What resources for a healthy home are out there? Actually, a more accurate term would be, “What least-toxic resources are available?” There aren’t many totally non-toxic materials available, but there are usually healthier choices.
Many years ago, I was asked to run air testing at a vacant cottage on an estate. The owners’ daughter and her family, including an infant, were planning to come for a month’s visit, and the owners wanted to make sure the air was good.
Interesting, the indoor air tested as good as the exterior air. But I thought to myself, “Just wait until the family moves in, with their conventional cleaning products, personal care products, and laundry products…and the indoor air will no longer be so good.”
The products we put in our homes are often the source of indoor air pollution. The products we use to build and furnish our homes add to indoor air pollution. But there are alternative resources for a healthy home.
This page is an ongoing work. My expertise is not in choosing products but more in onsite home investigations for environmental concerns (see the description of my average home inspection). Nevertheless, a lot of information has been picked up on products over the years. So let’s get started with our resources for a healthy home! — and many thanks to those who have contributed to this list over the years!
- Homeopathic BioAir, available on-line
- Homeopathic SyAllgen tablets, lotion and nasal spray from the Syntrion company, imported by BioResource, www.bioresourceinc.com – cat allergies
Bathroom exhaust fans
- I just saw a bathroom exhaust fan with a moisture sensor in it at Costco.
- Panasonic has a Whisper-Quiet model.
- To gauge the strength of your bathroom exhaust fan, hold 2 squares of toilet tissue up to it. If it is not strong enough to suck up 2 squares of toilet tissue, it is not very strong.
- Avoid beds and bed frames with metal parts. Natural latex or organic cotton (with an organic pillow-top) would be alternatives.
- I was impressed with the knowledge of the owners of the Natural Mattress Store in Hellerstown, PA, but am not an expert in natural materials.
- …a subject close to my heart and a great project for kids (and big kids). Plant milkweed (seeds from www.monarchwatch.org) for monarchs and dill and fennel for black swallowtails. Two weeks or so after being born, they wander to nearby low hanging bushes to make their cocoons, so make sure you plant the milkweed/dill next to bushes. I collect the caterpillars and put them in a terrarium (as per Kathy Stewart, the butterfly lady), with plastic needlework sheets on the top (half covered with a book for darkness underneath). Give them fresh branches of milkweed/dill regularly, with the branches supported in small plastic butter containers with the tops on but “x” cut to support the branch. If you leave the container without a top, the little caterpillar will drown if it falls in the water. Then, you’ll get to enjoy watching them break out of their cocoons and fly free!
- Search out low-VOC caulking products.
Cleaning supplies for institutions
- Grassroots Info (www.grassrootsinfo.org) lists certified least-toxic cleaning supplies for institutions, as well as resources in other categories.
- The Environmental Working Group lists least toxic cosmetics, www.ewg.org, as well as resources in other categories.
- If you are building, renovating, or putting on an addition, consider BX cable or other version of metal-clad wiring rather than ROMEX, which is plastic-insulated wiring. BX shields from voltage; ROMEX does not.
- Contact me for the name of a consultant to work with your electrician on other options.
- Healthier choices include bamboo flooring, Marmoleum,
- Check out Lee Reich’s book, Uncommon Fruit, for non-native fruit trees/bushes that have no local enemies and so do not need to be sprayed. Lee has a few other interesting, organic gardening books, too.
- Glues can give off toxins. Look for healthier alternatives, such as Elmer’s Glue.
Green Building Supplies
- “Green” does not necessarily equate with “healthy.” Recycled toxic materials are still toxic. We need a marriage of the two.
- That said, least toxic products can more likely be found at green building supply stores, although an increasing number of low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) products are available at local home supply stores.
- Check on-line for a green building supply store near you, or for an on-line catalog.
- Fire retardant-free styrofoam insulation – check building code requirements
- Formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation
- AirKrete mineral-based foam insulation, see www.airkreteindustries.com – see the comment on the finishing a basement tab.
- Avoid synthetic and “natural” fragrances in laundry products.
- Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org, tests common products and gave an “A” rating to Planet detergent.
- Use 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide instead of 1/2 cup of chlorinated bleach. Chlorinated bleach doesn’t belong in a healthy home.
