What do you think about when you hear the words “green living” and “creating a healthy house”? As an interior decorator/designer and former Respiratory Therapist, I think of ways to improve air quality, both indoors and out, as well as promoting energy efficiency. Inside your house, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) gases affect the quality of your home environment and your health. Outside our homes, green house gases affect the environment and the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Both indoor and outdoor air quality are controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through public education and by laws and regulations. In this article we will explore some of the ways you can improve the indoor air quality in your home therefore creating a healthy house and improving your overall health. We will also explore energy efficiency and the impact you have on the world environment. At the end of the article, I will include a resource list where you can learn more about green living and how to create a healthy home.
Green Living And A Healthy Home
Did you know that air pollution is 2-5 times greater indoors than outdoors due to the enclosed spaces? Many of our household products can emit VOC gases into the air you are breathing. VOC gases can cause headaches, sneezing, respiratory problems and allergic reactions. VOC gases are found in carpets, flooring, glues, paints, particle board, stains and finishes. When choosing products for your home, here are some healthy alternatives:
Look for wood products that bear the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label. These products come from certified managed forests. FSC members use the concepts of “responsible forest management and conservation” to address issues like illegal logging, deforestation and global warming.
Use reclaimed or recycled wood. Many of these pieces are repurposed in the use of entry doors, dining room or coffee tables.
When choosing flooring, consider natural resources like bamboo flooring, which comes from fast growing grass or reclaimed/salvaged wood. Use flooring with low VOC finishes.
Use low or zero VOC paints such as Sherwin Williams Harmony (0 VOC), Benjamin Moore Aura (low VOC) or Yolo Colorhouse paints (my favorite because of 0 VOC, non-toxic, low odor eco-friendly paints).
Good floor choices are natural linoleum, cork or natural stones.
If you must use glue, choose a low VOC glue.
Choose formaldehyde-free cabinets and countertops.
Other good choices are re-cycled glass or ceramics.
Many VOC gases are absorbed into your soft furnishings such as upholstery and carpets. Try to avoid carpets in warmer climates and vacuum your upholstery often. In fact, it is recommended by the American Lung Association (ALA) that you vacuum your home 1 day per week for each occupant in the home, including pets. The ALA has been a big proponent of healthy living and has built “Health Houses” across the nation to promote materials and products that are environmentally friendly.
A Healthy Home Includes A Healthy Bedroom
We spend over a third of our lives in our bedrooms, so it is important to create a healthy bedroom living space. Some of the ways you can improve your indoor air quality in the bedroom are:
Do not allow animals to come into the bedroom. Pet dander can trigger asthma episodes.
Dust mites are little bugs (related to spiders) that live in bedding and carpets. They are one of the most common allergy and asthma triggers. They feed on flakes of shed human skin. Their life span is 10-19 days. Regular washing and vacuuming can keep these critters to a minimum.
Dust often, Most of your dust contains dust mite skin and feces.
Anti-mite matresses are recommended. Or enclose your matresses in a tightly woven cotton encasement to prevent mites from reaching your skin.
Use organic insecticide-free cotton bedding.
Wash bedding every two weeks in hot water.
Use hard window coverings.
Purchase a portable air purifier with a washable filter (I like the Honeywell model HPD-010. It has a 4 1/2 star rating on Amazon.com). According to ByPurify it is important to make sure that the model you choose has a HEPA air purifier.
Eliminate the carpet or use carpet made from recycled materials (like soda bottles).
Green Living – Cleaning And Laundry Products
Many cleaning products also have an effect on the indoor air quality in our home and create a “smog” of VOCs. Enclosed spaces allow VOC gases to build up and create a mixture of chemicals in the air. By changing your cleaning products, you are promoting a green living environment with improved air quality and low VOCs. Some of the changes you can make are:
Use fragrance-free products. Fragrances are common triggers for allergies.
Read labels for eco-friendly ingredients.
Use grain alcohol vs. isopropyl alcohol. Grain alcohol is a natural product where isopropyl alcohol comes from fossil fuels.
Switch to natural cleaning agents. Vinegar cleans stone and glass. For mirrors use white vinegar with water. Use lemon juice to remove stains out of fabric. Use mineral oil for furniture polish. Baking soda cleans and polishes metal and plastic.
Natural laundry soap – Make your own using 1 bar shaved bar soap (like Ivory), 1 C Borax, 1 C Arm & Hammer Washing Soda.
Avoid toxic ingredients: petroleum and formaldehyde.
3,000 tons of of paper towels are sent to landfills. Use rags instead. They are recyclable and can save you money.
Save money on hand sanitizer. The FDA has found that regular soap and water are good anti-bacterial agents.
Green Living Includes Conservation of Natural Resources
Another major area in green living is conservation of our natural resources by using less water, energy and creating less trash in our landfills. Here are some easy low cost ways you can conserve and save money:
As your light bulbs burn out, change to energy-efficient CFL light bulbs. You can save approximately $400/year.
Use low-flow faucets and shower heads to save 50% of your water consumption.
Use programmable thermostats to reduce energy usage.
Insulate your hot water heater or use a tankless water heater that heats on demand. Change your hot water heater to 120 degrees and save up to 15% per month.
Toilets use 45% of the household water. Change to low flush toilets that use less than 1.5 gal/flush.
Use solar-powered accent LED lights for your walkway.
By powering down your computer, you can save an estimated $186/year and reduce the carbon dioxide in the air.
Remember, any changes that you make to improve the air quality in your home will have a significant impact in creating a healthy house. Reducing the consumption of our natural resources like water and energy will not only save you money, it will also help save our planet.