For those with environmental and chemical sensitivities, a house sealed tight can lead to symptoms such as runny noses, scratchy eyes and throats, and even asthma attacks. To clear the air, Allergic Living sizes up the allergic dangers that lurk in the typical household, and proposes solutions – one room at a time.
Risks: gas fumes, dust, dirty ducts and moldy furnace humidifiers
Solution: Have the furnace and water heater serviced annually, and clean and replace filters regularly. If you have the ducts cleaned (opinions vary as to whether this is necessary unless mold is present), insist that no biocides (mold inhibitors) or sealants be used, as they break down over time and the furnace will circulate them through the house.
Risks: mold, chemical fumes.
Solutions: Basements can breed dangerous mold. Bid farewell to musty mementos, recycle old furniture and run a dehumidifier. Check with your municipality to find out how to dispose of old paint and solvents. If you must keep paint strippers or pesticides, ensure that they are sealed tightly and away from lower-level family rooms. Better yet, put leftovers in the garage.
Risks: chemicals and mold
Solutions: Use Eco-certified or unscented laundry products. Make sure your dryer is properly vented to the outside. Keep surfaces dry and remove mold as soon as it appears.
Risks: dirt, dust and pollen
Solutions: To keep dirt and pollen out, have everyone remove their shoes upon entering. Don’t let coats and hats accumulate, as pollen trapped in the fibres can spread throughout the house, and clutter prevents proper vacuuming and cleaning.
Risks: pests, odors, fumes from appliances, mould, chemicals
Solutions: To prevent the intrusion of roaches and mice (which can cause allergies as well as unpleasantness), remove food scraps and other household garbage frequently. Use an exhaust fan over the stove, which will also help to cut humidity levels in the room and decrease the likelihood of mold. Use non-toxic cleaning products.
Living Room / Dining Room
Risks: Dust mites (attracted by carpets, pet and human dander), chemicals, smoke
Solutions: To combat dust and dander, replace wall-to-wall carpet with hardwood or tile floors. Use a HEPA filter vacuum at least once a week on floors, drapes, furnace vents and furniture. (Vacuum under the couch!) Dust with a damp cloth as dry dusting just spreads it around. Keep books and magazines in cabinets with doors. If you have pets, bathe them regularly and keep them off of the furniture.
Buy furniture made out of solid wood or certified low-VOC particle board. Standard particle board releases Volatile Organic Compounds into the environment. Don’t allow smoking. Up to 70 per cent of smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces re-enters the house. Make sure chimneys are cleaned every year and keep doors closed on wood-burning stoves.
Risks: dust, pet dander, chemicals
Solutions: The average mattress is estimated to double in weight over a decade from dust mites and their droppings. To reduce such exposure, shield the mattress and pillows with dust-mite blocking covers. Keep pets out of the bedroom, and definitely off the bed.
Clean clutter off dresser tops, and dust once a week with a damp cloth. Install hardwood or tile, and vacuum frequently, including curtains, mattress and bed skirt. Air out dry-cleaned clothing in a ventilated area before hanging in the closet. Use cedar in closets instead of mothballs.
Risks: dust, dander, chemicals
Solutions: Follow the same guidelines as in the bedrooms. Stuffed animals are havens for dust mites and bacteria, so buy plush toys that can be washed frequently. Consider a portable air purifier to minimize airborne contaminants.
Risks: mold, chemicals, bacteria
Solutions: Remove mold as soon as it appears. To reduce humidity, run an exhaust fan when showering, and for 15 minutes afterward. Use non-toxic cleansers to destroy mold, mildew and bacteria, and use baking soda and water as a scouring agent and vinegar for disinfecting and cleaning chrome. Avoid air fresheners, which can trigger asthma or sensitivities. For some, styling products, scented shampoos and perfumes are troublesome. Opt for unscented products and use essential oils instead of chemically based fragrance.