Down in Los Altos, California, a green building controversy is brewing. Linda Kincaid, industrial hygienist, has made some serious accusations about high levels of formaldehyde in certified green homes. On September 15, Kincaid, along with Richard Calhoun, held a press conference to discuss her findings. I am particularly interested in Calhoun’s reference to "sick buildings" during the press conference:

Calhoun pointed out that commercial buildings were sealed too tightly after the energy crisis of the 1970s. Sick buildings were the result.

Calhoun stated that recent building practices reduce ventilation in homes to the point that people become ill. There is not adequate fresh air to dilute formaldehyde emitted from building materials and furniture. “History is repeating itself,” said Calhoun.

Calhoun himself is a realtor in California. If he has been a realtor for a number of years, he would likely have experienced the previous sick building crisis that he references. So what is this sick building syndrome that occurred in the 1970s?

Much of the history of sick building syndrome can be traced to the energy crisis of the 1970s. Before the mid-1970s, most commercial buildings had only one way of regulating the volume of air transmitted to the occupants, namely the windows which were opened or shut as the occupant desired, while homes had fairly significant airflow even with all doors and windows shut. Energy conservation efforts undertaken following the 1973 OPEC embargo changed all this. Voluntary and involuntary energy consumption reduction efforts required the reduction of heat loss or gain through the exterior of buildings and a reduction in the supply of outside air quantities into buildings. Buildings were made "tight" and commercial buildings became solely dependent upon mechanical ventilation to supply heating, cooling, and humidity. Windows were sealed shut. While many homes did not receive the benefit of such elaborate mechanical ventilation systems, they were nevertheless sealed and insulated.

This is where I am hoping I can tap the immense knowledge of all the readers of this blog. Tell me about sick building syndrome. Do you see the potential for another round of sick building syndrome from the new wave of green buildings? What do you think of Kincaid and Calhoun’s findings?

You can email me at or post a comment below. If I get some great responses, I will feature them in a follow up post.

Related Links

More on formaldehyde allegations (Examiner)

Sick Building Syndrome: A potpourri analysis (bnet)

Photo:  timlovesbrian