In the last few years much emphasis has been placed on eco-friendly design in our homes. About 100 years ago home owners and city planners similarly found themselves in a time of transition. Landscape architect John Nolen commented in 1909, “Intelligent city planning is one of the means towards a better utilization of our resources, toward an application of the methods of private business to public affairs, toward a higher individual and higher collective life.” Sound Familiar????
Many people in early twentieth-century America recognized an intimate relationship between technology and the social, economic, and governmental structures of cities. These people strived for a way to harness new technologies to social needs. One of these needs was for clean breathing air, yet as people began moving into more urban settings they were moving into environments with more contamination. The situation could be quite critical considering the sanitation, or lack there of in most cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Without HVAC systems or other modern mechanics, indoor air quality took on a completely different meaning yet was still one of the biggest concerns of the time. IAQ issues included coal being burned indoors without proper ventilation, (which is actually still a problem in modern day China) and the seeping of sewer gas into the home. A doctor in 1880 proclaimed that “many of the diseases which attack and destroy life among dwellers in cities are the result, either directly or indirectly of this noxious agent commonly know as sewer-gas.” With the luxurious development of indoor plumbing, something most of us take for granted, the IAQ hot topic of day was discovered. People wanted modern conveniences but didn’t want the cost to be so high that they were harming the (more specifically THEIR) environment.
Not even the highest house in the land was immune. When President James Garfield was shot in 1881 and taken to the White House to be treated, his steady decline over the following weeks at last came to be blamed not on the assassin’s bullet still lodged in his back, but to the executive mansion’s obsolete plumbing system. A “well-known plumber” told a New York newspaper that “the real trouble” in Garfield’s case “is sewer gas,” while the Sanitary Committee of the Master Plumbers of New York offered to outfit the White House with sewer traps at no charge. His successor, Chester Arthur, refused to move into the White House, having been made nervous by authoritative statements that, until its plumbing was reconstructed to eliminate sewer gas, “the White House will be behind our better class of tenement-houses.” Arthur even went so far as to lobby Congress to tear down the White House and erect a sewer gas-proof replica in its stead, but though the Senate approved $300,000 for the project, the House of Representatives would not concur, and the new President had to settle for a plumbing overhaul of the old building.
Even today sewer-gas is a common indoor air quality issue. In many cases sewer-gas is brought back into the building through fresh air make-ups and air in-takes. A problem as simple as a dry P-trap can make a person aware of its’ unseen and often forgotten about presence. We no longer consider sewer-gas one of the most dangerous health threats to mankind but whenever plumbing is close by it is wise to be aware that it is still something that could come up.
We want to hear from you! Call or email to tell us about your indoor air quality problems. We’ll help you find the right solution.