When considering the health of your home, one of the first potential hazards to consider is your air quality. According to the EPA, the levels of indoor air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. With the pace of modern living, we often neglect pollutants like pesticides, humidity and mold, asbestos, cigarette smoke, and volatile organic compounds. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are found in everyday household items, like building materials, paint, scented candles, laundry detergent and softener, dry-cleaned clothes, furniture, air fresheners, and more.
Though we’ve become accustomed to indoor pollutants, the harmful effects continue to plague our families. Low indoor air quality can cause headaches, runny noses, itchy and watery eyes, asthma attacks, elevated blood pressure, and even an increased risk of cancer. “It can feel overwhelming to know where to start when managing your air quality, especially if you have family members with breathing problems or allergies,” says Healthy Housing Specialist, Grace Cole. “These tips can be a great starting point to begin making your home a healthier place to breathe!”
When assessing your home with our Home Environmental Screening tool, you’ll be asked questions such as, “are the floors in your home cleanable?” and “are there any pets in the home?” From there, we can determine which allergens are in your home and plan how to remove them. “The air in your home still affects you, even if you don’t have any known allergies or asthma,” Cole clarifies, “air quality is still an important component of our health.” She suggests the following home maintenance tips to start:
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter twice a week
- On non-carpeted floors, use a wet mop (as opposed to a dry mop like Swiffer) to reduce the amount of dust being circulated
- Wash bedding once a week to control dust mites and bacteria
- Discourage pets from spending time in bedrooms to reduce dander in sleeping areas
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer. Radon gas is inert, colorless, and odorless. It’s crucial to test for radon in your home, you can purchase the test kits online, in hardware stores, or in the Healthy Homes Coalition of West MI office. EPA guidance suggests mitigating if levels are at or above 4 picocuries/liter. Usually, radon problems are fixed using an underground ventilation system or by increasing the rate of air changes in the building.
A healthy housing principle we always recommend for good air quality is keeping your home dry:
- Use a dehumidifier to help reduce moisture and prevent mold growth
- Run a ventilation fan or open a window to ensure proper ventilation in high humidity rooms, such as kitchens and bathrooms
- Repair leaking faucets and plumbing
Informed Product Use
At Healthy Homes Coalition, we highly discourage pesticide use by homeowners. While it may seem like an inexpensive and easy way to rid your home of pests, these products are often very harmful to family members, especially children. Integrated Pest Management encourages homeowners to remove all crumbs, grease, food and water sources (including pets’ water bowls) by the end of the day and setting pest-specific non-chemical traps.
We do not recommend artificial fragrances in the home in the form of room sprays, candles, and plug-ins. Cole explains, “cleaning products with strong fragrances, detergents, incense, and air fresheners may trigger sensitivities and asthma symptoms.”
The best way to control odor is to keep it clean, dry, and well-ventilated. We recommend opening windows to freshen the air or use baking soda to absorb odors in trash cans, refrigerators, and diaper pails. There’s no need to overspend on “green cleaning” products or harsh chemicals like bleach or Fabuloso; dish soap combined with warm water is an inexpensive and effective way to clean your home safely.
Hundreds of kids in Kent County suffer from asthma and many more have breathing problems. There are steps you can take to reduce the amount of asthma triggers in the home.
- Reducing clutter in the home can prevent dust accumulation and dust mites
- Stuffed animals can also harbor dust mites. Reducing the number of stuffed animals can help, but for those special fuzzy friends, we advise putting them a sealable plastic bag, then freezing them overnight to kill off any dust mites
- Wash window coverings (curtains, blinds) every week to reduce allergens
- If anyone in the home smokes, we suggest smoking outside and wearing “smoking clothes” that they can changed out of after, due to the potential of secondhand smoke being carried on clothing back inside
Some families may want to invest in an air purifier. “We’d advise finding one with a HEPA filter and avoiding those that claim to destroy germs with UV rays or use ozone purification. Ozone has been shown to trigger breathing issues and can harm lungs,” says Cole. Air purifiers, dehumidifiers and many other tools are resources that may be offered to families in case management through Healthy Homes Coalition. Cole explains her role as a Healthy Housing Specialist, “we take a collaborative approach to identify a families’ concerns, create goals, and decide how we can best work towards reaching them by creating a Family-Centered Action Plan together. Our goal is to empower our families to understand their home, health, and what they can do to better their living environment as we walk alongside them.”
Take Our Home Screening Questionnaire
Many families can see improvements in their air quality by creating healthy everyday routines, which we can help you plan and execute. “Air quality is especially important now as we are spending more time indoors than ever,” Cole says. To determine your air quality, take our home hazards screening questionnaire with this link: tinyurl.com/NidoEnroll or call (616)500-0488 and see if you may qualify for additional resources and services.