Indoor air quality or the indoor environment applies to all of our homes – existing or new – and all of us can take immediate actions to breathe well in our homes. For me, the first steps were my choices of cleaning products. I switched to non-toxic, safer cleaners and even a few homemade ones. There are many available today both in your local store and online.
Next, you will want to look at when and how your home was built, as this impacts the actions you may take. Much older homes may have been originally designed to have coal heat and likely are leakier. Homes from the 1970s and 1980s may be airtight to be more energy efficient, yet not well ventilated. We often hear that a home needs to breathe, although this is not quite right – people need to breathe. So where did the confusion come from? Many older homes that used coal as a heating source were built for the smoke to leave the home, and would be considered leaky. In today’s language, the term “a home needs to breathe” means fresh air is brought in and old, stale air is exhausted – just like people breathe.
If you compare your home to your body, the ventilation system (typically coupled with your heating and/or cooling system) would be the “lungs” of your home. These “lungs” of your home breathe in fresh air and breathe out bad air. Now think of you breathing through a scarf and how it filters air in both directions. That “scarf” is whatever material is in the walls, ceiling, floor of your home – wherever your home may be leaking. So whatever material is near or over these leaks is what is filtering the air coming in and going out through the leaks. These uncontrolled air movements are often responsible for bringing in unwanted pollutants, including mold, mildew, allergens and more. For instance, if your home has batt insulation installed with little or minimal air sealing, the batt material (typically fiberglass) is filtering the air coming through the leaky spots in a home.
A better way to get air in and out of the home would be to think of a snorkel exhaling stale air out and bringing in fresh air in a concentrated, planned way. A nice tight seal around home coupled with good ventilation ensures that air is coming in and out of the home as directed.
Breathing is important. None of us intentionally want to have stuff in our homes that makes us not breathe well. I realize if you can’t see it, smell it or don’t know it’s there, it’s human nature to not acknowledge there may be an issue – I guess it’s a way of kind of sticking our heads in the sand. It’s time for all of us to start reading labels and taking responsibility for our own actions and our own wellness in our homes. Mold and mildew, including black mold, can be an impact on the air quality in our homes and our health. More of us are becoming increasingly sensitive to chemicals, allergens, toxins, etc. Environmental conditions both indoors and outdoors are impacting rise in asthma, allergies, COPD and other respiratory ailments. A little prevention goes a long way and can prevent many medical issues down the road.
How to Improve the Indoor Air Quality in your home
First, control pollutants coming in as much as possible. Choose less-toxic or non-toxic materials for home selections such as paint, adhesives, sealants, caulk, flooring, wall coverings, cabinetry and furnishings. Look for low or no VOC options and materials without urea formaldehyde. Low to no VOC paints, finishes, sealants, adhesives are readily available and offer great performance with fewer toxins. Where these options may not be available, allow the home to off-gas with windows open for a few days to help.
Second, seal up your home as much as possible. Several tubes of caulk can go a long way towards sealing up the cracks and small penetrations in your home. This is a great place to bring in an energy auditor to identify places to seal up. If the home is being built or remodeled, this is a great time to seal up wherever 2 pieces of material meet. For attached garages being built, be sure the garage is air sealed from the home to keep fumes and exhaust out. Weather-stripping or adding a gasket around the door between the garage and home helps too, for both new and existing homes. If you have a fireplace, be sure it is vented correctly. Again, this is a great area to seek some professional help.
Third, store chemicals safely or better yet limit use of chemicals in your yard and home. Many household and yard products contain toxic chemicals and fumes. If it is hazardous to children and pets, you may want to reconsider having it around at all. There are many non-toxic, safer products available for our homes, yards and gardens. There are also many natural ways to address many of the issues we run into around our homes.
There are many ways to be green – natural, sustainable, responsible (chemical composition known, and transparency about what’s in stuff and what is “safe enough” to be in our homes). Doing a little homework about what you bring in to your home can go a long way.
Bringing in a professional to help figure all this out can help you identify the areas where improvements will make the greatest impact and what those improvements/changes are. An energy auditor is a great resource to help identify how to tighten up and better ventilate your home so you can breathe well. Many interior designers and decorators are becoming educated about sustainable and green options and can help you have a home that looks good and performs well.
Wellness Within Your Walls http://wellnesswithinyourwalls.com/
Green Guard http://greenguard.org/en/index.aspx
Green Seal http://www.greenseal.org/Home.aspx
Find Green Seal Certified Products http://www.greenseal.org/findgreensealproductsandservices.aspx
Making your own cleaners (check out online, lots of recipes featuring vinegar, lemons, baking soda, and water)
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