Healthier Home = Healthier Household

Healthier Home = Healthier Household

How your choices affect the cost of your new home.

With all four children plus mom suffering from asthma and allergies, Paul and Cindy opted to invest $3,000 in a high-performance air filter and air purification system when building their new home. They feel it was the best choice they made, particularly when it cut their family’s dependence on maintenance and rescue medications in half! We rarely appreciate feeling good and take our health for granted. Learning about some of the healthy choices to consider is the first step to making the best new home investment decision.

Indoor Air Quality is becoming an increasingly important aspect of new homes. Today’s tighter homes can potentially trap airborne pollutants, from annoying odors to molds, pollen, and bacteria. An estimated half of illnesses are directly related to or aggravated by the air we breathe. These same pollutants can trigger adverse reactions in the 40% of U.S. households having one or more members suffering from asthma, allergies, or another respiratory ailment. Some of today’s building materials and furnishings can release chemicals bothersome to sensitive individuals, or harbor indoor air pollutants. Wise product choices can greatly reduce indoor air quality problems.

Eliminate Sources of Air Pollution. The first step is to improving air quality is to eliminate sources of possible indoor air pollution, removing paints, cleaning chemicals, gasoline, pesticides, etc., from inside the home. If they will be kept in an attached garage, you will want to ensure the garage is air-sealed from the walls/ceiling of adjoining living spaces in the home.  

Bed Covers. Bedding can be a significant source of allergens. Dust mite allergy is the most common allergy, and there are two million dust mites in the average double bed! Many doctors recommend a mite-proof box spring and mattress and pillow encasings. 

Radon. According to the U.S. EPA, radon, a naturally occurring, invisible, odorless gas causes an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. It is a radioactive gas that is produced from the breakdown of uranium in the ground and leaks into the home through the foundation. The EPA has developed a nationwide, county-by-county map indicating potential radon levels broken into levels 1 (most serious), 2, and 3. (See map at right.) Adding radon-resistant construction features typically add $350 to $1,000 to the cost of building a new home (Source: EPA).

Radon Zone Mape

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Air Filtration. Filtering the air you breathe is the second step for improving indoor air quality. Air filter effectiveness is expressed by its MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) Rating, which describes the filtering effectiveness of increasingly smaller particles. MERV ratings range from 1 to 20, with higher numbers doing a better job of filtering more (and smaller) particulates in the air. Traditional furnace air filters are designed to protect the furnace—not people. Typical ‘disposable’ one-inch fiberglass filters have a MERV rating of between 1 and 4. One- to two-inch pleated filters with MERV ratings between 7 and 12 will remove most harmful contaminants (e.g., mold, dust). Yes, you won’t have to dust as often! Larger pleated filters with MERV ratings of 13 and higher can capture bacteria, smoke, and some viruses. But higher MERV ratings are not always good. Because they are so effective at filtration, they actually restrict airflow, causing furnaces and air conditioners to have to work harder and operate for longer periods of time to achieve comfortable temperatures. Filters with MERV 13+ ratings should be used only when the HVAC system has been designed for such high filtration.

Air Purification. Air purifiers, the third step in improving air quality, destroy bio-aerosols. Most models employ ultraviolet (UV) light(s) around which air passes prior to being circulated through the ductwork. Bio-aerosols, mold, viruses, and other live organisms in the air exposed to UV light for a long enough period of time are destroyed. Installations wherein the UV light is adjacent to the air filter may work best, where the UV light can kill living organisms trapped in the filter.

MicroPure Air Purifier

MicroPure®: MX4™ Ionic Oxidation utilizes propriety metallic technology and UV light energy to naturally produce ionic air scrubbers and destroy many indoor pollutants, such as bacteria, viruses, mold, VOC's, mildew, allergens, and odors.

(Photo courtesy of Dust Free)

Wise Product Choices can help minimize potential problems.

