As we enter the New Year we all resolve to become better, more productive, happier and healthier. Should we not do the same for our homes? After all, much of our happiness, health and wellbeing comes from within (and outside) of the walls that shelter us from life’s storms. We take pride in and care of our homes, selecting carefully the color of our walls, the rugs on our floors, our appliances, furniture and exactly where and how each piece of artwork should be hung. Our homes are indeed a reflection of us… They reflect our interests, passions and lifestyles. They are the places we long to return to at the end of the day.
They are our comfort and joy. And often, they are the cause of illness, injury, allergy and malaise. We often don’t realize this. We need to look beyond the surface to make sure that our homes are healthy and to ensure that our families are healthy. It doesn’t take much and the steps are often simple ones. Below are some simple and yet very important steps we can take to make sure that our homes are as healthy as can be. Let’s all resolve to make our homes healthier in 2013!
According to The RX List most of us live in unhealthy homes and we may not know it. Radon is present in 1 out of 16 homes. Water leaks exist in 1 out of 10 homes. Structural problems can be found in 1 out of every 6 houses, while lead-based paint and non-functioning smoke detectors are present in a staggering 1 out of 4 homes. Let’s walk through our homes and see what we can do to ensure the safety of our families.
It might seem obvious, but never use your oven or stove to heat your home. Make sure that your kitchen is fitted with a fan or hood that vents to the outside. This will send smoke, extra moisture and toxins outdoors instead of trapping them inside your home. Caulk up any holes and crevices to prevent insects and diseased rodents from entering your home. Wipe up all spills and make sure that all food is well sealed and contained. Filter your drinking water and if you’re considering a remodel consider materials like copper and cork which are antimicrobial. It might seem as though it goes without saying, but a good deep clean every now and then to get rid of moisture and sticky residue will help to keep bugs and mold away.
Make sure that all bathrooms are well vented and that all fans are in proper repair and vented outside. Fans should be wiped down and cleared/dusted off regularly. It is important to eliminate as much moisture as possible as these rooms are breeding grounds for mold and moisture. Wipe down as much as you can after showers. Regularly check for mold and mildew and remove them using mild, non-toxic cleaning products. Mold and mildew may appear in faucets, and around fixtures as well as on shower liners. It may not be a bad idea to keep windows cracked open to allow for the release of excess steam.
For safety measures, grab bars should be added on bathroom walls, in showers and by the toilet to prevent falls, especially if there are elderly or children living in your home. Again, it may seem obvious, but be sure that all medicine is safely out of reach of all children. They should be stored in child-resistant containers and cabinets. If your medicine cabinet is lockable, keep it locked. If you are a multi-generational home with both elderly and young, there may be medicine that is more easily accessible to those with arthritis and therefore may not be safe to store near children. In this case a locked storage place is crucial.
Bedrooms and Living Spaces:
Smoke detectors should be installed outside of every bedroom and there should be at least one on every level of your home. They should be tested regularly. Some experts suggest as often as once a month. Batteries should be tested and changed, if necessary, twice a year. Carbon monoxide detectors should also be on every level and also near each bedroom, and should also be regularly checked. Carbon monoxide poisoning is most prevalent during the cooler months when fireplaces and furnaces are in constant use. Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer as there is no odor. It goes without saying that both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors save lives and yet too many homes are without them. Keeps rooms clutter free and keep cords and wires secured and against walls to avoid tripping. Mice and other rodents seek warmth and refuge in places where clutter exists.
Keep your carpets regularly cleaned so they are free of dust and mites which are common household allergens. Replace old rugs with new or, better yet, embrace your gorgeous hardwood floors and toss the carpeting for good! Check your walls for lead. Lead paint was banned in 1978 (US). If your home is 0lder than that, unless you know that all paint has been removed, there is a good chance lead exists in your home. And simply because your walls have been painted over several times, does not mean that lead is not present, or even masked. Inspect your walls closely for chipped and peeling paint. If you have young children in your home you should have your paint tested. Kits are available at your local hardware store. If there is indeed lead in your paint, a qualified professional should be consulted and hired to safely remove the lead from your home. Lead poisoning is asymptomatic and can cause permanent brain damage in young children.
