Your home - it's your castle, your sanctuary. But could the place you go to escape the rest of the world be bad for you? Formaldehyde, chloroform and even asbestos could be in your home and you may not even know it.
First, the good news. "Today we're designing houses that are green-friendly," says Dan Lee, Interior Design instructor at The Art Institute of Dallas, a campus of South University, and the president of Lee Design Group. "Materials today have fewer chemicals and less carcinogenic substances."
But if you're in an older house or did some remodeling or refurbishing on your own, there could be substances in your home that are bad for your health. "There's something called volatile organic compounds or VOCs," says Kathleen Wakefield, Interior Design and Design & Technical Graphics program coordinator at The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston. She adds, "They are emitted from certain solids and liquids like paint."
Wakefield says that short-term exposure to VOCs can cause nausea and irritation to the eyes, while long-term exposure could damage your kidneys and liver. VOCs are also emitted from carpet foam made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). So Wakefield suggests that if you're putting down carpet you stay elsewhere for a few weeks while the chemicals are being released. And keep windows open if possible to air out the space more quickly and not trap the compounds in your home.
Lee suggests you avoid carpet altogether. "Go with wood or natural stone floors over carpets and make sure you're shopping for PVC-free floors," he says.
When adding a little color to your home, look for paints with low or no VOC emissions. It should be right on the label. According to Wakefield, federal limits for flat paint are 250 milligrams per liter, and 380 milligrams per liter for all other kinds. California standards are more stringent - 100 milligrams per liter for flat paint and 150 milligrams per liter for all others.
If you're building your home from the ground up, consider using copper plumbing. "Builders have gotten away from copper and switched to PVC," says Lee, "but copper is a natural sterilizer. If water sits in copper, it's being sterilized. In PVC, it's growing something."
If your home was built in the '70s, '80s or '90s, the press board used could contain formaldehyde, explains Lee. And the plastic laminate in those homes was almost always glued and manufactured with formaldehyde as well. And if your home was built before the '60s, the floor and wall coverings may contain asbestos gluing agents.
If you're careful about the materials you're using in your home building and remodeling projects, make sure that caution extends to the household products you bring into your house as well, says Lee. Many fabric softeners actually contain chloroform, benzyl acetate and pentane. These are cancer-causing agents, warns Lee. Also, make sure you're using natural pesticides in the yard as well.
Wakefield advises researching products on the internet before you go out and buy them. She also advises hiring an interior designer that specializes in environmental and sustainable design for any home improvement and renovation projects you undertake.
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