My commitment to building a healthy house is the latest in a long line of projects I’ve undertaken to limit my and my family’s exposure to potentially harmful things. Some family and friends might call it an “obsession” (you guys know who you are!); but I prefer to call it being careful and particular about what I use and am around 😉
This journey started out in college, and it began as a result of me being a huge fan of wet wipes. I used them all the time, and I went through a lot of them every week; they were a staple on my weekly shopping list.
One day I woke up with an extremely dry mouth. I was thirsty the whole day, and no matter how much water I drank the dry feeling wouldn’t go away. This continued for several days and I was really puzzled, but figured I was just dehydrated, and it went away as suddenly as it began. A week or two later, I reached for a wet wipe and almost as soon as I used it, my mouth dried up and my sinuses started burning. It was an “A-ha!” moment. I realized that the chemicals in the wipe I was holding were causing an immediate negative reaction in my body. I tested out my theory twice more that day, just to check, and the same thing happened each time I used a wipe. After that, I stopped using wet wipes.
That incident changed the way I thought about, well, pretty much everything. Every product I used, I gave a thought (or 50) to what ingredients went into making that product. I wanted to do my best to avoid a lot of the things that most people don’t pay attention to or even realize are found in commercial items (synthetic materials, chemicals, pesticides, etc.) I looked at my food, clothing, body care products, baby products- the whole nine yards. So of course when we began planning our house, I wanted to make sure it would be the healthiest house that it could be. Because of this guy:
We want to shield him from as many health problems as possible, and to keep ourselves healthy so that we can be around for him for a long, long time. By chipping away at the things that can make us sick, hopefully we’ll be doing just that.
Here’s a breakdown of things in the house-building/furnishing process that can cause indoor pollution. I borrowed this list from the book Prescriptions for a Healthy House, by Baker-LaPorte, Elliot, and Banta, which is one of our guides in this process:
1- VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds. “Volatile” means that these compounds evaporate easily. Usually, they’re used as solvents in substances like paint or glue. Some household things that commonly contain VOCs are carpets, plywood, wood finishes, spray-on insulation, particleboard and, of course, paint, to name a few. VOCs can be natural (like turpentine) or synthetic (like acetone), but they’re much more likely to be harmful if they’re synthetic. Items that contain VOCs slowly release the chemical vapors into the air, which is called outgassing.
2- Toxic byproducts of combustion. Fireplaces, woodstoves, and appliances that burn gas and kerosene, such as water heaters and furnaces, use up oxygen in the house and release harmful gases and particulate matter into the air.
3- Pesticides/biocides. Not just sprayed on lawns and plants, soil under houses is often treated with pesticides before the houses are built. Wood and other building materials are often sprayed in an effort to prevent mildew and mold from growing. Pesticides can be very harmful to humans, especially to children, and can cause a wide variety of ailments.
4- Naturally Occurring Pollutants. This category includes things like dust, pollen, mold and mildew, radon and heavy metals. They are “natural” because they occur by themselves in the environment and are not brought in with building materials, but they are still harmful and should be as limited as possible within the home.
5- Electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The location of things like power lines and radio waves outside the house, and things like computers and microwaves/other appliances inside the house, or poorly done wiring, combine to create electromagnetic fields that can adversely affect home-dwellers. Scientists have only recently started looking into the effects of EMF on living organisms, but the research that’s available shows that the effects can be pretty major.
I’ll get into more detail with specific products in other posts, so forgive my generalization here, but these are the sorts of things that we’re going to try very hard to avoid and limit while putting our home together. This will entail a lot of research on our part, and close examination of various building materials and products from different companies to see which best fit our wishes and our budget. If anyone has any suggestions, do feel free to let us know, and as we go along I’ll list the materials we decide to use and the reasons why, and the benefits of each.