Natural Life Magazine

8 Ways to Create a Greener, Healthier Home

8 Ways to Create a Greener, Healthier Home
By Wendy Priesnitz

1. Breathe Easier

The state of the air in your home might not be as obvious as the dirt in your bathtub, but it can be much more dangerous to your family’s health. For instance, the air ducts used by your furnace or air conditioner can contain dust, pollen, bacteria and even mold. And that contaminated air is circulated throughout your home, day after day. Fortunately, it’s relatively inexpensive to hire a company to clean your ducts. Open the windows or create other opportunities for fresh air exchange on an ongoing basis. Plumbing traps need to have proper venting to prevent sewer gas. And gas appliances and woodstoves shouldn’t be drawing on indoor air. Green up your home with house plants, which have been proven by NASA to purify the air. (See this article.)

2. Green Your Bedroom

Sheets that have permanent press finishes typically contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, which becomes a gas at room temperature. Since you spend so much time in bed, consider staying away from permanent press fabrics, and buy organic cotton sheets or those made from alternative fabrics like hemp or bamboo. Mattresses made from polyurethane foam (“memory foam”) also contain and off-gas a variety of toxic chemicals, including – in some cases – fire retardants. So, again, choose certified organic mattresses or futons. (See this article.)

3. Use Non-Toxic Cleaners

Some laundry detergents have more than four hundred ingredients, which the manufacturer doesn’t have to list on the packaging. These products contain some exceedingly nasty ingredients and they’re tested by the manufacturers, not the government, prior to being unleashed into our homes. There are known health effects from many of the chemicals commonly used in household cleaning and laundry products. Animal studies have shown reproductive harm – testicular damage, reduced fertility, maternal toxicity, early embryonic death, and birth defects. Some of the ingredients are proven carcinogens. Making your own is greener and cheaper...and not difficult. Baking soda, vinegar, and some elbow grease should get your house clean much more safely…and spend less money too. (See this Ask Natural Life column.)

4. Prevent and/or Remove Mold

Basements are often the home of mold spores, but leaky bathroom or kitchen plumbing, as well as inadequate ventilation and poorly maintained humidification equipment can also be the culprit. Mold can produce allergens, irritants, and, in some cases, potentially harmful toxins. Black mold is an especially dangerous type of mold. If you discover mold in your house, promptly clean it up and fix the water problem that is causing the mold. Dry out anything that is damp, then scrub away the mold. Try to avoid commercial cleaners like bleach. Instead, use a few teaspoons of tea tree oil or a few drops of grapefruit seed extract mixed into a few cups of water. One hundred percent white distilled vinegar let sit on the mold also works and is by far the cheapest. (See this article.)

5. Tear Up the Carpet

While carpets provide a warm, cushiony surface for children who like to play on the floor, they can also release dust and fumes that cause sniffles, headaches, asthma, and other health problems. More than two hundred chemicals – many of them petroleum-based – are used in the manufacture and installation of synthetic carpets and their backings, not to mention the fact that even regular vacuuming fails to remove all the dirt, molds, dust mites and pesticide residues tracked in from outside. Avoid all the VOCs by using smaller, washable carpets made from natural fibers. If you’re up for a major renovation, consider concrete embedded with radiant heat coils and topped with a floor made from wood from FSC-managed forests, reclaimed wood, bamboo or cork. (See this book excerpt.)

6. Finish Walls, Floors, and Furniture Carefully

A healthy, green home will reduce its occupants’ exposure to chemicals (such as formaldehyde in insulation and particleboard; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in adhesives, sealants and paints; and pesticides, fungicides and heavy metals used to treat wood) through use of non-toxic building materials and products. So if it’s time to freshen up a room, be sure you’re not making it more toxic instead. As paint is applied to a surface and begins to dry, the VOCs in the paint are escaping into the air and may continue to off-gas at low levels for years after application. So be sure to choose carefully. Most major paint manufacturers offer low-VOC paints, and these are much healthier than standard paint, although they can still off-gas VOCs and generate a tell-tale odor. Fortunately, paint manufacturers are now beginning to offer zero-VOC paints, although they are more expensive, harder to find, and available in a limited number of colors. (See this article.)

7. Reduce Electronic Smog

Many homes are infused with a sort of electronic smog, resulting from low frequency radio waves. Sources include cellular and cordless phones, wireless Internet, baby monitors, dimmer switches, computer monitors, fluorescent light bulbs, halogen lights, radios, microwave ovens, and just plain electrical wiring. Exposure to the electromagnetic radiation from these products can make some people ill with symptoms that can include nausea, headaches, asthma, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, tinnitus, brain fog, restless sleep and rashes. And some research indicates that exposure to electromagnetic fields may cause damage at the cellular level. Ensure that electrical equipment is properly grounded and unplug it when not in use. Use cable or fiber-optic Internet technology rather than wireless. Use a corded phone/land line for day-to-day needs. Non-carpeted floors, the use of natural materials, and 30 percent relative humidity will create lower electrical fields. And if you’re shopping for a new home, avoid living near cellular towers and high tension power lines. (See our Ask Natural Life column.)

8. Check for Radon

Radon is colorless, odorless, and seeps into your home from the surrounding soil, offering no warning signs to alert you to exposure. And yet, this radioactive gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked. It comes from the decay of naturally occurring uranium in the earth’s soil and can accumulate in enclosed areas, such as homes. You should have your home tested for radon, and when testing indicates high levels, a trained radon reduction contractor should be consulted to correct the problem. Renovations to existing basement floors (particularly earth ones), sealing cracks and openings, and sub-floor ventilation of basement floors can prevent admission. The soil surrounding the home can also be ventilated so that radon is drawn away before it can enter, either in an existing home, or during new construction. Increasing the ventilation within your home will also help. (See this article.)

Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine and the author of thirteen books, including Natural Life's Green and Healthy Homes.


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