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Healthy home: How to improve indoor air quality

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Healthy home: How to improve indoor air quality

1. Check shingles for signs of wear and look for water damage in your attic. Water leaking through the roof can cause serious mould infestations.

2. Homes built before 1960 were often painted with lead paint, which is found in household dust. Remove a paint chip to have it tested. If you have lead, keep your home dust-free to protect against lead poisoning and hire an experienced contractor to sand or remove wall and ceiling materials contaminated with lead.

3. Replace blinds with washable drapes and you'll have a window covering that's friendlier to those with dust allergies.

4. Air out your dry cleaning or choose a company that doesn't use perchloroethylene, or "perc," a dry-cleaning solvent that's a probable carcinogen.

5. Use an exhaust fan to expel moisture and gases from cooking
that can build up and support mould growth, causing or irritating allergies and respiratory conditions.

6. Brush pets outdoors often,
wash their bedding and vacuum your home regularly to control hair.

7. Soil in urban areas can be contaminated with lead from emissions of leaded gasoline. Have your soil tested, and replaced, if necessary.

8. Keep your basement dry and mould-free
by ensuring gutters and downspouts aren't blocked, and that they direct water away from the home.

9. Use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter
to pick up fine particles that could irritate asthma and other respiratory ailments.

10. Mount carbon monoxide detectors at knee height to detect leaks from your gas or oil furnace or ill-maintained appliances.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage or death.

11. Use dehumidifiers in summer
to prevent mould and mildew growth in fabrics and furnishings.

12. Formaldehyde, a carcinogen, is found in many products including the adhesives used in plywood manufacturing. Avoid it by buying furniture made of low-emission or solid wood materials.

13. Choose natural materials, such as solid wood, bamboo or cork for flooring; where flooring is adhered to the subfloor, choose low-emission adhesives.
Avoid vinyl floor and wall coverings – these products, and the adhesives used with them, can emit carcinogens such as vinyl chloride and polyvinyl chloride.

14. Wear a dust mask and use a dust collection system, including an ambient air filter, in your workshop.
Some sawdust is carcinogenic and can irritate respiratory conditions.

15. Cover the soil in an unfinished, dirt-floor basement with six-mil polyethylene to prevent moisture from seeping into the house.

16. Install a 0.3 micron or smaller air filter in your forced air system
to stop the circulation of dust and other particles through your home.

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover more easy ways to improve the air quality in your home (and live greener!) on page 2

17. Check your plumbing for lead pipes or soldering. If it's lead, get your tap water tested for lead content; you may have to replace some of your plumbing.

18. Air fresheners simply mask odours, and some contain pollutants such as formaldehyde. Deal with the source of the odour or use natural materials, such as cedar balls.

19. Remove carpet from bathrooms and basements – mould often grows in high-humidity areas.

20. Use a cedar chest and lavender paper to deter moths from devouring off-season clothes. Moth balls contain naphthalene, a harmful toxin that may cause cataracts and cancer.

21. Dust mites and their droppings are a common allergen. Thwart them by keeping humidity below 45 per cent. Use pillow cases and mattress covers and wash bedding and pillows regularly in hot water and dry on high heat. Avoid decorating your bed with throw pillows.

22. To keep humidity down, turn on the bathroom fan when you turn on the shower and leave it running for 10 to 15 minutes afterward.

23. Smoking indoors is harmful to everyone's health; smoke can trigger or aggravate asthma, and smoke and tar linger on surfaces.

24. Use mild cleaners,
as those containing harsh chemicals can trigger asthma attacks.

25. Install a motion-sensor faucet in your bathroom to curtail germ transmission and conserve water. 

26. Clean or replace filters in portable air conditioners and humidifiers regularly to prevent mould growth. 

27. Check electrical outlets: low-level outlets should have safety plugs installed to protect children; power outdoors and in washrooms should come from ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, which protect you from electric shock.

28. Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, can seep into your home from sediment, rock or water. It can cause lung cancer, so have a home inspector periodically test for radon.

29. Choose low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint. These potentially carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals are also released by adhesives, paint thinners, nail polish and other materials.

30. Take expired compact fluorescent lightbulbs to a recycling facility or drop-off.
These should not be put in the trash since they contain small amounts of mercury. Also consider buying high-efficiency LED bulbs for accent lighting.

31. Have your chimneys inspected every fall and cleaned as necessary to remove combustible debris and creosote buildup from wood-burning stove and fireplace pipes and chimneys.

32. Use a sharp tool such as an awl to check your deck for rot,
particularly where wood supports meet underlying structures, where the ledger board fastens to your home's exterior wall and where deck boards meet supporting stringers. Rot can harbour mould and compromise your deck’s strength.

33. Avoid products that use antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan: these can create antibiotic-resistant bacteria and do not protect against viruses. Health Canada recommends regular soap and water as the best way to clean.

34. Avoid burning incense and candles indoors; the byproducts of combustion include carbon monoxide, VOCs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and soot, all of which can irritate or even cause respiratory conditions.

35. Prevent mildew and dust buildup in your bathroom vents by cleaning them regularly. A few quick strokes with a Q-Tip soaked in rubbing alcohol can easily wipe away residue and potential germs, and keep the air flowing.

This story was originally titled "35 Tips for a Healthier Home" in the March 2008 issue.

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Healthy home: How to improve indoor air quality

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