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Five Tips to a Healthy Home

By Diana Bocco

According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the air in United States homes is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. The EPA identifies the main sources of indoor pollution to be combustion from oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood and tobacco products, followed by emissions from building materials and furniture made of certain pressed-wood products. Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides and outdoor air pollution come last in the list.

With new research indicating that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, working towards a healthy home seems like the only intelligent choice.

Improve your indoor air quality
"The number one health issue in homes today is poor indoor air quality," says Hector Vargas, an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) expert and the president of ACH Mechanical Contractors in Redlands, California. To make sure the air your family is breathing is safe, Vargas recommends cleaning or replacing the furnace filters at least every three months, depending on use. "If you have electronic air cleaners, the filters can be cleaned in your dishwasher; other types can be rinsed off with a garden hose, and the rest should be replaced."

Good ventilation is also essential to avoid accumulation of pollutants. "To improve indoor air quality, first learn where the pollutant comes from, then take steps to control it," said Lou Manfredini, a Chicago-based national home improvement expert and Ace Hardware's "Helpful Hardware Man." He recommends simple strategies such as opening windows and doors, operating window fans and installing portable air cleaners. Using exhaust fans when showering, cooking or doing other activities that add moisture inside the house will help prevent mold from becoming a problem.

Get rid of clutter
According to the California cleanup experts at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, the one thing that makes for a healthy home is creating a clean and clutter-free environment. Keeping a home clean starts with making sure you have a place for everything and always returning items to their proper location.

Dust and dust mites live in un-cleaned areas and crevasses like bookshelves, curtains, window coverings, piles of magazines and storage rooms. "Regular vacuuming and disposal of household clutter reduces dust." Stacks of old magazines are some of the most common clutter items found in homes. "Magazines not only breed dust and allergies but they also take up precious space and can be easily recycled." Choose the ones you really treasure and are likely to read again, and get rid of the rest.

Opt for sustainable design
There are many choices these days for “green” products:

• Wall coverings made of wood pulp from managed forests
• Water-based inks with no heavy metals
• Bio-based polyurethane carpet backing
• Flooring products with low VOC emissions

The health movement has invaded interior design. Joanne Kravetz, an interior design academic chair at The Art Institute of California in San Francisco, California, stresses the importance of supporting those manufacturers that produce products that are not only beautiful, but consistently reliable, enduring and environmentally responsible. "As designers and architects increasingly recognize the role they play in creating built environments that respect the earth and nurture her inhabitants, building professionals and the public at large are turning to manufacturers for help in specifying and purchasing environmentally friendly products."

Kravetz recommends exploring bamboo, recycled rubber or cork for flooring and only buying furniture finishes that are low in formaldehyde.

Avoid toxic products
" The most common pesticides found at home are lawn and garden chemicals and products for indoor insect control," says Angela Mickalide, director of Education and Outreach for the Home Safety Council, based in Washington, D.C. Sprays, foggers or volatile formulations are especially dangerous, since they can reach the lungs in a question of seconds. The most common indoor pesticides are products used to kill household pests (insecticides, termiticides and disinfectants). Pesticides can also be tracked inside the house on the bottom of shoes or pets' paws. "Adverse effects of pesticide exposure range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long-term neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders," Mickalide says.

Get rid of your old heater
" If I had to say one thing that has made the biggest difference in the house, it is installing radiant heating elements under the wood floors," says Angela Beach, owner and lead designer for Beachwood Designs in Sherman Oaks, California, and the mother of two very active kids — one with severe allergies and asthma. Radiant heating eliminates the need for the old heater that just blows dust around the house. "Radiants are not very popular in L.A. because of the weather, but we all tend to forget that it does get cold here, especially in the evenings."

Replace your mattress
According to the Better Sleep Council, based in Alexandria, Virginia, replacing your mattress on a regular basis — typically after five to seven years of use — is a great way to help keep family members healthy and happy on many different levels. First, your mattress plays a critical role in the quality and quantity of your sleep each night, which is a major indicator of how you function and feel every day (not to mention that lack of sleep is linked to a myriad of serious health problems). On top of that, an older mattress could be a repository for dust mites and other allergens.

Remember that the health of your home is not always evident to the naked eye. Many toxins do not have an immediate effect but can make you ill long after exposure. By taking a few preventive steps today, you can improve the quality of your life for years to come.

© Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco has published more than 200 articles in national, international and online publications such as Woman's Day, Mothering, Big Apple Newspaper, Writer's Digest, 13 Minutes and Self. She's a certified nutrition consultant and an avid believer that a healthy house and a healthy body go hand in hand.


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