  • Enamel-coated wire closet shelving is highly preferable to particleboard shelving. Particleboard can off-gas chemicals and block air currents moving in the closet. With wire shelving, there is no outgassing and air moves between clothes hanging in the closet, helping them stay fresher, longer.
  • Factory prefinished wood floors give off little or no VOCs—a problem that can continue for up to 6 months after finishing traditional wood floors on site.
  • Low-VOC or no-VOC paints and adhesives.
  • Use a mildew-resistant paint in the basement.
    (Photos courtesy of Sherwin-Williams; click on the image to enlarge.)
  • Frameless shower doors are not only elegant, but easier to clean and keep clean because they eliminate the frame and its glass seal where contaminates can breed.


Sherwin-Williams Harmony Paint
  • Energy-efficient sealed, outside air combustion natural gas fireplaces, furnaces, and water heaters utilize a special vent pipe to bring outside air into the combustion chamber to feed the fire, and all products of combustion are exhausted out of the house instead of potentially spilling (‘backdrafting’) into the home. An illustration may be helpful. Let’s assume you build a fairly tight home. With the clothes dryer, bathroom exhaust fans, or kitchen range hoods running, you are likely exhausting more air from the home than can naturally leak in, causing the home to depressurize. Traditionally vented gas appliances cannot vent the products of combustion outside if the home is depressurized.
  • Touchless faucets and toilets help minimize the spread of germs. (Photos courtesy of American Standard and Delta Faucet; click on image to enlarge.)
  • A seamless integral sink formed of the same material as the countertop eliminates the seam or rim, which is an area that’s often hard to clean and where mold and bacteria can grow.
American Standard Toilet, Delta Faucet

Fresh Air Exchangers. A fresh air exchanger expels potentially stale, polluted indoor air and brings in fresh outdoor air at a controlled rate. Some models incorporate a high-performance air filter, filtering out any contaminants and allergens in the outside air before it is circulated through your home.

Lighting. Most of us underestimate the importance of natural light. Windows not only connect us to the world around us, they are very important for health. The number of windows, their sizes and placement, open design concepts, transom windows between living spaces with walls, and even lighter interior colors all increase light levels in the home, known to reduce eyestrain, headaches, and fatigue. According to lighting pioneer Dr. John Ott, the UV rays in natural light actually help our bodies absorb calcium and reduce cholesterol.

Water Purification. “Although the U.S. has one of the safest drinking water systems in the world, there are an estimated 4-32 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) per year from public drinking water systems,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). When looking to purchase water filters, look for those that have been certified by the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency.

Most people rely on the water filtration that comes with their refrigerators. Such filters are typically rated for about 300 gallons, or six months of use, and will set you back $80 to $100 per year for replacement filters. Water filtration systems that attach to the end of your kitchen faucet run around $30 but are typically rated for only 100 gallons before the (approximately $10) filters need to be replaced. For larger households and/or filtered water for cooking, consider under sink water filtration systems that can provide 50 to 100 gallons of filtered water per day for $200 to $300 and expect to spend another $50 or so per year in replacement filters. Whole house systems provide filtered water for all of your needs – drinking, cooking, bathing, and laundry. Often rated 5 to 10 years and from 500,000 to 1,000,000 gallons, such systems are priced between $800 and $1,500, plus you’ll want it installed by a plumber.

Quiet. Due to their superior insulation and air sealing, much of the unwanted clatter that goes on outside cannot be heard inside energy-efficient homes. Few things in life are as important to our health as a good night’s sleep. Having a home free from outside noise not only betters our chances for rest, but the quiet promotes concentration, reduces irritability, and has been shown to have a positive impact on our mental health. Inside our homes, quiet appliances, bath fans, and furnaces reduce ambient noise.  Solid core doors, and various soundproofing measures can be taken during construction to minimize noise transfer from one area to another.

Healthy home product choices typically aren’t as exciting as kitchen and bathroom selections, yet nothing is more important than the health of everyone in our households. As a nation, we spend the majority of our time indoors, so building a healthy home just makes sense. Next time we look at choices for building stronger/safer homes – yet another definition of a high-performance home.

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(Product spotlights are for informational purposes only.)

Cover image courtesy of VELUX.

