Today we know much more about the toxic properties of chemicals, diseases and the genetic mutations they have been linked to after decades of research and studies, yet their presence in our every day lives and homes is still common. Much like how cigarette sales are strong despite knowing the dangers of smoking, eye opening studies on toxins are still outweighed by the perceived advantage of using some toxic chemicals for their superior killing or cleaning powers, as evidenced in frequently used synthetic pesticides and the most popular brands of home cleaning products. It is difficult to make the switch, as many of these harsh chemicals make cleaning and pest eradication so much easier, and are often less costly than natural and organic alternatives.
Cleaning products and pesticides are obvious examples of unwanted chemicals brought into a luxury custom home and creating a toxic environment for its occupants, as smells alone may remind us. There are a number of other ways homeowners unwittingly create a toxic environment, particularly when remodeling their homes. Some common examples:
Flame retardant chemicals used to treat furniture, electronics, upholstery contain PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), and industrial toxic chemical. While being phased out, it is still prevalent in use in North America. Ways to limit exposure include: avoid buying flame retardant children’s clothing and sleepwear; with new furniture, choose wool or cotton fill over polyester or foam; do not purchase upholstery or carpeting labeled as flame retardant; reduce dust levels with damp cleaning methods.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a group of chemicals that vaporize easily and may bring harmful gasses into our home. More than 200 of the 400 identified VOC compounds may be found in carpeting alone. They are present in household products such as furnishings, paints and particle board. If possible, choose no- VOC paint for new paint projects, avoid storing paint in the garage or basement as fumes escape; pressed wood, plywood and particle board emit VOCs – avoid buying new and seal any existing with any number of “safe” sealants.
Mold and other fungal toxins may originate from: damp areas with frequent temperature changes; airborne particles from furnace blower or a/c unit. To minimize exposure in the home: keep filters clean on ventilation, heating and a/c systems; remove any water sources to mold affected areas and dry thoroughly; keep indoor home humidity level below 60%.
Phthalates and PVC (polyvinyl chloride): typical sources are plastic wrap and bottles and food containers; can also be found in Vinyl, dubbed the “poison plastic”, which is laced with phthalates, chemical plastic softeners. Typically, vinyl is found in the home in the form of flooring (use real linoleum or natural woods/ stones instead), shower curtain liners, furniture, drapes, wall coverings, toys. To minimize exposure, look for PVC free and phthalate free labels when buying these products and keep rooms well ventilated.
Heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead, aluminum and cadmium are prevalent in our environment and can accumulate in the soft tissue of our body. Sources in our home include drinking water, pesticides, preserved wood, building materials, chlorine plants and lead paints. Limit exposure by: installing water filters; using cold water for drinking, making coffee/ tea, cooking; if home was built prior to 1978, check for lead paint; avoid using treated wood (CCA or ACZA) on decks and children’s play structures.
Chloroform: occurs when chlorine mixes with organic matter in the water. Air, water and food can all contain chloroform. Exposure in home can be minimized by using low-flow shower heads, reducing the temperature in the shower; opening windows or using exhaust fans when using hot water for cleaning or showering; locating the washer/ dryer in an area with good ventilation.
Basic guideline for reducing risks of toxins in your custom built home:
- Use as many natural cleaning products as possible.
- Regularly ventilate the home year-round, opening windows and doors on opposite sides of room for 5-10 minutes.
- Look for non-toxic alternatives for chemical pest control products.
- Avoid wearing shoes in the house and encourage visitors to do the same; it reduces the amount of outdoor pesticides and chemicals carried indoors as traces left in carpets may linger for years.
- Have water tested and install water filters on all faucets if necessary.
- Use low VOC paints and sealants.
- Avoid fire retardant clothing and sealants for carpeting, furnishings and electronics.
- Avoid vinyl flooring by substituting real linoleum or natural woods and materials.
- Regularly change or clean furnace and a/c filters, checking monthly.
- Use natural lawn care methods in place of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
- Consider using toxin-absorbing houseplants which help clean the air inside the home.