This is the second in a series of articles about what you can do to improve your living and working environments. There have been many recent breakthroughs in technology, design, and science that give us new ideas to make our buildings safer, healthier, and better for our environment. The “green” building movement has already made a lot of progress in publicizing techniques to utilize natural building materials, reduce energy consumption, and preserve scarce resources. The emerging “healthy home” movement is working on ways to make your house (or place of work) safer from hazards, allergens, toxic materials, and man-made or natural disasters.
Please note: This is general advice, not intended for construction purposes. Check with a licensed architect or contractor, as necessary, for specific recommendations for your individual circumstances.
Eleven Safety Tips
1. Wash your pillow on a regular basis. You spend a significant amount of time with your face next to it.
2. Have your carpets cleaned on a regular basis by a professional who uses hypoallergenic methods.
3. Review your cleaning materials and replace with non-toxic cleaners. Stay away from the ones with toxic warning labels. More and more stores are carrying Green/ Earth-friendly products that are less toxic. They are also available through catalogs. We recommend The Real Earth, Inc. at http://www.treeco.com.
4. Invest in an indoor air cleaner to filter some of the dust, pollen, and other particles. Place it in the area where you spend most of your time. The Consumer Reports magazine October issue has ratings for whole and room air cleaners, at http://www.ConsumerReports.org.
5. This one should be obvious. Open your windows! If you work in a building with inoperable windows, find out from building maintenance how many air changes per hour the HVAC system provides. Ask how much of that is fresh (outside) air and how much is re-circulated air. Ask your landlord about what they are doing to provide a healthy building.
6. Read labels. Look for products that are non-toxic, all-natural, and biodegradable. Products to avoid are petroleum distillates, butyl ether, ammonia, chlorine, phosphates, benzene, and strong acids. If a label says “gray water safe” or “septic tank safe” or “biodegradable”, then that product is healthier.
7. Use up your hazardous products, then buy non-toxic products. A product is hazardous if its label contains any of the following words: caution, irritant, combustible, warning, flammable, danger, poison, corrosive, or reactive. Never mix hazardous products. Do not dispose of hazardous products down the drain. For more information on hazardous household waste and its proper disposal contact http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/smc/department/home/
8. Change your air filters with Hepa filters and replace them at least once a month during the winter season. There are better HVAC systems available (at a higher price) for more severe allergy conditions.
9. Keep your roof gutters clean. This is a source of mold and can also breed insects like mosquitoes. Also get rid of any standing water, outside or inside.
10. Install a built-in vacuum system that exhausts to the outdoors. These really do help.
11. If you are building new or remodeling, use architects, designers and contractors who are knowledgeable and experienced with healthy building practices. You can also research manufacturers specs on the Internet and insist on the healthier ones. You can help with this by becoming knowledgeable. Try http://www.greenresourcecenter.org or http://www.environmentalhomecenter.com. You can also subscribe to “Natural Home” magazine at http://www.naturalhomemagazine.com.
Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc.