Rethinking how we live indoors and out.
Most of us equate our homes with warmth, safety, and security. It’s often the one place we feel most comfortable and able to decompress. However, the recent news headlines surrounding lead levels in water and air pollution levels in the world’s major cities, should make us think twice about the safety of our homes. There may be hazards lurking indoors and out that are counteracting the safety of your home sweet home. Rest assured, there are some easy fixes to help decrease hazards, reduce your impact on the environment, and increase the value of your home.
The Indoor Generation
When asked how much time we spend indoors, a recent study suggests what we think and what actually occurs are widely different. “We spend 90% of our time indoors (more than 21 hours). Most people believe that number is only 18%.”1 Between work, home, and our daily commute, we are officially an “Indoor Generation.” It’s a notion most of us don’t really acknowledge, but one that can have harmful effects on our overall health. Did you know that indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air?1
When you consider the average adult breathes in almost 4,000 gallons of air every day,2 the implications can be overwhelming.
In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks.3 But I keep my home spic ‘n span, so that surely doesn’t apply to me? Beyond dust and common allergens, fire-resistant chemicals used in furniture or bedding, flooring, and paints and varnishes can all contain harmful agents. Called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, they are released during use or storage and concentrated amounts can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, an increased risk of cancer, and kidney and liver damage. Even the cleaning supplies we use to combat the dirt and dust can have VOCs that lead to adverse health effects.
A recent study found 45 different chemicals in house dust.4
Harmful chemicals collect in dust, which is a perfect breeding ground for dust mites—microscopic organisms that feed on dust particles and create a whole lot of waste. This toxic brew can then be ingested, breathed in, or absorbed into your skin. Other harmful chemicals that can commonly be found in homes are: radon gas, carbon dioxide, lead, and cigarette smoke. If you have excess moisture in your home’s bathroom, basement, or attic, you may also be harboring mold and mildew which can cause structural damage to your home as well as health-related side effects.
Fragrances are one of the top five allergens in the world. Look for plant-based, naturally derived, essential oils instead when you purchase soaps, cosmetics, and cleaning products.5
Where do you start? There are so many potential sources of harmful chemicals, it seems almost impossible to control everything. According to Lisa Beres, author of Learn to Create a Healthy Home, there is a plethora of things you can do right away to start reducing the toxic exposures you are unknowingly subjecting yourself to.3
Here are some easy, and more extensive, steps you can take to start improving the quality of your indoor air.
- Clean on a regular basis, so dust doesn’t have a chance to build up.
- Use a HEPA-filter vacuum and a wet cloth (instead of microfiber) to collect the most dust and harmful particles.
- Use mattress and pillow covers to control dust mites, and wash bedding in hot water weekly.
- Service your heating and cooling units seasonally to reduce dust and debris.
- Open your windows three to four times per day to allow fresh air in.
- Purchase chemical-free household products and access tips to reduce your contact with hidden chemicals by downloading Detox Me, a free app.
- Test your home for radon, a naturally occurring gas that can cause lung cancer and is usually emitted from soil under your home.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors to guard against this colorless, tasteless gas that, in high concentrations, can cause suffocation and loss of consciousness within minutes.
- Test for lead if your home was built before 1978, and consider blood-lead testing if you have young children.
- Institute a no smoking rule. Even second-hand smoke is harmful and can travel between rooms and apartment units.
- Reduce moisture in your home by checking regularly for leaks, ensure downspouts and gutters allow adequate drainage away from your home, and use exhaust fans when showering and cooking.
If you want to establish a base line air quality, there are home test kits and professionals who are qualified to evaluate air quality, as well as recommend an air purification system, air duct cleaning, mechanical ventilation, or other improvement methods. Often the same professionals who test air quality will also test your home’s water supply, or home kits are available too.
Common house plants are inexpensive and excellent at cleaning your air—naturally. Choose a spider plant, flowering bromeliad, fern, peace lily, ficus tree, parlor palm, or a red emerald philodendron for your fight against indoor toxins.
A Healthy Home Is Efficient
Energy and water consumption are an important part of home and environmental health. Using fewer natural resources goes beyond your own home and helps ensure the planet will continue to sustain all of us. Some easy tips to keep in mind include:
- Keep window blinds closed in the summer and open in the winter. It can save up to 10% on your home’s energy bill.5
- Use your microwave to heat or prepare dinner. It uses 50% less energy than your gas or electric oven.5
- Replace old windows with double-pane, or make sure to seal around older windows to reduce energy loss.
- Invest in efficient exterior doors. Weather stripping does not prevent all energy loss.
- Check your insulation yearly to help reduce extremes in heat and cold.
- Purchase Energy Star appliances that use less energy.
- Use a programmable thermostat and energy efficient lighting.
- Consider an affordable professional energy audit to identify other areas that could help save money and reduce consumption.
- Use a low-flow shower head. It can save over 2 gallons of water per minute.5
- Limit yourself to one load of laundry per week. No matter the size, one load of laundry can use upwards of 25 gallons of water.5
As homebuyers become more and more savvy, healthy improvements to your home can become selling points for potential buyers. Outdoor landscaping featuring low maintenance plantings, shade trees, rain collection systems, and edible gardens can add value to your home while helping to protect the environment. You’ll pass on your energy, water, and healthy improvements to the next owner.
Homebuilders are also paying greater attention to healthy home trends and siting homes to take advantage of the natural landscape and resources, adding air quality control systems, and using advanced technology for windows, doors, and lighting.
Healthy homes benefit homeowners, buyers, sellers, and the environment. “Every improvement will make a difference in your health today, in the future, and, of course, in the health of our planet.”3
This article is for informational purposes only.
1“Modern Indoor Living Can Be Bad for Your Health: New YouGov Survey for VELUX Sheds Light on Risks of the ‘Indoor Generation.’” PR Newswire, 15 May 2018.
2Walden, Stephanie. “The ‘Indoor Generation’ and the Health Risks of Spending More Time Inside.” USA Today, 17 May 2018.
3Evans, Julie Ryan. “5 Tips for a Healthy Home: Need a Checkup Yet?” Realtor.com®, June 6, 2017.
4Trepasso, Clare. “Warning: Cancer-Causing Chemicals Are Likely Hiding in Your House Dust.” Realtor.com®, 15 September 2016.
5O’Neill, Jennifer. “Green Your Home Guide.” Real Estate News & Insights | Realtor.com®, 7 April 2016.
Welles, Holly. “How to Improve Energy Efficiency through Exterior Renovations.” How to Improve Energy Efficiency through Exterior Renovations | Green Home Guide, 16 Aug. 2018.
“8 Elements of a Green and Healthy Home.” Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, 1 November 2018.
Ballinger, Barbara. “How Homes Support Healthy Lifestyles.” Realtor® Magazine, 21 June 2018.