Eco-friendly homes should also be healthy homes. The average American spends 90% of their time indoors, which makes inside environments all the more potent. The air we breathe is a part of our everyday lives, but often something we can take for granted. However, air quality and the presence of various pollutants can have a direct impact on our health. Being aware of toxic materials in your home and how they can impact air quality is the first step toward mitigating any health risks.
A home’s insulation is a primary factor when it comes to air quality, especially during any type of home improvement project. This is because insulation could contain asbestos, which is a naturally occurring mineral and a known carcinogen. Asbestos can be found in a wide variety of building materials, including shingles, cement, caulk, and often insulation.
Between 1919 and 1990, a mine in Montana produced 70% of all vermiculite insulation in the United States, which was later discovered to have been contaminated with asbestos. Homeowners may be unaware that this material is in their homes and therefore that there is cause for concern. However, as mentioned above, this can be particularly dangerous when doing any projects around the house that involve exposing or handling this insulation. When asbestos is not properly handled, microscopic fibers can break off and become airborne. Inhaling these dangerous fibers can cause serious diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma. Mesothelioma in particular is a rare and aggressive cancer that has a very low long-term survival rate, but like all asbestos-caused illnesses, it is completely preventable.
Today there are safer forms of insulation available. Removal of contaminated insulation, or any material that contains asbestos, should not be attempted on your own. Using a professional will ensure that the toxin is safely removed and disposed of. Once abatement professionals have removed any asbestos-containing material, safer forms of insulation can be installed.
Lead is another toxic material that can impact air quality, often present in paint in homes built before 1959 and pipes in homes built before 1986. Loose paint chips are a major concern as they can be swept into the air or even directly consumed by small children. As a neurotoxin, lead has many health implications, especially for children, pregnant women, and older adults. These health issues can include stunted growth, hearing problems, premature birth, and reduced kidney function.
Homeowners are not legally required to hire professionals to remove lead paints and can choose to do the work themselves. However, they must follow the same procedures, which include sealing off the room from the rest of the house and using an approved respirator.
HEATING, VENTILATION AND AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEMS
Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are the lungs of the home: they control temperature, circulation, and sometimes the quality of the air. If there are toxic materials already present in the home, an HVAC system can continually circulate them and further expose occupants. Indoor air can often be more polluted than outdoor air, so if ventilation systems can bring in fresh air from outside and distribute it throughout the home, it can actually help to dilute the concentration of pollutants.
Proper moisture control and fresh air circulation is also essential to preventing biological pollutants, such as the growth of mold. Addressing any areas of a home that are showing excess moisture and improving air circulation can stop mold from developing. Unfortunately, mold also has some health risks that can be minor or more serious depending on the individual.
Making sure a home’s HVAC system is running efficiently ensures more even temperature distribution throughout your home, and better indoor air quality.
The air quality in your home can play a major role in your family’s health. Toxins can be especially prevalent in older homes and buildings, since hazardous materials were frequently used before the health risks were fully realized. Schedule an inspection with qualified professionals, or a home energy audit to see if these or other hazards are a concern in your home. Taking these steps toward improving air quality can make your home a healthy home.
About Our Guest Blogger
We’re happy to have been able to collaborate with Anna Suarez on this post! Anna is an advocate for public health who focuses on raising awareness about how man-made environments and the presence of toxins can impact health. To learn more about Anna’s advocacy work, check out Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center.