Home Hazards

What updates can make a home healthier?

Your home is meant to be your sanctuary—a place where you can relax and be with family, and forget about the outside world for a while. But there may be a few nasty little surprises that make it not so serene. From toxins in the air to critters under the floorboards, any number of things can threaten the health of your home. We wanted to know what these unseen dangers are and how homeowners can protect their homes, so we’re turning to the experts.

Why We’re Asking:

Homeowners don’t always think about the risks posed by dirty carpets, aging insulation, or a blocked ventilation pipe on a kitchen stove—but home experts do. We want to know about all the changes, both big and small, that homeowners can make to ensure the health of their homes and their families. A renovation in time might even save a life.

So tell us, experts:

What updates can make a home healthier?

What home safety concerns might homeowners not be aware of?
Are there any renovations homeowners should consider to improve the health of their homes?
What small changes can homeowners make on their own?

Knowledge is the first step toward prevention, so we’re eager to learn about these invisible dangers we might be facing on a daily basis.

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Frank Whittemore 03/23/13

    Rodent droppings in your walls and attic untreated by a pest control expert are one of the biggest oversights that homeowners forget about too often.
    Mice and rats are more than nuisances. They are health hazards. They can carry viruses that spread diseases such as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome, and Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis (LCM). That’s why it’s so important to keep mice and rats out of your house. If you find evidence, such as droppings, that they have gotten inside, you need to take action. Read this informative article and learn how to properly clean-up rodent droppings in your kitchen cabinets.

    Warnings: Never sweep or vacuum up rodent droppings. This can cause particles that contain viruses to become airborne. They can then be breathed in.

    Steps to Take:
    1. Put on a clean pair of long rubber gloves to protect your hands and forearms.
    2. Open the cabinet and visually inspect the inside. If the rodent droppings are confined to an area, remove any items surrounding it. If there are droppings all over, carefully remove all the contents of the cabinet.
    3. Either use a household disinfectant – the product must be labeled “disinfectant”- or mix-up your own sanitizing solution. Carefully pour 1-1/2 cups bleach into a bucket filled with 1 gallon of water. Or, to fill a spray bottle, mix together 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.
    4. Spray the household disinfectant or sanitizing solution directly on the rodent droppings, and on any nests and dead rodents you may find.
    5. Wait 5 minutes. Use paper towels to wipe-up the rodent droppings. Pick up any nests or dead rodents with a paper towel and place them in a plastic bag; seal it. Then, place the first bag into a second plastic bag and seal it tightly. Dispose of the bags in a lidded trash container that is dumped frequently.
    6. Scrub the area with the household disinfectant or the sanitizing solution. Allow it to air dry before you replace the contents of the kitchen cabinet.
    7. Wash your gloved hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water; rinse well. Remove gloves and lay them out to dry. Then, wash your hands with soap and water. Rinse and dry them well.

    Note: Contact a good local pest control professional to help with this matter.

  • Nancy 03/22/13

    The least expensive changes involve cleaning and maintaining damp areas of your home. Showers, grout and p-traps come to mind. Mold and mildew are common issues, and slow or blocked drains as well. Once you’ve cleaned the tile you’ll probably need to remove the caulk, too, and re-caulk. Remember to also re-seal your grout to keep all of your hard work intact as long as possible. When you’re doing routine cleaning of grout, try to use a mild eco-friendly product. The scrubbing foaming sprays may get your grout clean and you may initially need to use them to get rid of the mildew, but after you’ve sealed your grout you will immediately remove the sealer with the same product the following week and you’ll wonder why the sealer didn’t work better.
    Cleaning your ventilation is really important–both kitchen hood fans and your dryer vent lines. Most kitchen hood fans have easily removed, dishwasher-cleanable filters. Keeping these clean will keep your home smelling fresh and also reduce the possibility of a grease fire. Your furnace also needs new filters and if you have an electronic air cleaner those need to come out and be cleaned at least every 60 days during your most active (warm or cold depends on the climate you live in) heating or cooling periods. Your ceiling bath fans need a good vacuuming, too, or they just will stop working. They are the best way to keep the humidity and mildew out of the bathroom in the first place.
    Besides mold and mildew, which aren’t good for you, and in some cases the type of mold can be toxic, asbestos and lead are concerns. Find a lab in your area and have the mold tested to be sure what you are dealing with if you have something more than a shower issue. Before you decided to remove that popcorn ceiling over the weekend and paint, carefully remove a tablespoon into an envelope you can seal up and take into a lab that can test it for you. To find out more about lead and asbestos, check out http://www.epa.gov/lead/ Homeowners can do some of the abatement themselves, but be sure you understand the guidelines and process first. Certified abatement companies are less expensive than they previously were since more homeowners are aware and having this process done correctly.
    Another issue that homeowners can run into is lack of make-up air. This can be dangerous if you have a gas fireplace or furnace. If you notice that your furnace pilot light or fireplace pilot light is going out, you could be at risk of drawing noxious gasses into your home. Homeowners who install strong hood fans as part of a remodel or appliance update may not realize they need a make-up air system that is connected by relays to their hood fan switch. When the hood is turned on, a vent flap on the outside of your home opens up and the same amount of air you’re removing from the home is returning with good fresh air. In the past this wasn’t as much of a problem, but with energy efficient windows, doors and building wrap materials our homes are very tight.

