Many people are unaware of how their home can directly affect their health and well-being. The toxic home affects us mentally, physically and emotionally.
“Thousands of people spend hours dieting, exercising and having various health-giving treatments, but few people take the time to consider that their efforts will be in vain if they live or work in an unhealthy environment. A greener approach to design can make a positive contribution to create healthier spaces that enhance wellbeing and productivity.”
Read our Toxic Home to Healthy Home tips to help you create your own healthy home.
Toxic Home to Healthy Home Tips
Paint has a huge impact on the environment, most paints are products of the petrochemical industry, and damage the environment. It takes a lot of energy to retrieve and refine petrochemical ingredients while creating waste and pollution hazards.
Vapours and fumes are released into the atmosphere and react with nitrogen oxide contributing to atmospheric pollution especially smog. Both atmospheric pollution and solvents create many health conditions such as asthma and some skin conditions.
Traditional gloss paints are based on solvent systems and usually contain around 50 per cent volatile solvent, so in use, a half of each tin of gloss paint goes into the atmosphere.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
(VOCs) Volatile organic compounds are organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at ordinary room temperature. VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids.
Many household products contain VOCs: Paints, strippers and other solvents, wood preservatives, cleansers and disinfectants, building materials and furnishings, synthetic carpets, curtains and furniture, plastics, polyurethane foam, including foam carpet underlay.
Exposure to these pollutants can cause adverse health effects. Short-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, drowsiness, nausea, and eye and respiratory irritation. These effects usually go away after the exposure stops.
There have been four substantial review articles addressing the association between higher concentrations of VOCs in indoor air with allergies, asthma, and related adverse respiratory health symptoms. Three out of four reviews find significant evidence of linkages between some VOCs and these health effects.
Dust mites may be the most common trigger of year-round allergies and asthma, both the body parts and the waste of dust mites are allergens for many people. The home and in particular the bedroom is the perfect environment for dust mites to breed.
Feeding mainly on tiny flakes of human skin that people shed each day. These flakes work their way deep into the inner layers of furniture, carpets, bedding, blankets and even stuffed toys. To help prevent allergic reactions, dust and vacuum your home regularly, wash bedding, and use allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers.
Carpets & Underlay
There is a common misconception that carpets emit high amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) into the environment. The Rug and Carpet Institute state that new carpet tested for the Green Label Programme is the lowest VOC-emitting flooring choices available.
Acting as a passive air filter, trapping dust, pollen and other particles and removing them from the breathing zone. Studies have shown that people with asthma and allergy problems have seen symptoms improve with Green Label Program tested carpet.
When buying a carpet, underlay and adhesives look for the Green Label Plus accreditation as they set higher standards for IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) which ensures that customers are purchasing the very lowest emitting products on the market. It is also an essential factor to keep carpets vacuumed and cleaned on a regular basis.
Second-hand smoke from cigarettes, roll-ups, pipes or cigar is a lethal cocktail of more than 4,000 irritants and cancer-causing substances that create a toxic home. Opening windows and doors or smoking in another room in the house doesn't protect people.
Smoke can linger in the air for two to three hours after you've finished a cigarette, even with a window open. Passive smoking is especially harmful to children as they have less well-developed airways, lungs and immune systems and are more likely to develop asthma, chest infections and coughs and colds. To help protect children from second-hand smoke, do not smoke or allow others to smoke inside your home or car.
Fireplace & Woodstove
Combustion products such as woodstoves, fireplaces and gas stoves release pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere creating a toxic home. Combustion gases and particles also come from chimneys and flues. Pollutants from fireplaces and woodstoves with no outdoor air supply can be "back-drafted" from the chimney into the living space.
Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and disorientation. Nitrogen dioxide is an odour gas that irritates the mucous membranes in the eye, nose and throat and causes shortness of breath after exposure to high concentrations.
Pet dander & Hair
Cat and dog dander (dead skin cells) is a leading allergen that can trigger allergy and asthma attacks. Pet hair and dander collect on furniture and other surfaces. The allergens will not lose their strength for a long time. Sometimes the allergens may remain at high levels for several months and cling to walls, furniture, clothing and other surfaces.
It is advisable to keep pets out of the sleeping areas, and away from upholstered furniture, carpets and soft furnishings. Vacuum and clean carpets, rugs and furniture often. Adding an air cleaner combined with a HEPA filter to central heating and air conditioning can help remove pet allergens from the air.
