlay can also create noxious chemicals when applied.

    Using natural flooring such as coir, jute, seagrass, wool or solid wood and underlays such as hessian, linen or cotton will prevent this. Replacing old synthetic versions will help to alleviate any effects you may have suffered.

Vintage Furniture

    Old or vintage pieces can contain foam which are not compliant with current standards and therefore may pose a fire risk.

    Some adhesives used may also contain formaldehyde and toxic vapours. Professional upholsterers will be able to help you with this.

    Buying natural alternatives such as wicker, solid (sustainably sourced/FSC) wood, bamboo or rattan of course avoids these hidden issues.

Building Materials

    Structural elements such as walls and floors can also hide insecticides and fungicides.

    As well as the known dangers of materials such as asbestos and plasterboard containing phosphogypsum, plaster, and cement can also contain formaldehyde and radon.

    Roof timbers and urea-formaldehyde insulation/fireproofing can be treated with non-toxic finishes to reduce the formaldehyde off-gassing so speak to your builder.


    Paints, varnishes and wallpapers can also contain insecticide and fungicides and can be extremely toxic, particularly when drying and metal paints even more so.

    Always buy low or ideally no or minimal VOC paint and water based eco-friendly (non-plastic based) wallpaper.

Fire Retardant

    Upholstery fabrics, carpeting and curtains are often treated with chemicals to give them the desired finish or Scotchguarded using petrochemicals.

    It’s used for safety in retail or any commercial projects, but your home is your choice.

Checking for Sick Building Syndrome

    Starting at the bottom level of the house, ideally at the front door, work your way up through each room.

    Think about all aspects of the building structure before examining materials, furniture, furnishings, paints and finishes and lighting.

External Factors

    These could include ground, sound or air pollution which will vary depending on your location – whether you’re in the city or rural setting, or how close you are to main roads, railways or flight paths.


    If you live near a building that has external lights on all night, for example, you could be suffering from light pollution.

    Ventilation links with both natural airflow and light into the property.

    A lack of either can block the flow of Chi energy and cause you to suffer health issues.

Gases and Vapours

    These can be emitted through many elements found in a typical home.

    From off-gassing of materials used both in the fabric of the building itself and in items of furniture etc. which you have brought in.

    Heating systems, kitchen appliances, and air conditioning units can also all give off these fumes.

    It’s important that systems are regularly serviced, and filters changed regularly to reduce this risk.


    These are also emitted from synthetic fabrics and furnishings, floorcoverings and other insulation and general materials in the home.

    Combine this with synthetic chemicals in cleaning products, fabric conditioners, air fresheners, perfumes, hairsprays and other body sprays…

    We then spend the day lingering in a cacophony of contaminants of our own creation!

    We also emit toxins from our own bodies, all of which add to the mix to create a toxic environment.

Kitchen Appliances

    Gas cookers can produce large amounts of carbon monoxide as well as carbon dioxide, nitric oxide and sulphur dioxide.

    They can also release small particles of gas, particularly if they are old and not energy efficient.

    Over time these can build up and, if used in an area of poor ventilation, can create a toxic build-up.

    Microwaves with poorly fitting doors can emit radiation.

    Toasters can also produce a high level of emissions. Much better to use a grill (preferably with an extraction system).

    All these appliances should be used in well-ventilated areas with appropriate levels of extraction (preferably external). This will avoid potential toxicity build-up and health issues.

    Fridges can also emit CFCS from their cooling system so always choose a low CFC model.


    Consider materials wisely for food prep and check regularly for wear. In particular, elements such as non-stick pans where the coating can become damaged.

    Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) was used in non-stick Teflon pans until 2015 and has now been linked to health issues such as breast & prostate cancer, liver tumours and reduced fertility.

    Ceramic-coated pans are a great non-stick alternative but make sure you choose one which states it is toxin-free and environmentally friendly.

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