- Adding 1/2 cup of vinegar to rinse water eliminates the need for dryer sheets. If requiring dryer sheets, use scent-free ones.
- I look for the lower-energy use halogen bulbs (not torchiere lamps, where the bulbs can get too hot).
- Fluorescent (including compact fluorescent) give off radiofrequency radiation.
- LED screw in bulbs set up dirty electricity in circuits, unfortunately.
- Conserving energy and getting off fossil fuel are of prime importance, but do it in other ways than CFL and LEDs.
- Avoid these, even for heating up food. A Stanford University study showed loss of immune properties in mothers’ milk heated in a microwave oven vs heated on a stove top.
- If requiring a microwave oven, stand back from it while it is in use.
- There is a world to explore here, one which I haven’t had much time for but it’s on the list for my yard soon… for the birds and bees and butterflies.
- Rodale is a long-time resource for healthier food production…www.organicgardening.com.
- Check out Mike McGrath’s Saturday morning program on whyy.org, www.youbetyourgarden.com
- On-line searches will lead to many other resources.
- This is a tricky one, one which I haven’t had time to research yet. Some recent news was that the European Union is outlawing silver and other ions as mildewcides in no-VOC paint (no volatile organic compounds), because of concern that the silver ions would become airborne. Where does this leave our no-VOC paint, such as Benjamin Moore’s Aura line and the other manufacturers who offer no- or low-VOC paint?
- On the other hand, the choice would be adding a pesticide as a mildewcide.
- Paint without a mildewcide should not be used below grade in a damp area, or mold might grow on it.
- Marilee Nelson, The House Doctor, recommends EnviroSafe paint, contact person Jim Lee. You send him the paint chip for the color you want, and he matches it as closely as possible. There are 2 EnviroSafe paints, so ask for Jim Lee.
- PEX plastic pipes reduce the risk for leaks in wall cavities. One pipe extends from the water service to the destination, i.e., one for the hot water in a sink cavity and one for the cold water.
Polyurethane foam sealant
- Touch’nSeal (which I haven’t yet used) was ordered from a green building supply store.
- Avoid conventional foam sealants.
- Inexpensive kits are available from www.radon.com.
- Stay away from vinyl, unless you want to be breathing in toxic fumes in the hot, moist environment of a shower.
- Nylon is fine. Cotton is good, too. Wash the curtain regularly in the washing machine.
- Electric flat-top stoves are preferred. Exposure to AC magnetic fields is much lower than in the older electric coil stoves.
- Automatic pilot gas stoves should have an exhaust fan that is vented to the exterior, with the exhaust fans operational when the stove is being used. The “grease-removing” unvented fans are useless.
- Even if you are unfamiliar with the scourge and the epidemic that Lyme disease and its coinfections have become, be proactive and protect yourself from ticks. Lyme disease can wreak havoc in lives, in families, and with pocketbooks!!!!
- For yards, check out permethrin spraying and permethrin TickBoxes to kill ticks on mice. Take steps to mouse-proof your home.
- For people, check out products such as Cutter Advanced (with picaridin repellant) (The co-director of a Lyme support group says that she loves this one and that it works also for mosquitoes, gnats, fleas, etc.), Skin-So-Soft™ Bug Guard Plus IR 3535 by Avon,Herbal Armor Insect Shield, www.insectshield.com, Kiss My Face repellent, Burts Bees repellent, Sawyer’s repellent
- For dogs and cats – Bayer Seresto collar for dogs or cats
- See more information under ticks at Topics A to Z.
- Formaldehyde-free drywall
- DragonBoard, magnesium oxide which mold doesn’t grow on
- WonderBoard and other cement backer board, also resistant to mold – maybe need a skim coat prior to painting
- In my experience, mold grows on greenboard (and probably on purpleboard, too, though I do not have experience with that).
- For public water: reverse osmosis at the sink for drinking water (add in electrolytes afterwards for alkalinity and minerals) and a whole house dechlorination unit.
- For well water, get the WaterCheck test kit (plus MTBE) from National Testing Labs. MTBE is a controversial gasoline additive.
- If radon levels were elevated in your home and you have well water, you may have unacceptable levels of radon in your well water. Radon test kits in water are available from www.radon.com. An activated carbon filtration system may need to be installed.
To be continued…..