Here are some commonsense steps to protecting air quality in your home. These tips were originally published in Good Green Homes.
Adhesives, paints and sealers. Use solvent-free adhesives and water-based, low- or zero-VOC, formaldehyde-free interior paints and sealers. VOCs pollute the air inside your home (they also contribute to the formation of smog outside). If you’ve ever noticed that “new paint” smell in a home, you’re breathing chemicals offgassing from the paint.
Flooring. Consider smooth flooring surfaces instead of carpet. Hardwood, concrete, bamboo, and tile floors are easier to keep free of contaminants such as dust mites and pet dander than carpeted surfaces.
Formaldehyde in furnishings and building products. An array of home furnishings and building products contain formaldehyde, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers to be a probable human carcinogen. With some products, the formaldehyde will continue to offgas long after you bring the product home. Pressed-wood products such as particleboard, medium density fiberboard and plywood—often used for furniture, cabinets, countertop substrates and shelves—typically contain a urea-formaldehyde binder. Purchase formaldehyde-free alternatives, solid-wood products, or products with phenol-formaldehyde binders that offgas at a much lower level than urea-formaldehyde binders. [For more about formaldehyde and indoor air quality, see this post. –JR]
Garages. Garages that are detached from the home promote better indoor air quality. With attached garages, car exhaust fumes can enter the home through gaps around doors or cracks in the ceilings and walls. If you do have an attached garage, make sure that the door from the garage into your house seals tightly; if it doesn’t, install weather stripping to improve the seal. A more expensive solution is to install an exhaust fan in the garage that will automatically run for a while after the garage door has been opened or closed.
Household cleaners. Use nontoxic household cleaners. If you’re using harsh cleaners, such as bleach, ammonia-based products, or drain cleaners, read and follow the precautions on the label. If in doubt about a product’s safety, don’t use it.
Mold and mildew. Don’t invite mold and mildew into your home. Keep the roof, siding, and windows in good repair so that moisture doesn’t get inside roof and wall cavities. Attend to plumbing leaks immediately. If you live in a very humid climate, you may need an air conditioner or a dehumidification system to reduce humidity levels. If you’re remodeling or building a new home, make sure your architect and builder pay careful attention to moisture-related design and construction details—you want to prevent as much moisture penetration as possible, and provide avenues for any trapped moisture to escape.
Smoke. Don’t allow smoking in your home. Also, think twice about having a wood-burning fire in your home because of the indoor and outdoor air pollution associated with wood smoke. If you want a fireplace, a sealed-combustion gas fireplace is a healthier option.
Ventilation fans. Use your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans. They draw out stale air, but more importantly they draw out moisture (mold thrives on moisture). Make sure your range hood vents to the outside, particularly if you have a gas stove—you want to get smoke, combustion byproducts and steam out of your house.
Wallcoverings. Some wallcoverings, such as vinyl wallpaper, may trap moisture, creating conditions for mold to grow on wallboard. Instead of wallpaper, consider using a zero-VOC paint or a natural plaster finish on your walls.
© Jennifer Roberts.
Originally published in Good Green Homes.