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Asphalt Roofing Odors and Indoor Air Quality

Having someone put a new roof on your house doesn’t seem like it would be an exhausting experience, but here I am, physically and emotionally drained after a week of construction. You need some background to understand why I’m so wrecked, but I’ll keep it short because who really cares about my roof?

With my super-sensitive nose, I was reluctant to get an asphalt roof. After reading as much as I could find (not much) and talking with air quality experts, I was finally convinced that I wouldn’t be able to smell the roofing materials indoors. This was convenient because any changes to our roof would require special approval from the city’s historic preservation office, a fight for which I have no energy and Hart has no time. Also, another material would cost at least twice as much, which isn’t possible considering that we’re a year into starting a new business.

Demolition day produced an alarmingly strong odor in the house, which, of course, triggered a migraine attack. The odor — and the migraine — got worse each day. Although I kept the bedroom door shut and ran a medical facility-quality air filter in there, even the bedroom reeked. Not only were we woken up at 6:30 each morning by men tramping across and pounding on our roof, I was awake throughout the nights, convinced we’d just made an expensive decision that would worsen my migraine attacks.

Today, the roof is finished. It looks great, and, even better, doesn’t leak. Leaving the house open all night and a special $40(!) air conditioner filter diminished the odor greatly, though the smell is worsening as the day warms up. An hour ago, I believed I didn’t make a terrible decision that will exacerbate my migraine attacks. Now I’m not so sure. We’ll see how the house smells in a few hours. Let’s hope I have a good report that can reassure migraineurs and odor-sensitive people everywhere that asphalt roofs won’t worsen the condition.

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Air Cycling Through Cooling & Heating Ducts a Migraine Trigger

I’d like you to think I’ve been absent from the blog because I’ve felt so great that I’ve been living it up. Actually, I’ve continued to feel pretty crappy since right before Christmas. There’s always an excuse. In early January was the stomach bug that caused horrendous nausea every time I ate, then triggered an equally bad migraine. Right after I recovered from that, my mom dislocated her shoulder and broke her humerus. Then Hart and I moved into the house…. You get the point. Unfortunately, the migraines continued even after the stress settled. Until Hart and I made a brilliant connection — our AC/heating ducts are making my migraines worse.

We turned off the heat when our roof was patched last week to make sure no chemicals or odors entered the house. I had a good day after the first night with it off, though I need to see a pattern before I jump to conclusions. I forgot to turn the heat back on and the good days began piling up. I’d get pretty tired for a couple hours every afternoon, perhaps because I was doing so much, but few migraines followed (and they were mild if they did). The night we ran the heat, I had a migraine in the night and was headachey and blechy the next day. We turned the heat off again for the next night and voila, I awoke feeling better!

As always, “feeling better” doesn’t mean migraine-free, nor does it mean I’m operating with full energy. Still, I don’t spend much extra time in bed, afternoon naps generally abort oncoming migraines, and the migraines I do have are relatively mild. This all adds up to going out for fun excursions and errands, settling into my new house, and cooking up a storm.

This discovery coincided with getting the results of an energy audit. Not surprisingly, our 1945 house has many gaps in the ducts and the attic has lots of dust and broken-down insulation. The heat runs and pulls all that yuck into the air. Because I’m so sensitive to environmental triggers, Hart and I already budgeted to seal the ducts and use chemical-free products on any household improvements. Soon we will seal the ducts with formaldehyde-, PVC- and VOC-free products, then have them cleaned. I hope, hope, hope that does the trick. I can go without heat, but a Phoenix summer is impossible without air conditioning.

Dirty ducts are a fuzzy sort of trigger. Is whatever is in the air the trigger or does it stir up allergies, which then trigger the migraines? The latter is most logical, but why don’t I have allergy symptoms? As always, I have many more questions than answers. What I’m sure of is that I haven’t had a raging migraine in 10 days. That’s enough of an answer for now.