Three Best Practices for a Healthy House
Apr 01, 2020 04:56PM
By Caroline Blazovsky
Many people visit a physician with a health complaint only to end up with a clean bill of health. Blood work, scans and treatments are provided, but you still end up feeling sick or have symptoms. It’s possible that your environment is the culprit. Public health tells us that determinants of health reach beyond the boundaries of traditional health care. Sectors such as housing and environment can be important allies in improving population health according to the U.S. Department of Health Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion. We should consider our houses (environments) as potential causes for illness and disease.
Over the last decade, we have become more aware of the health effects of “sick building syndrome” and the role that our homes play in our overall health. Homes contain a plethora of problems particularly when maintenance is ignored. Mold, dander/dust mites and high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are just some of the problems we face in our dwellings. Homes have become more energy efficient with tighter building envelops from home wrapping systems, doors and windows with better insulation factors and heating/air conditioning systems with lower energy consumption. These save us on energy, but have created houses with more moisture and ventilation problems.
If we are to stay healthy in our homes, there are three areas in which we need to pay close attention. By removing these sources and lowering our exposure to home toxins, we can hopefully help to improve our immune function and reduce potential sources of inflammation in the body.
Mold, an important topic often discussed when trying to create a healthy home, can do three things to the body that make it problematic to have in the home. According to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), it produces a spore that can contain a protein that causes allergies in about 10% of the population.
Secondly, molds can produce a VOC or what we call an MVOC, a chemical released from the mold similar to paint fumes that can contribute to poor indoor air quality. When you smell a musty or moldy odor, you’re smelling the MVOCs from mold. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) website reports that these MVOCs produce a chemical mixture of alcohols, aldehydes, acids, ethers, esters, ketones, terpenes and thiols, and cites increasing experimental evidence that some of these VOCs have toxic properties.
Thirdly, certain molds can produce a mycotoxin. The World Health Organization in its 2011 publication Mycotoxins: Children Health and the Environment defined mycotoxin as a natural by-product produced by fungi that evoke a toxic response to humans. The National Cancer Institute states exposure to aflatoxins (a type of mycotoxin) is associated with an increased risk of liver cancer. Mycotoxin are produced by species of fungi found in water damaged indoor environments. You often hear of certain molds referred to as “toxic mold”; this is due to their ability to produce a mycotoxin. Due to these health risks, it is important to test and remove these offenders from your home. For a DIY option, visit Examinair.com.
Clean up Dander and Dust Mites
When you hear the old adage “cleanliness is next to godliness”, you should pay attention. Cleaning your home properly is one the most important things you can do for your health. Unfortunately, removing dander (skin cell from human or pets) and dust mites is not as easy as one might think. They can easily build up, leading to allergies and inflammation. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology cites that 90 percent of allergic asthma cases are caused by dust mites.
Dander is skin cells shed from our bodies. Fun fact: humans are not hypoallergenic. In fact, we shed dander. Pets often get blamed for high-dander counts which feed dust mites, but humans are to blame also. You can have an indoor air quality dander air test performed on your home to see how well you are cleaning. Check acac.org to hire a certified professional. If dander counts are high, you probably also have dust mites feeding on the dander. Both may cause allergies and inflammation in the body of those exposed and lead to poor indoor air quality and breathing issues. Removing dander can help eliminate dust mites.
AllergyBuyersClub.com recommends purchasing a vacuum with a sealed body for zero particle emissions, a triple-filter with pre, HEPA and post-motor system and a dual bypass system for increased air flow and power. Visit the website to learn how to purchase an allergy-appropriate vacuum. Additionally, washing clothes in water above 140° F will help kill dust mites, and make sure to vacuum your mattress with your HEPA vacuum every two weeks. Use a separate vacuum tool not used on floors to clean all bedding. Also, buying new hypoallergenic pillows frequently will help to keep skin cells that land in your pillow and dust mites that feed on them down to a minimum. Dust mites also feed on moisture so keeping the relative humidity in your home between 30-50% will also help to deter dust mites. A drier environment will inhibit their growth.
