Disclaimer: When it comes to our jobs, sometimes we have no choice as to how many toxins we are exposed to. We must make our own decision about whether the job is worth the cost to our health. But, in our home, unless it’s a rental, we do have choices. Let’s explore the toxins that we may have in our homes and how we can minimize their effect on our health. I’ll go into what are the most important areas to focus on and I’ve included some links at the end so you can research further any areas of interest. Okay, let’s do this!
Let’s start with new construction. If you are building your own home, consider consulting with a “green” builder. Someone who builds homes using natural materials with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even if you don’t end up building a totally “green” home, you will learn what construction materials are the worst for your health and which have the least impact. It may not be all that difficult to make changes in building materials before you start construction. It’s most important to use clean building materials where you have the most contact with them. Air ducts, heating and cooling systems, water treatment systems, water pipes, lighting, wall and floor materials, sealants and adhesives, and most importantly, windows.
To ensure that you are getting what you pay for, hire a professional who has LEED Certification. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a professional rating system created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) that calculates the environmental performance of a building and supports the sustainable design movement. Lumber should be untreated with toxic chemicals to prevent it from drying out and aging naturally. The worst of these chemicals is arsenic. On a deck – maybe. But, in the house. Nah.
If you are buying a pre-existing home, you want to notice if the carpets are new and if it is freshly painted. If the seller recently put in just any carpet to make the place look fresh and new, you may have a problem. New carpet that is not “green” will off-gas toxic fumes for as much as a year after installation. That doesn’t include the padding underneath. The paint on the walls will also off-gas over a period of time, depending on the VOC level of the paint used. If possible, when shopping for a new pre-existing home, ask your realtor to look for one with hardwood floors and if the sellers are going to add carpet, to install natural carpeting. Also, ask about the paint used if the house has been freshly painted. If it hasn’t and you want it painted, tell them what brand you would like them to use. There are some expensive brands and there are some less expensive alternatives. Low VOC paint is available widely at places like Home Depot. Do your research and choose according to your budget.
Hire a good home inspector and have them look for any traces of asbestos. Asbestos is very hazardous to your health, so much so, that when you need to have it removed, you must hire a special company to remove it while they wear hazmat suits. That’s how dangerous it is. Forewarned is forearmed. Make sure that all air ducts have been cleaned so that when that heat comes on in the winter – or the AC in the summer – it’s not spewing a lot of dust or mold spores into the air.
Radon is a naturally occurring off-gassing of uranium and can be inhaled or ingested via water, usually well water. If you are buying, you will find out in your home inspection whether or not there is an excessive amount of radon. There are treatments to minimize it. If you are reading this and already own your home, you should have your basement tested for radon gas and your water tested for contaminants every few years.
Now, for you renters. It’s possible to minimize that which you cannot change. New low VOC paint. New “green” carpet, if permitted. Better yet, opt for hardwood floors. Be sure your furnace filters are changed often. If you live in a city, get your water tested so you know what you’re drinking. If there is lead or other toxins, you can install an under-the-counter water purifier in the kitchen to use for cooking and drinking. You can also install a filter on your shower head. Use the filtered water for hygiene such as when brushing your teeth.
Whenever I read those articles about making sure your windows are sealed tight from drafts to keep your heat inside, I shudder. The emphasis is on saving energy by making your home airtight. I reject this idea. While I’m all for saving energy, I think it’s important that your house can breathe. If your house can breathe, chances are you will breathe better, too. We’re not meant to be hermetically sealed. If we keep our environment clean outside, we shouldn’t have to shut ourselves inside. I think more attention should be paid to creating heat naturally, by using wind and solar power. Our current system of using fossil fuels, which are yet more pollutants, makes our planet and us sick. In the meantime, don’t worry about those leaky windows. Fresh air is better for your health.
No matter where you live, daylight exposure will go a long way in boosting your health and your mood. Open up your windows and use light filtering blinds or drapes. If you don’t have a lot of daylight, use mirrors to maximize the windows you do have to reflect light back into the room. If your plants thrive on daylight, so will you. Add plants that are good for your health and put oxygen back into your indoor space. There are at least a dozen different ones that are good for cleaning indoor air. Most are easy to grow and not expensive at all. Follow the links below to find a list. My personal favorites are peace lilies and Boston ferns. But, feel free to load up on self-propagating spider plants.
As for your job space. If you work in one of those buildings that have windows that don’t open, try to get outside for some fresh air during the day. While others may be taking a smoke break, take a fresh air break. We spend over 90% of our time indoors. Your work space may not be able to be changed but do what you can to get fresh air and or plants into your office space. But, your home is within your control. Ensure that your home environment is as healthy as you can possibly make it and you’ll lead a happier healthier life.