Big Problems and Slow Solutions

Airing Out my Tilt

Smelly baskets getting an excellent view.

Smelly baskets getting an excellent view.

Each year it gets harder to imagine what I would be like if I had never developed MCS. But I know this one thing- I would still want to live where I can easily be outside year round. By easily, I mean without a lot of extra layers, gear, or people in my way. My home town is particularly wonderful because I have an emotional connection to the ocean, but today I’m talking about the air. Fresh, warm air. Air that is nice to breathe in and cleansing to pull through your home. I got that covered and it has been, by far, the single most useful coping technique for this illness. Because I can always walk out of an event and get to some fresh air pretty quickly. Because if something goes wrong in my house I can get some fresh air in there pretty quickly. This makes me pretty lucky.

We’ve all heard of Sick Building Syndrome by now. We made our buildings so tight and energy efficient that when we filled those buildings with our new particleboard cabinets, stain resistant carpets and the full range of plastic household goods, the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) outgassed and stayed there in the buildings with us. Before we moved in to our current home we did an extensive renovation to make it MCS safe. Part of that was deliberately keeping the house “loose”. We added a whole house HEPA filtered fresh air intake on the roof but we did not tighten up the house with caulking or reframing the sliding glass doors. Our standard A/C setting pulls in HEPA scrubbed fresh ocean air, which pressurizes the house such that the house… exhales. Fresh air comes in through the top and old used air seeps out through window, doors, walls and even cracks. If there is something untoward in the outside air, like when the county sprays for mosquitos, we shut the house down by closing the fresh air intake and recirculating the air.

It all works, as long as there are no significant source problems in the house. Nothing new that might be outgassing chemicals at a faster rate than my house pulls fresh air through. Like new toys for the two children that live here, magazines for my Economist addicted husband or furniture for myself (who is so incredibly sick of the stuff we got in college 20 years ago). So what we have done over the years is devise a vast array of airing out stations. Things can move from station to station as they become less toxic, unless size dictates its own path. In truth, that sounds much more organized than we have ever been. But here is one of the best unexpected secret bonuses of blogging – you can totally make sense of your life After the Fact! Yes, I have had items stashed in 5 different place but that’s a system I planned, dammit!

1. We have the car port for larger really smelly items.

My car port filled with shelves airing out.

My car port filled with shelves, airing out.

My car port filled with table parts airing out.

My car port filled with table parts, airing out.

Fabulous but very smelly chair covered with baking soda airing out in my car port.

My car port filled with fabulous but very smelly chair, covered with baking soda and airing out.

2. We have the attic for items that are going to take a long time to outgas and will somehow get ruined in the car port.
Storage baskets airing out in the attic.

Storage baskets airing out in the attic.

3. We have the deck for items that are under active outgassing, like we have just poured baking soda on them and now they are baking in the sun for the day but I need to see them on my deck to remember to not leave them outside overnight where they will get condensation or stray cat pee on them.

Storage baskets getting the final sun baking on my deck.

Storage baskets getting the final sun baking on my deck.

4. We have the laundry room, which has a window and an exhaust fan so that I can pull fresh air through the room. This space is good for staging items after they have been in the car port for a while because it lets the item adjust to inside humidity which usually pulls out a good amount of VOCs with it, which I don’t want in my main air space. If the item doesn’t pass the laundry room test it goes back to the car port.

5. And we have a closet which houses the printer, fax, scanner, shredder, printer paper, old ink cartridges and batteries that are piling up waiting for our towns hazardous waste collection day. It has an exhaust fan that we turn on whenever those machines are in use, but it really is too small for larger items and impractical to leave the exhaust fan on all the time, so nothing new really goes in there. But it does serve to keep my main air space clear of the VOCs coming off freshly printed paper.

There are some items that make such a regular appearance that they have a set path. Magazines and newspapers go on an old wooden laundry rack in the carport to outgas till they pass my nose test. Kids’s new shoes (do you know how fast those feet grow and need new shoes?) bake on the deck for a few days, then into the carport for a few more days, then into the laundry room. Christmas toys are bought right after Thanksgiving, taken out of the packaging, then stashed in the attic to air out for a whole month.

But as you can see from the photos I have disrupted these predictable patterns. I was just so very tired of the old busted furniture that I went a little crazy. Most of the pieces are as safe as I can purchase but the stain needs some outgassing time or an extra sealing coat of an AFM product. In keeping with Tilted Mom’s Slow Solutions mantra, these projects work on a long range scale of months or years. I have aired out a dining table and chairs, four sets of storage shelves, a chair and a desk to varying degrees of success. Before that, we had a rug and set of throw pillows that lived in the attic for a year and half because the colors were right for the room and I hate shopping and so those items were going to work no matter how long it took dammit.

Victory!  My new table in my house after 4 months in the carport.

Victory! My new table in my house after 4 months in the carport.

The end result is that my house kind of feels like an atom. And here you can see another unexpected bonus to blogging; it’s an open forum for me to totally indulge my inner nerd. Like if you substituted the interior of my home for the nucleus and my airing out spaces as various orbitals, then my new furniture would be the electrons in various states of excitation or outgassing. And as they stabilize or become more inert they fall back into the ground state and are allowed inside, into Tilted Mom’s inner sanctum. Which is actually a fairly balanced place thanks to our airing out options. When your life feels tilted as often as ours does, it’s important that your home does not. Even if that means that most of your furniture is in the car port.

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