9 Tips to a Healthier House and Yard

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Cutting down on chemicals and making your home healthy can be cheap and easy. Green cleaners, native plants and low-chemical touches can give your family a healthier home at cheap prices. Here are nine easy tips to make your home a little greener.

INDOORS

Clean naturally. Biodegradable, nontoxic cleaners are much more environmentally and kid friendly than traditional household cleaners. “If you can smell a really strong chemical smell, which people associate with a clean smell, it’s probably not good for you and you are breathing that in,” says Maria Broadbent, environmental program coordinator, Dept. of Neighborhood & Environmental Programs, City of Annapolis.

These days it’s easy to buy everything from dishwashing detergent to bathroom tile cleaner at grocery stores and discount chains. Broadbent suggests looking for citrus-based cleaners and cleaners that don’t contain phosphates. If you are a DYI-er, white vinegar and baking soda can make your house sparkle. Look for how-to books or recipes online.

Filter dust. Furnace and air-conditioning filters effectively remove dust and other allergy- and asthma-inducing particles from the home. It’s worth it to change those filters often, Broadbent says. Clogged filters not only make it difficult to pull allergens from the air, but they also force your furnace or air conditioner to work harder. “How often you change it depends on the quality of the filter you buy,” Broadbent explains. “But if you can afford to do it more often than it says, you should. Otherwise go by the recommendation on the [filter’s] box.”

Get tested. Both lead paint and radon in your home can cause serious health issues. Lead paint is known to cause brain damage to fetuses and young children, while radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers. Older homes – those built before 1978 – should be tested for lead paint and varnishes. And all homes should be tested for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soil and rocks. Parents can pick up relatively inexpensive test kits for both radon and lead at hardware stores, says Rob Savidge, Environmental Compliance Inspector, Dept. of Neighborhood & Environmental Programs, City of Annapolis.

Avoid VOCs. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gases that carpet, paint, and other building materials emit into the air. At the very least, these gases can cause headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation when concentrated indoors. To lessen the impact of VOCs in the home, Savidge recommends paying special attention to materials such as carpet when remodeling. “Carpet can actually emit VOCs for longer periods than paint, so that can have a larger impact on your health,” he says. Look for carpets that have a Green Label; this means the Carpet and Rug Institute has tested it for lower levels of VOCs. Or consider installing wood, cork, or tile in place of carpet. Also use no- or low-VOC paints.
The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends limiting exposure to perchloroethylene emissions from newly dry-cleaned materials as a way to limit VOC exposure.

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