Most Americans spend 80 to 90 percent of their time indoors, and indoor air is typically much more polluted than outdoor air.
That’s why the home environment is related to so many health effects, ranging from allergies and asthma triggered by dust mites, mold and pest residue to cancer or death from combustion pollutants or dangerous fumes.
The good news is that you can make your house a healthy home for your family by applying these seven principles of healthy homes.
1. Try to improve drainage, and make sure structural work is detailed with effective flashings and weather barriers to drain rain that that could seep under siding, roofing and into window frames.
Consider ways to manage moisture movement and humidity, prevent hidden condensation on cold surfaces and provide protection from plumbing leaks. Keeping your home dry prevents mold growth, and keeping humidity low controls dust mites. Consider installing an EnergyStar-rated dehumidifier to keep the indoor relative humidity below 50 percent.
2. Keep your house clean. Choose easy-to-clean surfaces such as smooth floorings and washable rugs. Eliminate hard-to-reach nooks and dust collectors. Add shoe cubbies and big commercial-style door mats at the family entry. Use a low-emission vacuum cleaner.
3. Keep it well-ventilated. Every home needs some fresh air to dilute pollutants generated in daily living. At a minimum, make sure you have effective exhaust fans in bathrooms and a kitchen hood that exhausts to the outdoors.
Choose quiet fans, and make sure ducts are installed properly according to manufacturer instructions – or you won’t get the airflow you paid for. For optimal air quality, seal your home airtight and install a filtered, fresh-air ventilation system that allows you to control the quantity and quality of ventilation.
4. Keep it safe. Go on a home hazard hunt like a detective. Correct slippery floors, install sturdy handrails, add decorative grab bars and increase lighting to reduce slip-and-fall hazards.
Add ground-fault circuit-interrupters to electric circuits in wet areas. Install fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. Childproof with storage locks, rounded corners, second-story window and stair gates and cordless blinds. Install high-security deadbolts, peep holes, exterior motion lights and safety glass.
5. Keep the home free of contaminants. If your home was built before 1978, assume it may have lead-based paint, and make sure workers use lead-safe work practices that don’t create or leave lead dust.
Consider storm-, flood- and mold-resistant materials and structural assemblies. Provide ample venting of all combustion appliances. Better still are “direct-vent” furnaces, fireplaces and water heaters that don’t use your indoor air to feed the flame. Seal the doors and walls between your garage and living space.
6. Keep it pest-free. Learn about “integrated pest management” to control pests with as little toxic chemical as possible. Seal all holes and gaps, give pests no place to nest and hide, reduce the availability of food and water and use low-toxic pesticides like borate treatments and traps.
7. Keep it well-maintained. Choose durable, low-maintenance materials that will hold up well in our warm, humid climate. Ensure that foundations are designed for the soil conditions. Consider high-wind roofing, tear-resistant roof underlayments and window protections.