There is a dizzying array of things to consider when purchasing a new home. Do not let the quality of the air be left off this list. You could end up purchasing a home with poor air quality or unwittingly decreasing healthy air quality by decorating and remodeling. Not educating yourself about your home’s air quality can having lasting health effects, from mildly irritating to downright deadly.
Breath a sigh of relief when you pick up the keys to your new home; just make sure the air you’re sucking in is clean. We’ll start with the most obvious solutions. First, you can get an air purifier. Depending on your personal needs, you can choose anything from a small unit to extensive house-wide systems. Many factors are involved in the decision, so check out the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers’ (AHAM) seal of approval to be confident in your choice.
Air purifiers are ideal if you have seasonal allergies. But if allergies are not a problem, another solution is simply opening a window. By just opening your windows for 5-10 minutes a day, you can significantly lower concentrations of toxic chemicals, such as carbon dioxide (CO2).
Another top of mind issues for homeowners is humidity. You want to maintain a level between 30% and 50%; but ideally right at 45%. Usually you can tell if your air is too dry because you’ll suffer from cracked and irritated skin, scratchy throat, and a dry nose. Too low of a humidity level can also damage wood, floors and other home furnishings. If the air holds too much moisture, you’ll find mold and mildew. This creates a breeding ground for allergies and infestations of termites and cockroaches. It can also damage your home by peeling paint and leaving stains on your walls and ceilings.
If you want to be absolutely sure of your humidity levels, you can pick up a hygrometer. This is like a thermometer but rather than measuring temperature, it checks the moisture levels in each room of your home. If you do have an issue, the solution to humidity problems is straightforward. If your air is too dry, you can purchase a humidifier. If it is too humid, you can get a dehumidifier and ventilate properly. Humidity levels can vary from room to room, with basements, bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms being more humid.
Right as you walk in, you’ll probably be ready to roll up your sleeves and start making this new house their own stylish home. Whether you are just adding a few decorative items or knocking down walls, you need to think about how these improvements will change the health of your air quality.
If you are buying new furniture, find out what kind of chemicals these may be introducing into your home. Many items like area rugs, mattresses, couches, and furniture have toxin that are released into your home. Fabrics, like bedding and curtains, can also have dyes with harmful ingredients. Wash everything you can and properly ventilate when bringing in new home furnishings.
If you are renovating, consider choosing products that are easy to clean and are not produced with toxins. Picking hard-surface flooring over carpet can help eliminate dirt and dander. Choose blinds over curtains for easier cleaning. When deciding on cabinets, countertops and paint, look into ones that are toxin free and do not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
You can naturally filter your air and beautify your home by adding plants. NASA conducted a Clean Air Study and pointed out the best plants to filter out common toxins around the house. Everyday household items contain harmful chemicals such as Formaldehyde, Trichloroethylene, Benzene, Xylene and Ammonia. These are found in things such as paper bags, paper towels and napkins, particleboard, printing ink, plastics, detergents, cleaners and many more. Exposure to these toxins can cause a wide range of symptoms from mild irritations to heart, liver and kidney damage.
The NASA study found that the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’) and the Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) can filter all five of the previously listed chemicals. When decorating, learn more about these toxins, their effects and find a complete list of the best air filtering plants for your home. For optimal filtering, it is recommended to have one plant for every 100 square feet.
While adding the final touches, like candles and air fresheners, be aware of what you’re spewing into the air. Many common household air fresheners contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are deemed toxic or hazardous by United States federal laws. However, manufacturers are only required to label these toxins as “fragrance” on the product. This is especially prevalent in laundry detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets. These emit dozens of concerning chemicals.
When figuring out how to improve the scent of your living space, consider natural solutions. Simply open a window, slice a lemon, simmer a pot of cinnamon and cloves, or pour baking soda into a decorative dish. Look into the use of pure essential oils and soy candles. Buy naturally-scented or fragrance-free laundry products and cleaning supplies.
As you’re settling into your new home, you’ll find you need to do regular maintenance to keep your air quality healthy. Check your heating and cooling system filters as often as needed. When cooking, cleaning and painting, be sure to ventilate by turning on a vent and/or opening a window. Vapors, grease and smoke can decrease air quality.
Regular cleaning is an important part of maintaining your home. Keeping a tidy house will decrease allergens, irritants and toxins. Be sure to get the hard to reach places like ceiling fans, baseboards and the tops of appliances. Use a vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA filter), which can reduce levels of pollen, pet dander, dust mites and toxins like lead and fire-retardant chemicals. Mop up with a microfiber cloth that can pick up what the vacuuming may have missed. Also, launder large fabrics like bedding, drapery and fabric shower curtains as often as needed. Washed them before their first use to get rid of the chemicals they have from the manufacturing process.
If you have a fireplace, burn cured or dried wood rather than pressure-treated options. Have your chimney and flue cleaned and inspected at least once a year or as needed to make sure it’s safe. This is according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) as stated by the National Fire Protection Association Standard 211.
Last, but certainly not least, test for radon. Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless gas that significantly raises the risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, second only to cigarette smoke, and the number one cause for nonsmokers. It claims 21,000 lives every year.
No home is immune – old or new. In fact, it is estimated that almost 1 in 15 homes have elevated radon levels. Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium found in soil and seeps into homes through cracks in the foundation. Thankfully, testing is quick, easy and cheap. You can buy a kit at most local home improvement stores or order a discounted radon test kit online from the National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University.
If you do have elevated levels of radon in your home, you will want to hire a contractor who is proficient in this specific area. Some states maintain lists of approved contractors. You can also learn about the average levels of radon by county with this map. You’ll see that the majority of Arkansas has safe levels, but there are a few counties with concerning numbers.
While laying down your welcome mat, you may also want to lay down a few rules of the house. Here are our top three suggestions to help maintain healthy air quality:
1. Socks Only Please – By taking off your shoes at the door and using large floor mats at entry ways, you can greatly reduce the amount of dirt, pesticides and other pollutants that are commonly tracked inside.
2. Smoking is an Outside Activity – Keep your home a smoke free zone. Cigarette smoke has more than 4,000 chemicals. Research has clearly shown the risks of secondhand smoke to children, such as the increased chance of developing asthma, ear and respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and cancer. A smoker has an increased risk of cancer, heart attacks, breathing issues and stroke. If you are a smoker, or love someone who is, please consider smoking cessation options.
3. Pet Beds, Perhaps? – We love to snuggle the furry, four legged members of our family. But if they are affecting our air quality, we may need to make some adjustments. Regularily bathe and groom your pets. If dander and fur are an issue, you may need to keep your loved one off the furniture and beds. Maybe your pet needs their own bed. You can also wipe their paws when they come inside.
Home Healthy Home:
This may all seem overwhelming at first, especially after all the work that went into purchasing a new home. But, once you get settled, it can all quickly become routine. Think about the potential health risks of breathing in toxic air every day. When you consider this, you’ll probably fall into healthy air quality habits easily as you enjoy your new home.