PATH - A Public Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology
Your home is your refuge from the world. A refuge should never make you sick. With a few precautions, you can help ensure yours never will.
First, the bad news: The air you breathe in your home can worsen asthma and allergy symptoms. Dust, mold, pet dander, pests, cold air, dry heat: all of these things are found in greater concentrations inside your house than out. Other contaminates in the house, such as carbon monoxide, radon, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can also contribute to a toxic air-soup.
The good news: A well-designed home can all but eliminate these sources of indoor pollution. Even better, the principles(pdf) for a healthy home are universal, and can be applied to new homes, renovations, and routine maintenance.
Healthy Homes Are:
Dry: Dampness caused by standing water or high levels of humidity allows the growth of mold, mildew, pests and dust mites. All of these can trigger asthma attacks and cause other illnesses. Keep humidity levels at least below 60%, but note that mold can grow at levels greater than 50%.
Clean: Dust can exacerbate asthma, as well as provide food for mold, dust mites, and insects. Clutter around the house contributes to increased levels of dust.
Well ventilated: Proper ventilation can filter pollutants out of the air, control humidity, and bring fresh air into the home.
Combustion by-product free: Combustion equipment such as gas furnaces, water heaters and fireplaces should be properly ventilated to the outdoors. Air from garages should also not be allowed to enter a home. By-products such as carbon monoxide, sulfer oxides, nitrogen oxides and soot are very unhealthy to breathe, even in relatively small doses. Be sure there are carbon monoxide detectors in your house. You also should never smoke in the homes, especially if there are small children around.
Pest free: Many people are allergic to pests and their droppings. But pesticides are also unhealthy, so it is best to keep the pests away by eliminating their water and food sources.
Toxic chemical free: Many things found around the house can contain high levels of toxic chemicals. Select products with low- or no-VOCs. Traditional products with high levels of VOCs can be found in no- and low-VOC varieties, such as paints, finishes, and carpets. Also, practice "green cleaning" by using non-toxic cleaning products. The fumes from most chemical cleaning products are unhealthy to breathe, and it's unsafe for children to be in a house with hazardous household products. Homes should also be free from asbestos and lead.
Comfortable: Excessive heat or cold is unhealthy, as are extremely moist or dry humidity levels.
Safe: The leading cause of death in homes includes falls, drowning, fires, poisoning, suffocation, choking, and guns. Very young children and the elderly are most likely to be harmed in a home. Be sure that you have taken the necessary precautions. Also, if your drinking water comes from a well, you should have it tested once a year to make sure it is safe and healthy.
Radon-free: Radon comes from the soil and can affect any home anywhere, with deadly results. Make sure to annually test your home, especially if you have a basement. When constructing a new home, make sure to install a radon vent.
For more information:
Center for Healthy Housing's Recommendations for Healthy Housing (pdf)
EPA's Indoor Air Quality in Homes
EPA's Mold Guide
HUD's Help Yourself to a Healthy Home
Home Safety Council's Home Safety Checklist
Electrical Safety Foundation's Indoor Electrical Safety Checklist
Content updated on 11/18/2005
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