Stairwells and Hallways:
As you check your bedrooms and living spaces for lead paint, you should also check your hallways and stairwells, and every other room for that matter. If you have young children in your home, it is important to keep safety gates at the top and bottom of your stairs to prevent falls and serious injury. Stair carpeting or runners should be installed to prevent slippage. Make sure they are securely and firmly attatched. As with the carpeting in other areas of your home, the carpeting on your stairs should be cleaned regularly to be rid of dust and mites. Old and tattered carpeting should be ripped out and replaced. Stairs should always be free of clutter. No exception. Handrails should be installed on both sides, especially in those homes where the elderly and the very young reside.
Check roofs for cracks and water leaks. Make sure your attic space is properly ventilated and that a fan is in working order. All gaps should be sealed to keep rodents and insects on the outside. Insulation should be checked. In older homes insulation often contains asbestos which is cancer-causing. If the insulation is not up to par, have a professional come assess and if necessary, remove and replace the insulation. Just because there is asbestos in the home, does not mean it automatically needs to be replaced. If the asbestos is not airborn, then it is safe to stay in your home.
Basements, crawl spaces and laundry rooms:
Change the filter in your furnace and air conditioners regularly. Set your water heaters to 120 degrees to prevent scalding. Have your gas appliances and furnaces checked regularly, some suggest yearly, to ensure that there are no carbon monoxide leaks. If you live in an area where radon is present have your basement tested and then follow the necessary steps. As with any room in your home, all toxins and poisons should be securely locked away and out of reach of children. This includes items for cleaning cars, gardening and pest control. Furthermore, in older homes, asbestos was often used as insulation and wrapped around pipes. These pipes appear to be wrapped in plaster. If the plaster-like covering appears in disrepair have a professional come and take a look at it. Asbestos that is air-borne needs to be properly and safely removed.
Rooftops, chimneys and gutters:
Check your roof for loose or missing tiles which can lead to water leaks and critters inside your home. Remove tree branches and debris. Declutter your gutters and downspouts to keep water and moisture away. Have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually. Remove any branches or debris that may be near your chimney. If tree branches appear too near, have them removed. Grates or cages should be installed to keep squirrels and other critters from falling into your fireplace. For more on chimney and fireplace safety read How to Enjoy Your Fireplace Safely this Holiday Season.
Keep garbage containers well sealed at all times and clean out garbage containers on a regular basis with detergent and bleach to prevent insect infestation. Keep clutter at bay and check closely for places where critters may hide and lay nests. Unused and underused bags, shoes, boots and other items that have minimal use should be checked regularly or placed in tightly sealed containers. Keep all poisons and toxins on shelves high above reach of little children.
Outside, yards and swimming areas:
Check and fix all exteriors from cracks and leaks. Eliminate all standing water where insects, such as mosquitoes, can lay their eggs. All trash containers should be kept tightly shut at all times. Maintain all gutters and downspouts. Septic tanks and wells should be checked regularly to prevent serious illness. If swimming pools are on the property make sure there are self closing gates and that it is completely closed in, in order to prevent accidental drowning. Automatic pool covers are a good idea, for an added measure of safety. If you are improving a home that was built prior to 1978 (US) ensure that safe practices are in place when painting, renovating or restoring.
Play systems and decks that were built before 2004 may contain arsenic which was added to wood as a preservative. There are kits that range from $25 to $40 to check for arsenic. For more information visit ewg.org. These play systems are dangerous when young hands touch the wood, or the ground surrounding the wood, and are then placed in or near mouths.
As we remove our Christmas trees and holiday decorations and pack them up for the year, we should take the time to do some deep cleaning and home inspections to ensure that we are doing everything possible for the safety and well-being of our families and those we love. How healthy is your home? Is it fit enough for 2013?