  • Joseph Corcoran 03/22/13

    Good Health and Good Plumbers
    Good plumbing is a matter which concerns health. The plumbing system in your home is composed of two separate subsystems. One subsystem brings freshwater in, and the other takes waste water out.
    A leakage of polluted water from the house-drainage system is unsanitary and dangerous. Leakage within the house may pollute the habitation and permit food infection through the medium of insects; they may transport disease germs, and thus be a menace to your health.
    City ordinances usually define the exact methods and materials used in the home for sewage disposal; they outline the methods by which connections must be made, and specify the installation of waste lines.
    Regulations governing the installation of plumbing have been established in many places, and many cities have plumbing codes or local ordinances governing plumbing. These regulations have been important in improving living conditions throughout the country. For the safety of your health be sure to check the license of any plumber you are considering using.

    Some tips for home owners:

    • Be sure to change air filters at least every three months, maybe more if you are in the more dusty parts of Idaho!
    • Clean the filters and dust screens on any freezers or refrigerators frequently.
    • If you have a gas furnace, keep your pilot light burning during the summer to help keep the furnace dry and prevent corrosion.
    • If there is a noise, there could be a problem. Worn washers or loose parts in your faucets can be the source of noisy pipes. It’s good to make sure all washers and parts are tight and in good working order to help reduce vibration that can lead to leaks later on.
    • Every four to six years, paint gutters that are not made of aluminum or vinyl to help prevent rust.
    • Remove firewood stored near the home. Firewood should be stored at least 18 inches off the ground at least 2 feet from the structure to cut back on pest problems.
    • Have a qualified heating and cooling contractor clean and service the outside unit of the air conditioning system. An annual service call will keep the system working at peak performance levels.
    • Vacuum the clothes dryer’s exhaust duct at least once a year. If the duct is plastic, replace it. Rigid sheet-metal ducting is best.

  • Brad Brenner @ Aeroseal 03/21/13

    Out of sight – out of mind… so the saying goes. Most of us wouldn’t even think that our family’s health can be affected by what goes on behind the walls and ceilings of our home– but it certainly can. That’s because hidden out of view are the long lengths of ductwork that deliver heated and air conditioned air throughout the house. Leaks in that ductwork can suck in contaminated air from unintended locations – like the attic or garage – and spread them throughout the rest of the home. Find yourself doing a lot of dusting? Does your family suffer from indoor allergies? Chances are good that leaky ductwork is the culprit. It’s estimated that 60% to 85% of U.S. homes today have significant duct leakage – even new homes. Effectively seal the leaks and you’ll dramatically improve the indoor air quality of your home. Using an aerosol-based duct sealing solution that works from the inside of the ductwork to seal leaks is the most effective option available to homeowners today. It’s a new technology so talk to your local HVAC service provider for more information. Best news is that aerosealing the leaks in your home’s ductwork will probably also help fix problems concerning rooms that don’t get sufficient heating and cooling. It can also save you hundreds of dollars each year on your energy bill.

  • Scott Svetic 03/20/13

    Being in the painting industry, I will address this in my field. The obvious is the lead based paint issue, which is usually present in older homes and can be removed by a certified specialist. The healthier, more readily available product is the Low or NO VOC paints that are available from almost all popular paint distributors.

  • David Bisaillon 03/20/13

    As a pest management professional my service staff and I work with pesticides every day. Our staff of 15 is professionally trained, tested and licensed. An easy update to a home that would make a home healthier (and cost nothing) would be to NOT have the average homeowner reach for a pesticide everytime an insect is spotted. Instead, use IPM. IPM stands for integrated pest management. Integrated pest management means that people should have a small tolerance for pests, but when it’s time to control the pest start with these steps: 1. eliminate food, 2. correct conditions conducive to the pests survival, 3. eliminate harborage areas, and 4. use pesticides judiciously. This doesn’t mean pesticides should never be used. It means that a hierarchy of pesticides should be used, starting with the least toxic. Government agencies want to limit the amount of pesticides professionals use, but most everyone would be surprised at what professionals see on a daily basis. I have yet to see a homeowner read the label on a can of Raid and most poisonings occur as a direct result of this easily correctable behavior.

  • Wayne Caswell 03/20/13

    Modern homes are more airtight, driven largely by a push for increased energy efficiency, but that can trap pollutants inside and make it more likely to breathe toxic air inside the home than outside. The concentration of toxic compounds emitted by common household products and furnishings can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, fatigue, allergies, and other symptoms. It can also affect your ability to get restful sleep, which is so important for cell health and the body’s ability to recover. As much as 15% of the population is sensitive to these chemicals, especially those with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

    Green builders and remodelers often choose less-toxic versions of building materials and products to gain green-building credits, but the rating is scaleable. The higher the rating, the more likely the home is built with nontoxic materials and a healthy focus. So ask to see the scoring sheet that shows how they earned their rating, and look for ads with keywords such as green, healthy and natural.