Reduce Chemicals or VOCs
VOCs are chemicals that can come from personal care products, carpet, furniture, paint, building products, fragrances and many other sources. They have more complex names like formaldehyde, toluene, methane, sulfur dioxide, naphthalene, perchloroethylene, ethanol, acetone and many other compounds. We lump all of them in a category called Total Volatile Organic Compound (TVOC). In a nutshell, when you have too many chemicals in the home, your TVOC levels become elevated. When this occurs, your air quality becomes compromised and this can affect your overall health. Individuals exposed to a high number of VOCs may suffer from numerous symptoms such as headaches, malaise, asthma, respiratory system plus more serious problems. Some VOCs are actually carcinogenic,
There are several ways to reduce these chemicals in the home. First, try to ventilate the house during any construction projects and store harsh chemicals (paints, solvents, cleaners and pesticides) away from occupied spaces, ideally outside in a shed or storage area. Chemicals from paint are often the largest contributor to total VOCs in a home. To help reduce these levels, store paint outside the home; if you must keep a can or two inside, turn it upside down and let the paint seal the lid, and then store the can inside a metal sealed bin. Remember, once you open a can of paint, it is never fully sealed and chemicals continue to leach out of the can into the air we breathe. VOCs also come from natural items. We all want to be “green”, but be careful of green wash. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it does not give off a VOC or chemical or can’t be harmful. Pinenes, terpenes, camphines and limonenes are all VOCs that come from “natural” sources such as Christmas trees, wood, citrus, pine and eucalyptus and others. The ideal home has indoor air quality which contains low amounts of VOCs both from natural and unnatural sources.
To make the biggest impact, reduce the level of fragrances in a home. Try to purchase products without synthetic or natural fragrance, scent-free items help clean up your air. When you see the word fragrance on a bottle, the most common ingredient is Toluene-A VOC. However, there’s no way of looking at the word fragrance and knowing how many chemicals it contains. There may be as many as 600 different chemicals in a fragrance blend, which all adds to your total VOC level. Recently, organizations like U.S. Green Building and the LEED Council formulated standards and guidelines for homes to help determine acceptable TVOC levels for homes and current chemicals that should be tested. Currently, some European communities think TVOC levels should be as low as 300 nanograms per liter; if you’re purchasing fragranced products, you may reach your total VOC limit for the day before you even step out of the shower.
Caroline Blazovsky is nationally recognized as America’s Healthy Home Expert. She is a home investigator and media personality promoting healthier homes throughout the U.S. She has been featured in AARP, Shape, SiriusXM, House Smarts TV, The Jenny McCarthy Show, Reader’s Digest and many podcasts, radio and print interviews. With more than 19 years of experience, she is a council-certified Mold Remediator and Indoor Environmentalist Investigator with graduate Sustainable Design certification from Boston Architectural College. She’s also credentialed through the National Environmental Health Association as a Healthy Homes Specialist. Caroline is a board member of the ACAC, as well as a founding member and scientific contributor to the national IAQA Public Education Committee. She resides as CEO of My Healthy Home, a company specializing in indoor air quality products, consultations and services. In her spare time, she is a graduate candidate in Public Health at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Her focus is working with physicians, homeowners, other building professionals and the public to improve wellness through home environments.
Consider improving wellness and consult with her on testing for contaminants in the home, reducing allergens and chemicals, improving indoor air and water quality, mold and using environmentally friendly building materials and products. For more information or for a consultation, call 866-743-8563 or visit MyHealthyHome.info or HealthyHomeExpert.com or follow at Facebook.com/myhealthyhome, Twitter.com/healthyhomeexp, Instagram.com/HealthyHomeExpert or YouTube.com/channel/UCekGSWthDRgp4c_03MJ4cxA. See ad, page 17.