new home still on that same after build AFTER using all supposedly safe products

Asked by dayna
Washington, PA

I really would like your input..... We built a new home and I did everything according to research from building biologist and I am still unable to live in the home because of my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity so my husband is using a steam cleaner to help off gassing of the polyurethane. Wr used SAFECOAT POLYSEAL but it is evident when you come near the stairs and railing that this is where the smell is coming from. I wonder if you feel this will work or are we just wasting money and time having this done?  My husband is afraid to put the SAFECOAT encapsulating sealer over the poly urethane because he feels it will discolor the finish on the wood because after he tested it on a small piece of wood, blurred the finish?  Please give me your opinion on this as we have this beautiful new home and cannot live in it after several months of waiting for odor dissipation.  We have the exhaust  on full time open windows use the role air purifier and used all tile floori


Elizabeth DiSalvo

Answered by Elizabeth DiSalvo

Ridgefield , CT

Trillium Architects

December 5, 2013

Hi Dayna First of all – I am very sorry you are having this experiences. As a chemically sensitive person myself, I understand the deep frustration with painstaking researching and finally thinking you have found an answer only to realize that you have not solved you problem. Especially when the answer costs a LOT of money. Healthy (and sustainable) building can be so very complicated. I am guessing that the bottom line is that you have a problem with the urethane. A product like Safecoat Polyureseal BP may be truly clean and free of so many chemicals like: formaldehyde, preservatives, or toxic mildew-cides or fungicides. And they may be extremely low VOC. (Italics from Safecoat website). BUT the product is still a urethane. There is such a big learning curve with choosing these finishes. How does the consumer know that the thing they are chemically sensitive to is the core material and not all the added chemicals? It can be a bit misleading- but not inaccurate. Most chemically sensative people do simply have a problem with the added toxins. But you might be the person who has the problem with the material itself (the urethane.) On the Safecoat website they also say: If you are chemically sensitive, always test for personal tolerance. This may seem like a boiler plate comment that can be ignored but I think they are actually trying to note that some people still may not be able to tolerate the product. It would be nice if companies like this wrote some sort of note in huge letters on the front page of the website that said something like: Our products are super clean and healthy, but you still may be intolerant of urethane itself! From my experience Safecoat really is a very safe product. Most people do tolerate it very well. The amount you have been airing out your house is far more than would be needed to clear the VOC’s that would cause most people a problem. We also use great products like Bona and Vermont natural coatings. Again there is rarely a problem. I do find it odd that you can still smell the product after all of the airing out you have done. I assume it is a very, very slight smell? Many products – like urethanes- will have the slight smell but not be causing any problems – unless you are one who is truly sensitive to the urethane. I wonder if there is a chance that steam cleaning is actually re-activating the curing process and not allowing the floor to fully dry? I am truly guessing here. And I assume that you are 100% sure that you got the Safecoat product? I have heard the story of the lousy contractor using a cheap-o product and charging you for the expensive one. Very, very rare, but possible? As a cautionary tale to others, someone with severe chemical sensitivity probably wants to avoid polyurethanes all together. Actually- upon reading your question -my initial question to you was: did you consider and rule out a 100% natural floor finish like wax and/or oil (like Linseed, Tung or Hemp Oil)? The old fashioned way to treat a floor is with these natural finishes. These oils are called drying or hardening oils and they do truly dry and do not go rancid. They may not give you the super shiny hard look and finish but they do make the wood look beautiful and truly protect it. Adding wax will help add to the protection. It may be unrealistic, but is there any chance of having some non-chemically sensitive person sand the floor and railing down, removing the urethane and starting fresh with oils or waxing? Remember if you go this route, buy a selection of the drying oil samples first and see which you feel like you can live with. They will each have their own smell. They are natural smells (like a flower or a tree) that will hang on for a long time but cause absolutely no harm unless you are allergic to that substance. If not, then I would try the AFM Safecoat Safe Seal. I am not 100% sure this will adhere well on top of the Polyureseal BP. It is meant as more of an undercoat. I would call Safecoat, tell them your problem and see if they feel you can put the Safe Seal on top. I am guessing it really will cloud the finish, unfortunately. I think your best bet, if you are truly sensitive to the urethane is to sand the floors and start fresh. But, I know this a big financial commitment and possibly not realistic. I wish you the best, Elizabeth

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