Healthier Homes (Part 3)

In Healthier Homes, part 3, we’re going to look at some simple things you can do in your home to improve your indoor air quality.  I would wager to guess that most of you haven’t ever given a thought to your indoor air quality aside from how your home smells.  You’re starting to know better, so how can you DO better? 

Last time, I introduced the concept of indoor air pollution and shared some strategies for making healthier material selections that would minimize your exposure to indoor pollutants.    

This time, I’ll be talking about things that you can do to reduce the indoor air pollutants already in your home. Most of these ideas are really simple and inexpensive ways to improve your indoor air quality! 

Increase Ventilation

Remember, outside air is normally less polluted than your indoor air. Therefore, it’s smart to give some thought to how well ventilated your home is.  Most of the time, moving moist / stale air out happens through fans, you can also simply open your windows! So, when you’re looking to build a home, please don’t forget to think about incorporating operable windows for ventilation.

The LEED certification process recommends a 2-week flush-out period prior to move-in to mitigate indoor air pollution. 

Even if you’re not pursuing LEED certification, this flush-out period is something you could easily incorporate into your construction schedule.  I know it’s exciting to get moved in as soon as you can, but it will be so much healthier for you & your family if you wait. Try to hold off for a few weeks so that some of the off-gassing subsides before you sleep in your new home.  You’ll need to communicate your plans for a flush-out period with your contractor up front and continue to reiterate the importance in order to protect that time from a sliding construction schedule. 

Open Window for Ventilation

Test for Radon

“Radon is the leading cause of environmental lung cancer death in Iowa.” – Bill Field, M.S., Ph.D Cancer Epidemiologist & International Radon Expert.

The first step to addressing radon is to just to test. Like anything else, please don’t avoid testing so that you don’t have to deal with the problem! Radon test kits are available through Community Health Partners and at city offices throughout Sioux County.  The cost of the test is $10. You can order online on their website.

This pamphlet Radon & You by IDPH talks about various ways to mitigate radon.

If you’re building a new home, the simplest thing to do is build in a radon reduction system. 

Regularly clean your ductwork

Germs and mold spores can be found on heating, cooling and humidifying equipment. Even dead mold spores can cause allergy symptoms. To disinfect equipment, use chlorine bleach or more eco-friendly mixtures of white vinegar and water, tea tree oil and water, or hydrogen peroxide. Source

Most furnaces have filters and changing those regularly is really important.  You can also purchase portable air cleaners.  The EPA has a Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home  that discusses portable air cleaners, furnaces & HVAC filters. 

If you’re located in NW Iowa, a great local resource for getting your ductwork cleaned is Fedders Furnace.  They’re on my to-call list this spring! 

Business card for Duct Cleaning

Control Humidity

High relative humidity encourages house dust mite populations to increase and allows mold to grow on damp surfaces.  Source  I’m allergic to dust / dust mite and have always noticed my symptoms got worse in damp environments.  Of course, mold also grows in damp environments. If you have a mold allergy, it’s also good to control the moisture.  If your thermostat doesn’t measure humidity, you can purchase an indoor hygrometer for under $10.

Humid Windows

Switch to Non-toxic Household Cleaners

Clean Mama has a great list of non-toxic household cleaners. I like to use her cleaning routine and I also use many of her cleaning solution recipes! 

Bottle of homemade non-toxic cleaner

Add some Houseplants

Certain houseplants also help improve Indoor Air Quality. There’s a lot of information available on this, but here are a few links to get you started.  

8 plants that improve air quality

20 best plants for cleaning indoor air

This is one of my snake plants.  They’re hearty and forgiving and look great! 

Snake plant in sunny spot indoors