    If to you remaining healthy at home means staying safe and avoiding falls and other health risks, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) can help. They know how to assess each situation and suggest improvements that vary in cost.

    Some of the simplest improvements are free or cheap, such as removing throw rugs that pose tripping hazards, or moving furniture to make it easier to get around.

    Many home modifications done to accommodate a wheelchair after an injury or stoke can be temporary, knowing that the patient will eventually (hopefully) recover and be able to move about on their own with a walker or a cane. But permanent updates to kitchens, baths and doorways can be more extensive, and much more expensive. Still they can help avoid the higher costs of nursing home care and avoid future health risks.

  • Pablo Solomon 03/20/13

    First let me compliment Jill@The Welcome Home for some great ideas.
    I always suggest that when you upgrade your windows you make certain that they come with screens and can be opened on good days to allow fresh air in and to allow the stale air in your home to vent.
    As always, I am pushing the use of a clotheslines whenever time and weather permit. Drying your clothes, rugs, drapes, etc. in the fresh air and sunshine not only saves a lot of energy, but kills a lot of harmful pathogens.
    Best wishes,
    Pablo Solomon
    Artist & Designer

  • Grand View Builders 03/20/13

    Home allergens that live in your house, such as pet dander and dust mites, can cause serious health issues. There are basic preventative steps homeowners can take to protect their home and family.

    -Wash your pets on a regular basis, as there are allergens and other health concerns that can live on your pet.
    -Dust with Hypoallergenic cloths.
    -Vacuum with clean filters.

    There are environmentally friendly cleansing agents, which have fewer allergy-aggravating chemicals, that should be used when cleaning your home.

    Having clean vents and closing them during high allergy forecast days is a great way of preventing allergens from entering your home. Similarly, windows are a passageway from the outside to your indoors and can let in unwanted allergens. Homeowners want to have windows that are tightly sealed and updated so they do not let in allergens.

  • Ed Burris 03/20/13

    There are some things to think about in your plumbing system. Sump pumps in your home may have radon. You can buy a radon detection device to check the level of radon in your basement or crawl space. There are certified plumbers in radon that can check and give a quote on the installation of a radon sump pump system. This is becoming a very big deal with the ground water that comes into your home. Exposure to radon in the home is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Radon is a health hazard with a simple solution. Here is a link to learn more from the EPA for radon: http://www.epa.gov/radon/

  • Jill@The Welcome Home 03/18/13

    There are several improvements that will improve the air quality of your home. This will help allergy sufferers, plus it also means that there is less daily cleaning because you reduce the amount of dust, dirt and debris.

    *replace wall to wall carpet with a hard surface (wood, floating floor, sheet vinyl, etc).

    *Use easy-to-clean indoor/outdoor area rugs. You can always take them outside and hose them down, and it’s easier to remove stains.

    *Upgrade your air filters. If you have forced-air heat and a/c you can replace your standard filter with a hepa filter.

    *Install a whole-house hepa filter.

    *Get your air ducts cleaned annually.

    Indoor air quality can seriously impact your daily life. By implementing as many of these steps as possible you can create a home that is easier to keep clean and will help you cut back on your need for allergy medicine.

    It doesn’t matter how beautiful your home is if spending time in it makes you feel ill.

  • Matthew Kettner @ MLK Construction LLC 03/18/13

    Homeowners rarely relate their heating and cooling bill to their roofing system. Contrary to popular belief or what some might say, in the Midwest region the color of your roof doesn’t affect the overall outcome of your cooling bill.

    Your heating and cooling bill normally relates to if a home has proper roof ventilation and how much insulation or R-Value it has. If you do not have adequate ventilation it can cause your roofing system to deteriorate too soon. If you have too much ventilation it can cause your heating/cooling bill to skyrocket. Homes 100 years ago were not built with the same technologies or knowledge that we have today.

    I would ask everyone who is considering insulation this year, when they see that summer cooling bill, to look up at their roof and ask a qualified contractor to inspect. It is normally cheaper to combine insulation of an attic or crawlspace with a new roofing system. Sometimes it is the only way it can cost effectively be done.

  • Joseph Molluso 03/18/13

    The most important action a home owner can take is to hire a pest control professional to inspect every 3 months for insect damage. To keep a home in tip top shape is one difficult task. People must take into account that pests can do a great deal of damage to a home and if not kept up, will cost you thousands in the long run. For example, rats and mice have been known to chew through electrical wiring. They can even chew away at structural beams. As we all know, termites are the most important pest to inspect for. Termites can cause stressful damage to a home’s foundation. Quarterly pest control is one of the most important forms of maintenance on a home.
    Thanks
    Joe

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