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Tips for Creating a Healthy Home Environment

Tips for Creating a Healthy Home Environment

Written by Jonathan Bailor, CEO SANESolution & Reviewed by Dr. Matthew Olesiak, MD Chief Medical Director, SANESolution

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When we want to boost our health, we typically focus on improving our dietary and exercise habits. While this is a great strategy, creating a healthy home environment is equally important. After all, we spend a great deal of time at home without realizing just how unhealthy its environment may be.

What is a Healthy Home Environment?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a healthy home “is designed, built, and maintained to support our health.” (1)

Sadly, that is not true of many homes, and though you might be unaware of their dangers, they could be taking a toll on your health.

House dust, pet dander, and mold are obvious sources of allergies and other health issues. But even if you keep your home spotlessly clean, there may still be hidden dangers.

Of all the homes in America, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that: (2)

  • 1 in 16 have high radon levels
  • 1 in 10 have water leaks. (This can lead to mold growth.)
  • 1 in 4 have lead-based paint

 

These hidden hazards can lead to multiple health conditions and diseases.

8 Common Environmental Health Issues in the Home and What You Can Do About It

Here are a few issues that may keep you from having a healthy home.

Lead Paint

Lead-based paint is toxic and can cause lead poisoning. Although the government banned lead in residential paints in 1978, an estimated 38 million housing units in the U.S. built before that year still contain some lead-based paint. That’s a whopping 40% of all single-family homes, manufactured housing, and apartments. (3)

Lead paint isn’t a problem as long as it stays on the walls, railings, etc. But paint doesn’t always stay put forever. It can poison children if they chew on paint chips or surfaces coated with lead-based paint, i.e., window sills. In addition, rubbing, sanding, or scraping occurring during home repair or cleaning projects can create lead dust that, if breathed in, can damage health.

In addition to paint, lead exposure can occur from contaminated soil, drinking water from corroded household plumbing fixtures, or through one’s occupation.

Before lead poisoning occurs, the body slowly absorbs it for months or years. Unfortunately, symptoms like headache, abdominal pain, and muscle/joint pain usually take a long time to develop. Children can reach that level more quickly than adults.

Preventing Lead Exposure

Here are a few ways to prevent lead exposure and poisoning.

  • Keep your home dust-free, especially if you suspect that there may be lead paint on the walls or other surfaces.
  • Clean up any paint chips you see. Please pick them up with your hands instead of trying to vacuum them up, as vacuuming can create lead dust.
  • Wash window sills, railings, and floors regularly.
  • Do not let children play around windows.
  • Wash your children’s hands and toys frequently.

 

Radon

Radon comes from the breakdown of radioactive elements like uranium and radium in rocks and soil. This decay process produces radon gas, which gradually rises through the ground until it reaches the surface. It can then enter houses and other buildings through cracks or holes in the foundation.

Though you can’t see or smell radon gas, it negatively affects indoor air quality and can increase your risk of lung cancer. In the U.S, radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking, (4) killing an estimated 21,000 annually. (5)

Unfortunately, radon exposure doesn’t produce symptoms right away. Instead, the resulting lung cancer shows up several years later.

Preventing Radon Poisoning

Since you cannot detect radon with your senses, the only way to know its presence is to test your home. You can purchase a DIY radon test kit, but you should hire a certified professional to test radon levels for the most accurate results.  

Here are a few tips for reducing radon levels in your home.

  • Open windows and use fans to circulate the air through your home. This is only a short-term fix, but it can reduce radon levels temporarily.
  • Seal cracks in floors and walls with materials suitable for this purpose. You may also want to call your state radon office for advice on making these repairs. Or, if you’d like to hire a professional to perform this job, they can also provide a list of qualified contractors in your area.
  • Quit smoking, as this has been shown to increase the risk of radon-induced lung cancer significantly.

Carbon Monoxide

Like radon, carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. It is produced when anything burns,  such as natural gas, kerosene, wood, etc. But unlike radon, it can quickly kill if levels are high enough.

In addition, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning — such as headache, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea — can mimic the flu making the real source easy to miss. Thus, carbon monoxide is considered a “silent killer” because it can reach toxic levels without anyone’s awareness.

The main culprits for carbon monoxide poisoning at home are unvented space heaters, a faulty gas or propane furnace, or warming up a vehicle in a closed garage.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Here are a few tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • The best protection is to purchase several carbon monoxide detectors and put at least one on each level of your house, including the basement. Put them on the wall near bedrooms so that you can hear the alarm if it goes off in the middle of the night.
  • Do not warm up a vehicle in a garage or other enclosed space, even if the door is open.
  • If you have a fuel-burning furnace, have it professionally inspected annually for carbon monoxide leaks.

Mold

Mold is a fungus that grows in moist environments. You’ll find it growing near leaks in pipes, windows, and roofs. It can also grow in your tub and on your shower curtain.