Heating | Ventilation | Air-Conditioning (HVAC)
The purposes of a Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems are to help maintain good indoor air quality through adequate ventilation. In some parts of the country, natural ventilation through operable windows can be a useful and energy-efficient way to supplement HVAC systems.
Windows that open and close can enhance occupants' sense of well-being and feeling of control over their environment. Also providing supplemental exhaust ventilation during renovation activities that may introduce pollutants into a room. IAQ, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, systems, part indoor air quality design tools: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Lighting our homes and workplaces is of great importance if we are to maintain a healthy and happy life. Light has different qualities depending on the weather, season, time of day and location. It can be direct, reflected or diffused, and the brightness and quality of the light will create different moods and atmosphere.
We can reproduce these different types of sunlight artificially in the home so that lighting will have a substantial effect on our interaction with each room in our house. Direct light is needed when we have to do a task which requires precision and concentration. Reading, writing, drawing or sewing are all activities that require bright, concentrated light.
Moulds are usually found growing on wood, drywall, plaster, upholstery, fabric, wallpaper, drapery, ceiling tiles, and carpeting. Moisture is the main problem as moulds and fungi need it to grow. Kitchens and bathrooms are a breeding ground for mould.
Potential health problems can arise if mould spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Mould can cause allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory ailments. Also, mould exposure can irritate the eyes, throat, nose, skin and lungs.
In Europe, an estimated 10–50% of the indoor environments where people live, work and play are damp. Humid walls create a coldness that makes more heating necessary and increases energy bills. Opening windows and using a ventilation fan will help to control moisture and inhibit mould growth.
Cleaning products impact our environment from chemicals used to the packaging they come in. Although all detergents are biodegradable, some take years to degrade, and some may not break down at all.
Some detergents can cause health effects: eye, skin and respiratory irritation as well as asthma and other allergic reactions.
Firstly use green cleaning products that are non-toxic, VOC free and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, you can find recipes online to create homemade cleaners. Store household products that contain chemicals according to manufacturers’ instructions and keep all products away from children.
Refrigerators and freezers manufactured before 1995 typically contain (CFC) refrigerant. CFCs are ozone-depleting substances if released into the environment destroy the ozone layer. CFC refrigerants are also potent greenhouse gases which contribute to global climate change.
The refrigerators manufactured before 1995 use two to three times as much energy as the current models, the fridge may account for as much as one-fifth of your annual electricity costs.
Heating & Cooking
The British medical journal, The Lancet, reported in 1996 that the use of domestic gas appliances, particularly gas stoves, was linked to increased asthma, respiratory illness, and impaired lung function, especially in young women. Women using gas stoves had double the respiratory problems of women cooking on electric stoves.
The same study showed that using extractor fans which vented the cooking fumes outside did not reduce adverse effects of the gas. Gas cookers and heaters produce large amounts of carbon monoxide which can be lethal. They also emit other harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and sulphur dioxide. Above all cookers need to be routinely serviced, and extractor fan filters regularly changed.
Poisonous fumes such as carbon monoxide from oil tanks and exhausts, VOCs and toxins released from products stored in the garage can leak through gaps in the house creating a toxic home. Ideally, garages should be separate from the main house but if you live in a home with an integral garage make sure it is well ventilated.
Pollutants kept in the garage such as paint and thinners can still release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) even while adequately stored. Always keep the garage ventilated when using chemicals. Alternatively, purchase products that are VOC free or low VOC.
Radon is a chemically inert, naturally occurring, radioactive gas; it has no smell, colour, or taste. Produced from the natural radioactive decay of uranium found in rocks and soil.
Gas escapes from rocks and soils into the air and tends to concentrate in enclosed spaces, such as underground mines, houses, and other buildings.
Soil gas infiltration is the most critical source of residential radon. Other sources of radon include building materials and water extracted from wells but are of less importance. Exposure to radon in the home and workplace is one of the main risks of ionising radiation causing tens of thousands of deaths from lung cancer each year globally. WHO (World Health Organisation)
You can’t see or smell radon. Testing is the only way to know your level of exposure; radon can have a significant impact on Indoor Air Quality. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
Chemical pesticides are used to destroy living things such as plants, insects, rodents, termites, and fungi. Pesticides are a problem when used indoors; they are toxic and stay airborne long after application.
Exposure to pesticides may result in Irritation to eye, nose and throat, damage to central nervous system and kidney and increased risk of cancer. Symptoms may include a headache, dizziness, muscular weakness and nausea. Don’t leave food out, and if you must use pesticides, ventilate during and after use and follow directions to limit exposure. Use non-chemical methods of pest control when possible.