In recent years, homeowners have started asking better questions in terms of what pollutants are lurking around nearly every corner — from building materials to the paint on the walls down to the backing on carpeting.
While it’s neither realistic nor necessary to remove every toxin from your home, there are a few common sources that can be addressed easily.
“The good news is, you don’t have to be a chemist to understand what products and materials are safe to have in your home,” says Anne Hicks Harney, architect and Director of Sustainability at architectural firm Ayers Saint Gross and member of the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Materials Knowledge Working Group. “You can arm yourself with the knowledge needed to make smarter choices for you and your family.”
Harney offers a few tips to help reduce or eliminate common toxins in the home:
Whenever possible, use natural or water-based materials and cleaning agents. Also, be aware of:
• Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS): From paint to composite wood, VOCs are found in many products and are responsible for that tell-tale chemical “smell.” When it comes to paint, “Low VOC” or “No VOC” are your best options and are easy to find.
• Flame Retardants and Petrochemicals: Commonly found in such foam products as couch cushions and insulation, these are a bit more challenging to avoid. The risk is that these chemicals are known to accumulate over time in the human body. Looking for an alternative? Try a natural fiber such as down in your upholstery.
• Plastic Additives: Plastics are beneficial in a number of household materials but their use should be limited when possible. Search for a carpet with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-free backing or try wool, a natural alternative. For tile or sheet flooring, avoid vinyl products and consider linoleum or cork and rubber options instead.
Ventilate Your Home
It’s good to open your windows every now and then to get the air circulating into your home and any chemical smells out. If you can’t open your windows due to outdoor allergies or poor outdoor air quality, indoor plants constantly regenerate air and provide a pretty alternative.
Take to the Web
Manufacturers and professional organizations are becoming more transparent about educating consumers. Check out resources like the AIA Materials webpage or http://architectfinder.aia.org to learn more about sustainable products and to find professionals who can assist your efforts.
Don’t Know? Don’t Buy
As a general rule of thumb, if you don’t know and understand what a product contains, don’t put it inside your house. Take advantage of the wealth of information now available at your fingertips to make safer choices.
Take the time to protect your family by removing harmful pollutants from your home.