It’s not picky about the surface on which it grows, either. Most molds can grow on cardboard, paper products, and wood. They can also grow in carpet, dust, insulation, and upholstery. The only requirement is a warm, moist area. (Black mold, however, only grows on wood or paper.)

Mold negatively affects air quality and can lead to allergies and other issues. In addition, some types of mold, such as black mold, are incredibly toxic and can eventually cause death if not addressed.

Preventing Mold Growth

To prevent mold growth:

  • Repair any leaks in your plumbing, walls, and roofs immediately.
  • Dry the bathtub and shower curtain as soon as you’re finished with them.
  • Turn on your bathroom exhaust fan while you’re taking a bath/shower, and use the exhaust fan over the stove when you’re cooking to remove humidity.
  • Keep humidity levels in your home low, no higher than 50%. (A good air conditioner is a must for lowering humidity.)

 

Household Cleaning Products

Most household cleaning products typically contain a mixture of toxic chemicals that can accumulate in your body and harm your health.

The alternative? Use natural cleaning products. There is an increasing number of companies that manufacture natural cleaning products. For the healthiest cleaners, make sure they are plant-based.”

You can also make natural cleaners at home. There are numerous recipes online, or you can keep it simple. For example, good old-fashioned baking powder is a great cleaning agent for kitchen surfaces, dishes, and laundry!

Mouse Droppings

Mouse droppings are those tiny black pellets that you might find inside your kitchen cabinets, in kitchen drawers, and almost any other place where there’s food. Besides being a pain to clean up, mouse droppings can be dangerous to your health.

Aerosolized feces from rodents cause severe and potentially fatal diseases like Hantavirus. People can contract this virus if they breathe air contaminated with it while cleaning up mouse droppings.

Solutions

  • Keep mice from entering your home by sealing any cracks or holes in your walls.
  • Get a cat. Cats are natural predators of mice, but they don’t necessarily have to kill many mice to do their job. Research shows that mice can detect specific proteins in cat saliva. (6) These proteins elicit terror in mice. In other words, a cat’s presence alone may be enough of a deterrent. 
  • Mice won’t stay if there’s no food source, so do not leave food out, clean up food spills immediately, and take out the trash regularly.
  • If you see mouse droppings, wear a face mask and rubber gloves to clean it up.

 

Dust Mites

Dust mites are insects that typically live in dust, where they eat dead skin cells. You can’t see them with the naked eye, but they can live anywhere dust accumulates, and this includes carpeting, curtains, bedding, and more.

Though they don’t bite or feed off you, they can negatively affect your health. For example, their presence can cause respiratory problems and allergic reactions because they excrete fecal matter that permeates the air.

Solutions

Though you’ll never be able to eliminate all dust mites, reducing their numbers will help curtail allergic reactions associated with them.

Here are a few tips to help you do that.

  • Wash your bedding in hot water at least once a week, as this will kill dust mites.
  • Vacuum your carpet regularly.
  • Dust with a damp cloth regularly.
  • Use zippered dust-mite proof covers for your mattresses, box springs, and pillows. This puts a barrier between you and these insects, depriving them of their food source (your skin cells), thus starving them.

Pollen

Pollen is a substance created by certain trees, weeds, and grasses. The wind spreads it. Many people think that seasonal allergies, i.e., pollen, occur just in the spring and summer. However, many plants and trees pollinate year-round and can cause allergic reactions.

Pollen is a common allergen that may cause nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, itchy/watery eyes, and much more.

This allergen can enter your home through gaps around your windows or doors. Pollen can also enter every time you open the door to the outside. Your pets will also bring pollen inside with them.

Solutions

  • Caulk or put weatherstripping around any drafty doors and windows.
  • Change your HVAC filter every couple of months, especially during high-pollen periods. The filter catches dust, pollen, and other substances. But if it’s clogged up, it won’t be able to clear the air of this substance.
  • Remove your footwear when you enter your house so that you don’t carry it throughout your home.

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References

1- Centers for Disease Control. A Healthy Home for Everyone. CDC. Accessed Sep 3, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/publications/final_companion_piece.pdf

2- Centers for Disease Control. A Healthy Home for Everyone. CDC. Accessed Sep 3, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/publications/final_companion_piece.pdf

3- United States Environmental Protection Agency. I thought lead-based paint had been phased out. How many homes still contain lead-based paint? EPA. Accessed Sep 3, 2021. https://www.epa.gov/lead/i-thought-lead-based-paint-had-been-phased-out-how-many-homes-still-contain-lead-based-paint

4- United States Environmental Protection Agency. What is radon gas? Is it dangerous? EPA. Accessed Sep 4, 2021. https://www.epa.gov/radiation/what-radon-gas-it-dangerous

5- WebMD. Radon: How It Can Affect Your Health. Feb 11, 2020. Accessed Sep 4, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/radon-health-effects

6- BBC News. Why mice fear the smell of cats. May 17, 2010. Accessed Sep 6, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/10117428