As a responsible homeowner, housemate or parent, you’ve likely tested for radon, installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, removed lead paint, covered or removed asbestos, and forbidden smoking inside. So, now your home is healthy and safe, right?
Well, maybe not. Because we spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors, the problem is more complicated.
Of course, all these concerns are top of mind when considering the health and safety of yourself and your family. But they’re only the obvious tip of a health and safety iceberg. For better home health and safety, consider making your home moisture-free, pest-free, contaminant-free, hazard-free, and make sure it’s well ventilated and electrically safe.
Keeping your home moisture free can mean searching out any musty smell; checking under sinks frequently for leaks; checking the crawl space for moisture and even cleaning your gutters more often to stop water from backing up under the shingles. Any moist, mildewy smells lingering about the house might mean mold is growing–and it grows quickly in our damp, temperate climate. Removing certain types of mold can be dangerous and takes a mold-mitigating expert dressed in protective attire. So if you find mold, call a professional.
Pests range from all too visible rodents to nearly invisible dust mites. Rodents can enter homes through unscreened crawl space vents, cracks in siding, crevices around windows, or holes around pipes and electrical wires entering a house. Sealing these off with screens or caulking can help keep the wildlife outdoors. Dust and dust mites can trigger allergies and asthma. Although changing your heating and cooling system air filters often helps, it may not help enough for people with respiratory problems. For them, special air filters and vacuums with HEPA (high-efficiency particle air) filters help keep small particles, dust mites, and pet dander at bay.
Our homes, however, can be full of items giving off contaminants. Many common building materials, furniture, electronics, cosmetics, cleaning compounds, paints, air fresheners, and other man-made items we bring into our homes emit some toxic vapor into the air.
Sometimes emitted odors are obvious, like those commonly released in paint. Many paints discharge volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Buying paint with low-VOC ratings can help. Good ventilation is the best way to get rid of paint and other malodorous vapors. Opening windows and using electric fans is one solution yet that may not be sufficient for some. Anyone who’s highly sensitive to these types of chemicals should consider a gas-phase air filter that uses carbon to absorb scents. Units cost about $500 and can run more depending on the area you need to ventilate and the purity you want.
Electrical hazards can abound about the home as well. Outdated or faulty wiring can be a source of fires. If your home is older and hasn’t been updated, ask an electrician if the current wiring can handle typical electrical loads found in homes today.
Other common dangers include running extension cords under carpets or extending them through windows and doorways. Always check electrical cords for breaks in their insulation and immediately replace them if they’re failing. Faulty wall sockets and plugging too many devices into an outlet are other common electrical troubles.
Kitchen and bathroom outlets should have ground-fault interrupters (GFIs). If a leak occurs, or a curling iron or electric mixer accidentally fall into a sink full of water, the GFI will sense the short. It shuts off power to the device immediately to prevent an injury or damage to the system.
Going the extra mile to keep your home safe and healthy both increases your peace of mind and your family’s comfort. Sometimes small improvements can make a big difference.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.