Whether you are embarking on a small room renovation or building a home from scratch, you can make decisions on the front end that will help your allergies or asthma in the long run. Whether your renovation project is do-it-yourself or you're working with a professional, ask these questions when buying materials:
PAINT: Many household products contain organic pollutants that can irritate the eyes, cause headaches and be especially pesky for asthma and allergy sufferers. Does the paint you are using contain Volatile Organic Compounds that are known to irritate breathing for allergy and asthma sufferers? Have you had a mold-inhibitor added to your chosen paint? Do you know how to dispose of old paint and materials properly?
CABINETRY: Pressed wood products can contain urea-formaldehyde, a known lung irritant. More and more companies are offering more allergy-friendly cabinet materials. Does your source offer this option? Can you use "exterior grade" pressed wood products that don't contain urea-resins?
CARPETING: Doctors generally don't recommend carpeting because it harbors dust mites and can contribute to mold growth. Removing carpet is your safest option, but if your renovation calls for laying carpet, will it be in moisture-prone areas like bathrooms or a basement? Are dust mites a concern for you or members of your family? If you will be installing carpet, is it in a well-ventilated space where off-gassing will not irritate you? Did you let it air out for 24 hours before installation and use? Does the carpet pad contain formaldehyde?
AIR QUALITY: If your home building or renovation project involves a new or improved HVAC system, make sure you use high-efficiency electrostatic furnace filters to reduce the home's airborne allergens. What size is your furnace filter? How efficient (in terms of MERV rating) is the dealer-installed filter? Do you prefer the better-filtering disposable filters that need to be replaced quarterly or a washable, permanent filter?
One of the most important considerations when taking on a house project is ensuring you are properly protected for the job, particularly if you are chemically sensitive or prone to lung irritation from chemicals or gasses.
When using potentially irritating chemicals to paint or treat surfaces, having good ventilation is key. Open windows and doors where possible to dissipate odors. Also use an efficient respirator such as the 3M 6291, which offers particulate filtration and optional organic vapor cartridges for serious odor or fume filtration. Wearing a mask is also a good idea when woodworking or when installing cabinetry or carpet since dust and possible chemical treatments used on these products could irritate your lungs.
Run a high efficiency air cleaner while working on your project and let the air cleaner continue to run even after you've finished for the day because a HEPA filter will remove almost all allergenic particles that pass through it. Utilizing a specialized machine for VOC filtration like the Austin Air HealthMate Plus is recommended if you are using products that may off-gas or generate odors. For more severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivities* and those who are sensitive to formaldehyde, the IQAir GC MultiGas is an excellent unit. Run the air purifier on high in the renovated rooms to clear the air as efficiently as possible. And be aware that you will probably need to change your filters sooner than recommended if the air purifier has been used during a renovation project.
After your home project is finished, clean up should include vacuuming with a HEPA filtration vacuum. This will remove any allergens, dirt, or other tiny particulates that remain in and around the project area. If you don't have a HEPA vacuum, at least use a high-efficiency bag since construction-related particles can be much smaller than your standard bag may trap.
*Multiple Chemical Sensitivities is a condition also known as MCS characterized by symptoms that may occur in a variety of organ systems - usually neurological, immune, respiratory, skin and musculoskeletal - due to exposure to irritating agents.
Protecting Your Investment
Now that you've put some money and elbow grease into a home up-keep project, you'll want to make it last. Treat that new shower or deck with No More Mildew protective coating so you can keep it looking clean and mildew-free all year.
It is important to protect all indoor areas from moisture buildup, which leads to mold. Another worthwhile investment for protecting your home from moisture problems is a humidity gauge. If you know that high relative humidity is a problem in your home, an electric dehumidifier can protect your newly renovated room or other high-moisture areas from musty smells and mildew problems. Lowering humidity also keeps dust mites in check since they thrive in high humidity as well.
Try to avoid toxic, harsh cleaners on your new investment. For indoor surfaces you want to keep looking like new, EnviroRite products are hard-working cleaning solutions that are totally safe. If your project included outdoor renovation, clean the old and new (non-painted) outdoor surfaces with RD-30. This chlorine-free cleaning product will take off grime, and restore weathered surfaces so your old roof looks as clean as your new one!
Decorating With Allergies In Mind
Decorating and furniture selection also play big parts in making changes at home. Our Interactive Allergy-Safe Bedroom offers great guidelines to help you make decorating decisions. Here are a few tips:
- Limit heavy cloth draperies or tapestries.
- Use all wood or minimally upholstered furniture when possible. Treat sofas and stuffed chairs with an allergen-reducing product.
- Avoid wall to wall carpet.
- If carpet or rugs are used, choose low pile and practice regular cleaning with a HEPA Vacuum. Seasonally treat the carpet with an allergen-inhibiting spray or powder.
- Limit clutter on shelves or bookcases that can collect dust.
- Leave space for a HEPA room air cleaner.
Starting From Scratch
If you are embarking on a home-building project, or even a major renovation, you are in the best position to make allergy-conscious decisions that will help your family for years to come. Here are a few important questions to ask when planning to build:
- Will there be measures put in place to prevent moisture seeping into the foundation?
- Is there proper drainage and is the ground sloping away from the house foundation?
- What type of windows will be used and will they prevent condensation?
- Is there proper ventilation?
- What type of building materials are being used and do they contain potentially harmful chemicals?
- For more healthy home details and a full run-down on questions to ask your home builder, check out these recommendations from the American Lung Association's Healthy House Project.
It is difficult to cover all the ways to make a new home or renovated room allergy-safe, and how to protect yourself in the process. However, I hope this article gave you a few ideas about how to reduce allergens and irritants in your family's home.