A Healthy Home Environment

A healthy home is well ventilatedfree of pests, toxics, and dangerous gasesdrycleancomfortable; and affordable. Good construction and maintenance practices can achieve these conditions, even in an older home.

7 Attributes of a Healthy Home

Dry homes minimize moisture and molds. Moisture and molds can trigger asthma attacks and other allergic reactions. Water and moisture also attract cockroachesrodents, and help dust mites to thrive, all of which can also increase the risk of asthma attacks.

Clean homes have minimal dust and clutter. Researchers and medical experts have proven that dust sensitizes individuals and can trigger asthma attacks. Dust generally comes from two sources:

  • outdoor particles that are tracked in on shoes or drawn in through heating and ventilation systems or air leakage
  • dust mites living inside our homes

Nearly two-thirds of the dust in our homes is tracked in from outdoors, making a dust-free home a practical impossibility. However, we can reduce the amount of dust we bring in from outside by designing entryway systems to help remove dust from our shoes before we bring it inside. Filters for heating, ventilation, and air cooling (HVAC) systems are also effective in reducing dust particles in the home. Reducing excessive moisture and relative humidity can also make a home less inviting for dust mites. In all cases, it is helpful to build homes with smooth and cleanable materials that make it easier to remove dust and dust mites through cleaning. Clutter contributes to increased levels of dust by creating surfaces for dust to gather. Keeping floor and countertop areas clear, particularly near vents, will prevent dust from building up. While insufficient housekeeping can be a factor in dust build-up, an overcrowded setting also plays a role.

Well ventilated homes have systems to remove contaminants and allergens that can cause respiratory problems such as dust and byproducts from heating and cooking. These mechanismsinclude fans that exhaust to the outside and changes in air pressure to ensure the movement of air from the outside to the inside.

Combustion product-safe homes minimize carbon monoxide, which can cause death and more subtle health effects (fatigue, headaches, nausea). Products that can create carbon monoxide include cars in an attached garage (when the engine is warming up), gas stoves, gas water heaters, gas furnaces with a cracked heat exchanger or a leaking chimney, non-electric space heaters, and gas fireplaces.

Pest-free homes reduce the presence of pests such as cockroaches. Cockroaches shed feces and skins that can trigger allergic reactions often associated with asthma and other respiratory problems. Adverse health conditions can also arise when homeowners reacting to a pest problem apply harmful pesticides in their homes.

Toxic chemical-free homes reduce and eliminate toxins, such as asbestoslead, volatile organic compounds, and pesticides. Some types of flooring and the adhesives used to attach them can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “Offgassing” refers to the release of gases during the aging and deterioration of a material. The Carpet and Rug Institute had created standards for low-VOC carpets and rugs (see resource below).

Comfortable homes make it unlikely that individuals will unknowingly take actions that can harm their health. For example, excess cold may cause people to use stoves and ovens for heating, leading to chronic and perhaps acute exposure to carbon monoxide. Humidifiers may be installed to relieve an excessively dry environment, creating extra moisture that can contribute to molds and foster the growth of dust mites, both of which are asthma triggers.

Sources and Additional Information:

American Lung Association – Health House – www.healthhouse.org

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc – www.ashrae.org

Affordable Comfort – www.affordablecomfort.org

Building Science Corporation – www.buildingscience.com

Carpet and Rug Institute – Green Label Program – www.carpet-rug.com/drill_down_2.cfm?page=8&sub=4&requesttimeout=350

US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Environmental Health) – www.cdc.gov/nceh/

US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control – www.hud.gov/offices/lead/index.cfm

US Environmental Protection Agency – Indoor Air Quality – www.epa.gov/iaq