Save Your Breath, March 2008
By Catie Quanrud
Thinking about remodeling, building or buying a new home? Imagine walking through a new model home, noticing the limestone flooring, running your hands over a hand-carved banister and breathing in that new-home smell. Smell good? Think again.
A lot has been made of the indoor air quality issue. Whether you live in a two-bedroom townhome or an oceanfront estate home, it affects you. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that most of us spend 90% of our time indoors, where the air quality is typically worse than outdoors. Synthetic carpets and cabinet boxes emit formaldehyde, fresh paint emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for up to five years and the mold behind your baseboards spits up allergenic spores. (Feel free to move to the patio before finishing the article.)
No need to panic -- cleaning up your air supply is quite simple. The secret is two-fold: stop introducing dangerous chemicals to your interiors and start ventilating.
For those of you beginning a construction or remodeling project, there are several healthy options available today. Formaldehyde-free plywood and particleboard are available for new cabinetry, wood flooring and furniture. Low-VOC paints and finishes are also available - some even with zero VOC emissions. Designers educated in green design can guide you through the best ways to improve your home's cross-ventilation. The key is to ask - nay, demand - that your options for improved indoor air quality are presented during the design process.
In the meantime, there are some simple ways to immediately improve the air quality in your home:
- Follow your mother's advice - take your shoes off at the door. They pick up nasty things throughout the day and then you come home and trot through the house spreading oil, pollen and who knows what else around - that's inviting danger.
- Switch to green dry cleaners or hang freshly dry cleaned clothes on your patio until the smell subsides. The chemical you smell is tetrachloroethylene (a carcinogen) and it's not something you want in your home.
- Sprinkle some baking soda on your carpet before vacuuming - it removes odors from more places than your refrigerator.
Finally: ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. While I am all for increasing energy efficiency, our air-tight homes significantly decrease the rate of indoor-outdoor air exchange. Undesirable chemicals can't escape, so they keep recycling themselves, being absorbed and then emitted from one absorbent surface to the next, including your body. Throw open your windows! Open up those sliding doors! Turn on the ceiling fans and cut the A/C for an evening. This is paradise, remember?
Monthly "Get Green" Tip: Next time you get the Clorox spray and duster out, open up the house and let it breathe.
Catie Quanrud is a kitchen, bathroom and library designer educated and active in the green building movement. As a member of the South Florida chapter of the United States Green Building Council, she is continually pursuing new and exciting health and enviro-friendly materials to employ in her projects. The Kitchen Strand is unique among its industry for its commitment to providing green alternatives. Send us a comment if you'd like more information on your green design options.