Coping, Triggers

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.


Indoor Air Quality

Yesterday I psyched myself up for a day of rug shopping. I knew I’d be doing a lot of driving and that I’d probably get lost, so I grabbed some CDs, and packed water and trigger-free food in case I got hungry. Within 30 minutes total at two furniture stores, my headache was almost unbearable. I headed home with all my packed essentials untouched.

I blame the rugs, with their adhesives, moth-proofing chemicals and artificial latex backing, but everything from wood finishes on tables to couch cushions was off-gassing. I’m now worried that all the furniture and rugs in my future will have to be made of natural fibers without any chemicals or artificial latex.

Unfortunately, “healthy furniture,” as it’s sometimes called, costs three times as much as “regular” upholstered furniture. Chemical-free carpeting can be cut and bound like a rug. Too bad it’s only available in solid colors or patterns and textures that I don’t like. So, I can either have products that don’t make me sick and don’t fit my decorating scheme or products that look great and give me such a headache that I can’t sit in my living room.

Ever the researcher, I’m reading about chemical sensitivity and indoor air pollution. Now the goal is to not go overboard and banish all chemicals from my house. It’s not realistic and probably not necessary. As an EPA booklet says, “The relative importance of any single source depends on how much of a given pollutant it emits and how hazardous those emissions are.” Although, further on in the pamphlet, it says,

“Some sources, such as building materials, furnishings, and household products like air fresheners, release pollutants more or less continuously. Other sources, related to activities carried out in the home, release pollutants intermittently. These include smoking, the use of unvented or malfunctioning stoves, furnaces, or space heaters, the use of solvents in cleaning and hobby activities, the use of paint strippers in redecorating activities, and the use of cleaning products and pesticides in housekeeping. High pollutant concentrations can remain in the air for long periods after some of these activities.”

Avoiding pollutants isn’t my biggest concern; avoiding pollutants that trigger headaches is. Or do all indoor air pollutants add up to contribute to headaches? Will my pain trump my love of houses and interior design, just as it has for food, dogs and yoga? Or will I have to shell out big bucks to keep it from doing so?