Our homes are our castle.  We want them to be comfortable but also healthy and safe.  Today’s “screenagers” (as well as most of the rest of us) spend nearly 90% of our lives inside buildings.  Indoor pollutants combine with outdoor pollutants that get sucked into the home through leaks in the building envelope, so spending that much time indoors can affect health.  It is no wonder that asthma is an epidemic in the U.S. and incidence rates have been climbing since we started tracking it.  If you want to effectively control the way your home affects your family’s health, here are a few tips to help you manage the process.

Follow the Eight Healthy Homes Principles:

  1. Keep it Dry

Prevent water from entering the home due to poor drainage and leaks in your interior plumbing.  If you have areas in the home that regularly get wet, and you smell a musty odor, you should consider having your home tested for mold and get it remediated.  You must repair the source of the moisture!

  1. Keep it Clean

Control the source of dust and contaminants, creating smooth and cleanable surfaces, reducing clutter, and using effective cleaning methods like wet floor mops or washable microfiber cloths.  Switch to “green” safer-choice cleaning products that have much lower concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Consider implementing a no-shoes policy in the house.  Dust enters your home through doorways and contains lead, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals that are tracked in on shoes.  Use a HEPA filter in your vacuum and vacuum regularly.

  1. Keep it Safe

Store poisons out of the reach of children and out of the house when possible (garage or shed) and make sure they are properly labeled. Secure loose rugs and keep children’s play areas free from hard or sharp surfaces. Check that all handrails on stairs are secure and the stairways are well lit.  Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and keep fire extinguishers on hand. 

  1. Keep it Well-Ventilated

Open your windows even if just for a few minutes each day.  Make sure bathrooms and kitchens ventilate to the outside and run them often.  The most effective ventilation is whole-house balanced ventilation that supplies fresh air and removes stale contaminated air to the outside.  Dryer vents should be cleaned out regularly to prevent the risk of a house fire.

  1. Keep it Pest-free

All pests look for food, water and shelter. Store food in pest-resistant containers. If needed, use sticky-traps and baits in closed containers, along with less toxic pesticides such as boric acid powder.  Install mattress and pillow encasement covers and wash the sheets weekly to control dust mites that can contribute to asthma attacks.  Also, consider having a BPI certified professional seal the contaminant pathways that allow pests and outside pollutants into your home.

  1. Keep it Contaminant-free

If your house was built before 1978, it probably has lead paint on the inside or outside.  There are portable test kits, but any remodeling or lead remediation is regulated by the EPA and must be done by a certified RRP contractor.  Keeping floors and window areas clean using wet-cleaning and frequent vacuuming reduces lead dust.  Homes built before 1990 may have materials that contain asbestos, so test before you remodel.

Test your home for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that enters homes through crawlspaces and foundation cracks. Install a radon removal system if levels are above the EPA action-level.  Purchase and install an IAQ monitoring device that can send alerts to your smart phone based on high concentrations of fine particles, VOCs, temperature and humidity.  I put my Foobot next to the toaster oven so that I can see how mad it gets (orange glow) when I burn my bagel.

  1. Keep your home Maintained

This is the most important “Keep It.”  Homes that are not maintained have the greatest issues inside and out.  Think of preventative maintenance for your home as preventative health care.  Inspect, clean and repair your home in the Fall and Spring. Take care of minor repairs and problems before they become large problems that require expensive repair.

  1. Keep it Thermally Controlled
Houses that do not maintain adequate temperatures may place the safety of residents at increased risk from exposure to extreme cold or heat. A BPI Building Analyst certified professional can conduct a whole house assessment and make recommendations for improving the thermal comfort of your home, lowering your energy bills, and making your home healthier.

In addition to the eight “Keep It” principles, I recommend trying the Hayward Healthy Home Score.

Take the free (no strings attached) Hayward Healthy Home Score at https://haywardscore.com/ to see what you can do to make your home healthier.  If your home scores low, consider calling a BPI certified Healthy Home Evaluator to conduct an assessment and provide recommendations for improvements.

Additional reference materials on healthy housing are available at http://www.bpi.org/healthy-home-evaluator-references.

Larry Zarker is the CEO of Building Performance Institute (BPI), founded in 1993. BPI has become the nation’s premier standards development and credentialing organization for residential energy auditing and upgrade work.

Larry has over thirty years of professional experience in energy efficiency and renewable energy research, development, standards setting, and professional credentialing for new and existing homes. Larry grew up and worked in a home building family and has committed his life’s work to improving the way America builds and lives in their homes.