Reporting Liz Collin
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As strange as it sounds, a Minneapolis family was sure their kitchen remodel made them sick.
Joel and Laura Stonebraker soon found out something much more dangerous was at work. WCCO-TV went along as environmental investigators diagnosed a sick house.
“Well this is our dream kitchen,” Laura Stonebraker said.
You can hear a distinct disappointment in her voice in the room where it all began. As the seasons started to change it was getting harder for the Stonebrakers to stay comfortable.
“Fans are going and windows are always open except for nighttime when we’re sleeping,” she said.
Laura had no idea at the time the weeks that would pass would look more like a detective show you see on TV. But the scene of the crime centered on her home.
It all started this summer, when the Stonebrakers finally had it with their old kitchen.
“I in particular have always wanted a modern kitchen with dishwasher, a garbage disposal,” she said.
After the contractor finished, there were consequences the family didn’t expect.
“I didn’t have the ability to hold a needle steady or the concentration to make it work,” Laura said.
Then it spread to the other people in the house.
“The next thing I noticed was my husband and my children were having nose bleeds,” she said.
Doctors didn’t seem to have any answers, so the Stonebrakers went after the strongest scent, the laminate floor. They ripped it all up.
Still, they were all sick. In just a few days and with just a few tests, environmental investigators were able to get at what was really wrong.
They found a long list of potential problems from dirty air ducts to asbestos. The biggest signs of trouble were in the basement and the backyard.
In the meantime, Laura had to move out after doctors finally found something wrong with her.
“They told me I had elevated levels of carbon monoxide,” she said.
The experts found the Stonebraker’s newer furnace didn’t match their old ducts, the air supply to their home. The water heater didn’t match the exhaust system, so the right amount of outdoor air wasn’t getting in. All of the corrosion on the chimney means it’s not getting a good draw on the combustion fumes, polluting the indoor air.
While this may seem like an extreme case, what was going on inside the Stonebraker’s home is quite common. The Environmental Protection Agency cites indoor air pollution as one of the five biggest health problems in the country.
When new chemicals are introduced, like they were in the Stonebraker’s kitchen remodel, experts said it’s enough to tip the scales.
Charles Lane is the president and CEO of Environmental Processing/EPI Investigations.
“Think of it like a soup with different ingredients as you change the ingredients the whole taste of the soup starts to change. That’s what actually occurred in this home,” Lane said.
So the Stonebrakers will be making repairs away from the kitchen. They’re hoping for a clean bill of health and a closed case.
Environmental investigators said whether you’ve lived in your home for years or if you’re buying a new home, pay attention to the indoor air.
How does air get into your home and how does it get out? Check the furnace and the radiators closely. Also, they said if you are doing a remodel make sure it fits the original scope of the home.
Learn more about indoor air quality at the Environmental Protection Agency web site.