Your Home Puts on About 40 Pounds per Year

Your Home Puts on About 40 Pounds per Year

Forty pounds of dust, that is! Now, there’s nothing you can do to completely eliminate dust as clothing fibers, pet dander, dead skin cells, and items we track in from outdoors add to the problem daily. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), dust bunnies aren’t just unsightly and sometimes allergenic; they contain toxic chemicals. Why? First, products inside your house “shed” chemicals over time — furniture, electronics, shoes, plastics, fabrics, and food, among other things. And, outdoor pollutants enter on your shoes and through open and cracked windows and doors. The good news is it’s pretty easy to keep those dust bunnies at bay and reduce your family’s toxic exposures, too.

Couple on sofaThe EWG offers the following tips to safely and effectively remove toxic dust from your home:

  • Vacuum frequently and use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. These vacuums are more efficient at trapping small particles and will likely remove contaminants and other allergens from your home that a regular vacuum would recirculate into the air. Change the filter to keep it working well, and don’t forget to vacuum the stuffed furniture (get under those couch cushions!).
  • Wet mop uncarpeted floors frequently to prevent dust from accumulating (dry mopping can kick up dust that simply resettles). Buy wooden furniture or furniture filled with down, wool, polyester, or cotton as these are unlikely to contain added fire-retardant chemicals.
  • Wipe furniture with a wet or microfiber cloth. Microfiber cloths work well because their smaller fibers cling to the particles. If you don’t have a microfiber cloth, wet a cotton cloth — it grabs and holds the dust better than a dry one. Skip synthetic sprays and wipes when you dust, they only add unwanted chemicals.
  • Caulk and seal cracks and crevices to prevent dust from accumulating in hard-to-reach places.
  • Equip your forced-air heating or cooling system with high-quality filters and change them frequently to keep them working well.
  • Keep electronic equipment dust-free by damp dusting it frequently; this is a common source of chemical fire retardants in dust.
  • Pay special attention to places where little kids crawl, sit, and play. They live closest to our floors and as a result tend to be more exposed to those toxic dust bunnies.
  • If you’re dust sensitive, consider asking someone else to do the dusty cleaning.
Often Overlooked Areas

Hoover ONEPWR - Multi-use

Photo courtesy of Hoover ONEPWR

Don’t forget these often-overlooked areas where dust can, and will, hide! Since closets are mainly used as storage spaces, we don’t always think about how much dust can accumulate inside. Luckily, closets can be designed to be easy to clean. Dust settles on solid (e.g., wood or laminate) shelving, whereas air currents move through ventilated wire shelving. Reality is, most of us don’t move stuff on closet floors when vacuuming so dust easily accumulates there. Installing shelving that keeps items off the floors, such as shoe racks, makes cleaning both easier and more efficient. And carpeting traps dust. Hardwood, tile, and vinyl flooring products are wise choices for healthier closets.

Blinds are a popular choice for window coverings, but faux wood or aluminum are easiest to clean because of their smooth surface. Textured blinds collect more dust and are harder to clean. Curtains can be more colorful and more personalized window fashions, but look for curtains that you can throw in the washing machine/dryer or at least regularly vacuum the fabric.

Ceiling fans are a nice addition to many rooms in the home, adding an aesthetic as well as a cooling and heating element to a room. But dusting those fans, particularly the fans reached via a ladder, is no joy. Using a microfiber or damp cloth, as mentioned above, is a good way to remove dust without it falling onto the floor or furniture. Also, there are several ceiling fan brands on the market that have dust-reduction features.

During construction or major remodel of your home, a tremendous amount of drywall dust and other debris can find its way into your vents and ductwork. While it may be possible to cover the vents (or raw openings) during construction, you may want to schedule air duct cleaning immediately before or after you move in—especially if anyone in your household has to deal with respiratory ailments such as asthma or dust allergies.

There are also a few things you can do every day to help keep added dust out of your home: 

  • Leave shoes at the door–the less you track into your home, the better
  • Keep windows closed when the wind is kicking up dust outside (this is also helpful if you have pollen allergies)
  • Wipe down pets when they come inside–a quick swipe with a towel over their fur removes surface dust and pollen.

For more information about Healthy Home Tips, visit the EWG website.

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