There are benefits to having a well insulated and air tight home. One benefit is sound insulation from outdoor noises. Another is keeping heating and air conditioning costs down. It doesn’t seem that there could be much of a downside but, unfortunately, there is a big one – toxic air!
The American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology states:
“As much as 62% of all allergy related illnesses are either
caused or aggravated by polluted indoor air.”
If you have recently A) moved into a new home, B) remodeled your home, C) purchased new furniture or flooring, or D) have synthetic chemicals in your household products, it is important to understand that you may be inhaling a plethora of toxic fumes. In addition, if you always keep your doors and windows closed, the pollutants in your home stay concentrated in your home.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a large group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature, whether you smell them or not. There are many naturally occurring VOCs, such as essential oils, that our bodies can recognize and react to in a positive way. It is the man-made or synthetic ones such as acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene that create biological havoc with us.
It is difficult to avoid all toxic VOCs, as they are found in building materials such as carpet, paints, adhesives, vinyl and composite wood flooring, furniture, upholstery fabrics and foam, varnishes, caulking and solvents. Synthetic VOCs are also in air fresheners, cleaning and disinfecting products, moth balls, cosmetics and gasoline. The older the products are, chances are most of the off gassing has already occurred and won’t be as likely to produce serious eye and nose irritations or breathing difficulties. Long term (chronic) exposure of new products however, has been documented to increase the risk of liver, kidney and nervous system damage, and even cancer.
So, what can you do if you have synthetic VOCs in your home? Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you and your family breath easier:
Open the windows. Circulate fresh air as much as possible. Open windows and turn on fans during the day so toxins can be dispersed. Leaving them open even for an hour each day is beneficial.
Invest in live plants. Many plants absorb VOCs from the air and, in return, release oxygen for your breathing pleasure! There are many easy care plants that do well indoor with lower light conditions such as the Peace Lily. The Golden Pothos, Spider plant, and English Ivy, are other excellent choices, to name just a few. There is no need to go crazy creating a woodland retreat in your home since too many plants can actually develop into clutter. If you have curious pets or small children and the plants will be at their level, do some research to find out which ones are best for your home. I will be going into more detail about the benefits of specific plants in a future article.
I used to think that I couldn’t keep real plants because they always died on me. I now understand that plants need to be treated like family members. If you respect them enough to give them what they need to thrive (fresh air, the right amount of natural light, water and food, plus love and attention) they will contribute greatly to a better quality of life for you. The benefits of having healthy real plants in your physical spaces far outweigh the required effort.
Replace air filters more often… and before they start looking really dirty. Air filters in your HVAC system tend to collect more debris in the Spring and Fall months, when nature is in bloom and pollen counts are running high and the A/C starts up, or when things are cooling off and the heater kicks in. A good rule to follow is to check them the beginning of each month, and keep at least one extra filter on hand to change out immediately, if necessary. Investigate the benefits of using HEPA filters and make sure your system works well with them. Some older HVAC systems can bog down and wear out faster using thicker filters.
Check into air purifiers. Although they are not a cure all for indoor pollution, air purifiers do a good job of improving the air quality inside your home. There are many to choose from out on the market. I am not an expert so cannot recommend a certain brand over another, so do your research and compare, compare, compare.
Replace toxic chemicals with natural alternatives. Rather than buying commercially sold air fresheners (which contain synthetic fragrances), use pure essential oils to freshen the air in your home. Multiple studies have documented that certain diffused oils can also remove mold and mildew. Read the labels. If you cannot find any of them stating pure, natural ingredients, avoid them!
Using pure essential oils mixed with water in a mister bottle or electric diffuser, are both healthy and safe ways to disperse them into a space. Lemon and Peppermint, used separately or combined, are two great oils I use to brighten the energy of a room. I also use Lavender for a calming energy in bedrooms, especially in the evening. Feel free to experiment with different scents. Just make sure they are pure essential oils and not listed on the label as a fragrance, which indicates a synthetic scent. Essential oils will also be the topic of an upcoming article.
Replace some or all of your current commercial household products with eco-friendly ones, especially cleaners that you use in tight, enclosed spaces such as bathrooms. Eco-friendly cleaning products have improved immensely from the first ones that came out, and there are many options available today.
Remove your shoes when you come into the house. This may seem like a hassle, but keeping shoes isolated to a front entry, garage or mud room is an excellent way to leave the debris and contaminants of the outside world outside. The practice of removing shoes before entering a home is common in most Asian households and is becoming more accepted in our society.
If you have carpeting or area rugs in your home, and you have family members with serious environmental allergies, removing shoes may make a world of difference to them. If people don’t want to walk barefoot, you can keep socks or slippers nearby.
We really are in uncharted territory with so many new technologies, man-made pharmaceuticals and products developed in laboratories. We are exposed to them everyday yet we really have just begun to understand their effects on our bodies. One fact that is indisputable is that having clean, fresh air circulating in our homes is vital to our health and well-being. And that is excellent Feng Shui!