Breathe Better: Home Air Quality

Posted by Mary Sweigert ~ September 3, 2008

Looking toward fall, we're closing the windows more often and putting down the weather stripping. Among the other emotions that come with preparing for the colder seasons, what you don't want to be experiencing is the negative effects from VOCs lurking in your home as you're sealing it up tight to keep out the cold.

We're making the effort to make our homes more energy efficient and to save on our heating and cooling bills. However, this can sometimes have some unintended consequences. We're talking VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds, and not only can they damage your home's indoor air quality, they can make you and your family sick.


How-to's for Healthy Homes


Photo Credit: Healthy Building Consultants

Homeowners tend to experience the effects of VOCs more often as a result of sealing up their homes, because keeping the cold out often means keeping the fresh air out as well. Where do VOCs come from? Well, if you've recently had carpets installed, bought new furniture, or happen to be an enthusiastic user of household cleaning products; you're going to want to pay attention:

In addition to carpets and cleaning products, VOCs can come from new beds. Mattresses can be big contributors to decline in indoor air quality as most are treated with chemical fire retardants. Good for your bed's chances of surviving a blaze, not so good for your lungs. Carpets are big culprits for similar reasons, fibers trap and store chemicals, and synthetic carpet pads can off-gas harmful chemicals, mainly polybrominated diphenylethers, (PBDEs) that can cause illness and respiratory problems like asthma in high concentrations. Eeek. New furniture can also add to the problem for the same reasons.

Another big contributor? Paint. We all know it smells, and there's a reason. Traditional paint is packed full of VOCs whose effects can linger long after the paint has dried.


Get the VOCs Out

So, what's a homeowner to do? Short of freezing out your home in the dead of winter, there are a lot more practical options you can take to make your home's air a bit safer:


Step 1: Replace all vinyl shower liners in favor of non-toxic nylon ones. Your vinyl liner releases chemicals (toluene and methylene chloride to name a few) that can cause allergic reactions.

Step 2: Use low or no VOC paint. (Available from most major paint suppliers)

Step 3: Stop chemically cleaning carpets and furniture- look for organic cleaning solutions that don't use harsh, highly concentrated chemicals. Try to ditch home chemical cleaners entirely in favor of more organic options like vinegar, baking soda, etc.

Step 4: Stop dry cleaning. Not only is it expensive, but evidence suggests that the chemicals used in the process are carcinogenic and can accumulate in your home whenever you bring your comforters, bedspreads, drapes, rugs and clothes back from the cleaners.

Step 5: Cut down on carpet. If you've got the option, switch it out for hardwood or tile flooring options that don't require chemical rich mats or stain treatments. If you can't kick your carpet habit, clean it thoroughly with an organic cleaner and air out extensively afterwards. You can also opt for organic fiber rugs to keep the soft under your feet.

Step 6: Invest in solid wood furniture. Believe it or not, manufactured and pressed wood products can off-gas chemicals like formaldehyde over time as well, leading to decline in your home's environment. Make sure you air out rooms where you've got a lot of particle board products frequently, and if you've just bought a similar product, set up a fan to vent fumes out of your home.

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