Improve Your Health and Your Home
(ARA) - Improvement projects and maintenance activities are part of a homeowner’s everyday life. Whether it is a kitchen remodel, a quick application of paint or the installation of new carpet, home improvement tasks primarily focus on aesthetics. Few of us stop to think about the effects sprucing up the house may have on our health, and why would we?
It may surprise you to learn that many home repair and remodeling materials can contain hazardous ingredients. That beautiful new paint or carpet may contain chemicals that have the potential to make you and your family ill. However, by knowing what these chemicals are and how to avoid them, you might be able to improve your health while improving your home.
“Potentially harmful chemicals often times come in the form of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds,” says Dr. Kelly Reynolds, an environmental science researcher and public health educator at the University of Arizona. “VOCs are a class of carbon-based chemicals that can be found in the water and air. They rapidly evaporate, and when airborne, combine with one another to create new chemical compounds that have the potential to cause a number of health issues.”
According to The American Lung Association, VOCs can cause respiratory, skin and eye irritations; headaches; nausea and even muscle weakness. That’s important to remember when you consider that most Americans spend at least 80 percent of their time indoors and that VOCs are typically ten times higher indoors than outdoors. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when VOCs are ingested, as via drinking water, they can cause problems with the liver, kidneys and nervous and reproductive systems, as well as increase your risk of cancer.
It’s important during a home improvement project to ensure you don’t introduce harmful chemicals that can be found in paint, flooring and particleboard, and to know how to eliminate them from your air and water.
When you paint, indoor VOCs can increase even more dramatically. In order to avoid this, when shopping for paint, avoid alkyd, oil-based paint. Instead, look for latex, water-based paints marked “low-VOC.” Currently, more than 25 brands of low-VOC paints are on the market, and most of the major paint manufacturers, including Pratt & Lambert, Benjamin Moore and Glidden have product lines that are “zero-VOC” or “low-VOC.” They cost the same as their conventional counterparts and are just as durable.
Carpet is not necessarily the best choice, health-wise, when it comes to flooring. Wall-to-wall carpeting can harbor dust, dirt, bacteria and mold. And some types of carpet can also emit VOCs and other toxic chemicals. Consider alternatives to carpet such as wood flooring, bamboo, natural linoleum, tile, cork and concrete. Also, try using area rugs. They can create the same “homey” feeling that carpet does, but are much easier to air out and clean.
Used in cabinetry, shelving, countertops, doors and even furniture, particleboard is one of the staples of home construction and renovation. What can make it unhealthy is the addition of urea formaldehyde resins, a type of harmful VOC. Most types of interior-grade plywood contain urea formaldehyde; however, exterior-grade plywood contains a far less toxic substance. You can easily substitute exterior-grade plywood for interior-grade when completing indoor projects. Or, you can purchase particleboard and fiberboard that doesn’t contain urea formaldehyde.
Beyond VOCs found in some products, the build up of fungi, mold and bacteria can also negatively affect indoor air quality. Once mildew appears, spores may be easily aerosolized throughout the house, and can be inhaled. For those who are allergic, inhaling even a small amount can cause headaches, irritation of the eyes and nose, sneezing, skin rash and nausea. Over time, exposure to fungi may cause increasing sensitivity in some individuals. To prevent such irritation, make sure you have adequate ventilation in all rooms. Home air purifiers can be helpful, but won’t remove all of the pollutants typically found in a home. Rooms that are prone to moisture, including baths, kitchens and laundry areas, should have ventilation fans. Installing a whole-house fan is a great way to increase ventilation throughout. Whatever measures you take, always ensure your heating, ventilation and cooling systems are routinely maintained.
When remodeling the kitchen, many people’s thoughts on water end with investing in a new, decorative faucet. But water can also be a conduit of harmful contaminants. An estimated seven million people become sick each year in the United States from disease-causing microbes in water. Consider installing a water treatment system that can remove VOCs, as well as bacteria, viruses and cysts. One of the most comprehensive filtration systems available is the Pall/Kinetico Purefecta Drinking Water Purifier. It’s the only system certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to remove bacteria, viruses and protozoa from water.
Remember, although we all want our homes to look good, make sure those home improvement projects will also keep you and your family feeling good, too!
Courtesy of ARA Content
EDITORS’ NOTE: Dr. Kelly A. Reynolds is an environmental science researcher and public health educator at the University of Arizona, with a concentration in microbial water quality, food safety and pathogen transmission. A leading educator, Dr. Reynolds is equally well known as a lecturer and for her published work in scientific journals. She has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals including Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Water Science and Technology, and the Canadian Journal of Microbiology. She also authors a monthly column on water quality issues in Water Conditioning and Purification International.
Kinetico Incorporated, headquartered in Newbury, Ohio, is a leading manufacturer of water treatment systems. An extensive network of Kinetico dealers serving residential and light commercial customers has helped more than a million people in nearly 100 countries experience the benefits of better water.