5 Worst Threats to a Healthy Home
There are several potentially dangerous issues that can make a big impact on the health of your home, and ultimately that of your family. Here are some of the biggest threats you need to know about.
Outwardly, water intrusion can be detected by water stains that grow larger over time, beads of water or puddles on hard surfaces, musty odors, or carpet that always feels damp. When found, be sure to address the issue as soon as possible — within 24 hours is best to prevent mold and any worsening of the situation.
Start by cleaning and drying carpets and building materials, and replacing any waterlogged items to eliminate the risk of mold. Professionals will be able to inspect the problem area for damaged siding and shingles, leaky pipes, and other potential moisture issues.
What exactly are biological contaminants? The EPA classifies bacteria, molds, viruses, mildew, cat saliva, animal dander, house dust, cockroaches, mites and pollen as biological contaminants. When it comes to eliminating or keeping these contaminants to a minimum, the best thing you can do is make sure your home has adequate ventilation. Excessive moisture creates the perfect breeding ground for these contaminants. Therefore, it’s important to keep your home’s relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent.
In addition, regular maintenance and house cleaning go a long way in limiting exposure. For instance, prioritize changing your home’s heating and cooling filters and make sure these systems are clean and in top shape. They are a huge factor in breeding and spreading contaminants throughout the home.
If these steps don’t go far enough for you, consider an indoor air-cleaner to help an especially problematic area, like the basement. Basement drains are particularly problematic and the EPA recommends that they be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Also, homeowners should not finish a basement unless all moisture issues are addressed first.
It is estimated that as high as 70 percent of homes contain mold behind the walls. This is a huge issue since some molds have the potential to cause health problems, most commonly allergies and asthma.
To rid your home of mold, scrub surfaces with detergent, preferably a water-based, VOC-free product. Replace any affected porous materials (like carpet or ceiling tile) with mold-resistant or non-porous alternatives. Consider hiring a professional for mold damage that covers more than 10 square feet.
What’s most important when it comes to mold is to solve the underlying issue. While mold is problematic, it’s merely a symptom of an underlying moisture problem. So, to truly get rid of mold, you must address the water intrusion, leaky pipes, and high humidity, or else the mold will come back.
Just a few simple changes can eliminate a large percentage of dust contaminants in the home:
- Declutter your home
- Reduce paper
- Take the smoking outside
- Regularly clean or change furnace and air conditioner filters
Another major solution is to park those shoes at the door! About two-thirds of all dust contaminants make their way into the home from the outside on shoes. And last, regularly dust with a damp cloth, wipe down hard-surface floors with a damp mop, and clean carpets, furniture and curtains with a vacuum cleaner outfitted with a HEPA filter.
While many homeowners think they must have their home’s air ducts cleaned to cut down on dust, it’s probably not necessary unless the ducts are clogged with debris, have mold growing inside, or are infested with vermin.
The off-gassing of volatile organic compounds by thousands of household products (think paints, glues, cleaners, carpeting) can cause a host of health effects ranging from headache; eye, nose and throat irritation; nausea; liver, kidney and central nervous system damage; to even cancer.
While the EPA says that VOC levels run two to five times higher indoors than outdoors, during and directly after certain actions like painting, those levels can be as high as 1000 times outdoor levels.
Luckily, to reduce exposure, a lot can be done. For instance:
- Replace vinyl wall-coverings with ones made with new polymers and water-based inks and coatings. They should be designated “Cradle to Cradle Certified.”
- Use only non- or low-VOC paints, glues, epoxies, adhesives and building products, and make sure the space is well ventilated with fresh air. Be responsible with any leftovers and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way.
- If your dry cleaning comes back with a strong chemical odor (indicating a high concentration of the solvent PERC) refuse them until they have been dried properly.