How Healthy Is Your Home?

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Tompkins Weekly – November 9, 2010
By Carole Fisher,

It is estimated that people spend 90% of their time indoors and 50% or more of each day inside their homes. No wonder our home environment is now being seen as a major influence on our health and well-being.

But what makes a home healthy and what can we do to improve our home’s health index? According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, the seven principles of healthy homes are:

1. Keep it dry.  Take care of leaks and moisture problems as quickly as possible to avoid problems with mold, pests, and the development of structural problems. Health effects reported to be related to mold and moisture are upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms and asthma. Beside leaks, some other causes of excess moisture are poor drainage or rainwater control, condensation, unvented combustion appliances, and unsealed crawl spaces. Optimal indoor relative humidity is 45-55%.

2. Keep it clean. A home that is kept clean reduces exposure to allergens, pests, pesticides, heavy metals and chemical contaminants, all frequent contaminants of house dust. Reduce clutter and use materials in your home that are easy to clean and maintain. Remove shoes when entering the house to minimize dust, pesticides, and allergens. Clean carpets frequently or switch to resilient flooring. Try to use non-toxic cleaning products in the home.

3. Keep it pest-free. Pests in the home have been associated with health problems, including asthma symptoms from dust mites, cockroaches and mouse dander. Rodents can also carry serious diseases. Homes with pest problems are more likely to use and store pesticides, which can cause serious health effects. If pests are in your home, seal all entry points where they may be entering, but use a certified pesticide applicator if you have an infestation that requires pesticides.

4. Keep it safe. Falls are the most common cause of injury in the home, followed by poisoning and fires/burns. Prevent falls with handrails on both sides of staircases, child safety gates, and grab rails in the bath. Lock medications and hazardous chemicals/products in a secure location. Use smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and turn down the temperature on the water heater to prevent scalding.

5. Keep it contaminant-Free. Many contaminants make their way into our homes, intentionally or unknowingly. The more common indoor air contaminants are tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), asbestos, radon, and lead. VOC’s, present in many products such as paint, carpet, adhesives, and cleaning products, can often be avoided by purchasing no-VOC or low-VOC options. Make sure to ventilate your home if using products containing VOC’s.

Asbestos may be present in pipe or duct insulation, resilient floors, vermiculite insulation, etc. If it is in good condition, leave it alone. The danger is that when disturbed, fibers are released and inhaled. If it needs to be disturbed, have it done by a professional.

Have you had your home tested for radon? Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is colorless, odorless and enters buildings from the soil. Although it causes no early symptoms, over time it causes lung cancer. Testing for radon is simple and inexpensive, and radon problems can be corrected.

Lead is a common contaminant in older homes due to the use of lead in paints until 1978. Dust from lead-based paint is the most common source of lead poisoning in children today. Before doing any renovation work on your home, have it tested for lead and if present, choose a lead-certified contractor/painter.

6. Keep it ventilated. Higher rates of respiratory irritation and illness occur in housing with poor ventilation. Proper ventilation can also dilute and reduce the hazards of contaminants. Make sure all combustion appliances, kitchens and bathrooms have exhaust ventilation. Whole house ventilation which supplies controlled amounts of fresh air is best.

7. Keep it maintained. Proper maintenance of a home requires regular inspections, cleaning, lubrication, repair or replacement of non-functional systems, and an organized system or checklist for maintenance.  Have heating systems maintained every 1-2 years depending on your system, act quickly to repair leaks, control pests, etc.

For more information on healthy homes, indoor air quality, lead or radon testing, call the CCE Consumer HelpLine at (607) 272-2292 or visit our website, www.ccetompkins/home.

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