If your family suffers from allergies, asthma or any other type of health issue, you can help improve their symptoms by making changes in your home. Health benefits of going green and using eco-friendly products are substantial. You can easily improve the health of your family by using eco-friendly products in your home without spending a fortune.
The number of people suffering from allergies is enormous with 50 million sufferers living in the U.S. alone. The annual cost of allergies is set at $14.5 billion U.S. The spring and fall seasons are the worst for allergy sufferers with absenteeism rates soaring at these times of year.
Health care costs are huge so why not do what you can do reduce the amount of allergens your family is exposed to. By switching to eco-friendly products and choosing the right materials when doing any home renovations you are doing your part to help both your family and the environment. Over time you will have improved the health of your family and reduced the amount of allergens in your home.
It is a sad fact today that so many children are developing allergies and asthma while young. Many babies are born with severe allergies. Unfortunately, the number of children with allergies is on the rise. This makes it the perfect time to take action and start reducing your family’s exposure to allergens.
Indoor and Outdoor Allergies
Most people associate allergies with the outdoors when the air is full of pollen and spores, with spring and fall being the worst time for most allergy sufferers. But allergens exist indoors and with houses being built that are more airtight the number of people finding themselves allergic to their own home is on the rise.
Some of the most common indoor allergens include:
- Dust mites
- Animal dander
- Cleaning products
- Building materials
- Heating and Cooling Systems
The best ways to reduce your indoor air pollution include:
- Controlling as many sources of pollution as possible
- Ensuring you have adequate ventilation
- Clean your indoor air
Allergens are found everywhere in your home, at the office, in schools and even in your car. By reducing all of these sources you can reduce the number of allergy triggers your family is exposed too.
An allergen is a substance that causes allergic reactions in susceptible people. They are particles which are carried through the air and then settle onto your furniture and over your floors. Allergens can differ in size and they are actually measured in a unit called microns or micrometers. Larger allergen particles will settle more quickly on surfaces around your air. Dust mites, cockroach debris and pollen are the largest particles when compared to molds and animal dander.
How to Decrease the Number of Allergens in Your Home
It is possible to decrease the number of allergens which settle in your home and it depends on how aggressive you want to be. If you are cleaning due to allergy and asthma systems you may wish to be fairly aggressive and make a number of changes at one time.
One of your first steps is to remove as many sources of allergens as you can. This includes removing your carpets in favor of a wood floor, removing stuffed toys and cleaning or changing your mattress and using bedding protectors. Pets can be a difficult issue and unfortunately if allergies and asthma are severe enough you may have to make a heart breaking decision.
Many times there are far more allergens on all the surfaces of your home than actually in your air. The simple cleaning task of dusting can actually make them airborne again.
When it comes to cleaning you do have several choices and one is to take steps to improve your air quality. This can be done by improving your furnace and air conditioners and by installing HVAC filters. These filters trap air borne particles and you can even purchase vacuums with these types of filters today.
By increasing your air circulation in your home you can decrease the number of allergens. This is why it is beneficial to run an air conditioner in the summer months. It helps to reduce the amount of humidity in your home. To save costs on your air conditioning set your unit to re-circulate if it is available.
You can control those pesky dust mites by keeping all the surfaces in your home as clean and as uncluttered as possible. Wood or tile floors are preferable over carpet. If you do want to have carpet in your home then use throw rugs which can be washed or choose low pile carpets.
Your bedding is home to a huge number of allergens and the best way to counteract this is to use protective covers. These are zippered covers which fit over your mattress and pillows and is the number one method of reducing allergy symptoms.
If you vacuum regularly you are reducing the allergens in your home but you do need to use a quality vacuum. There are many allergic and asthma friendly vacuum systems available and it may be worth your while to purchase a new more efficient one.
The topic of pets is a sensitive one and it is hard when one of your children suddenly become super allergic to your pet. One of the best ways to truly test if your child is allergic to your pet is to have a friend or relative take care of your pet for a while. Then clean your house including your walls and rugs and then see if their symptoms change. By seeing how much of a difference the absence of your pet is you can decide on the best way to go. If their reaction isn’t too bad and you decide to keep your pet it can help to not allow them into the bedrooms.
Mold occurs to do humidity and dampness and if you experience this in your home a dehumidifier can help. Always fix leaks as soon as they occur.
How To Improve Indoor Air Quality and Reduce Allergens In Your Home
Now we are going to take a tour of your home room by room and discuss ways that you can make suitable changes to improve your indoor air quality and reduce the number of causes of allergens.
Let’s take a look at why house dust causes allergic reactions in the first place. House dust is actually a mixture of many different substances. The actual content is going to differ in everyone’s home. The dust can contain things like fibers from fabric, human skin particles, pet dander, mold spores, bacteria, food particles and even pieces of cockroaches. People with allergies are allergic to at least one or more of these substances and when exposed to the house dust this causes allergic reactions.
Another huge source for allergy sufferers is mold. The majority of molds are found in the air outside your home. They can enter your home through an open door or window.
Mold can easily grow in your home if it is given the right conditions. It needs to be exposed to moisture levels that are above 50% humidity and mold needs something to grow on. Moisture can come from leaky pipes or from your foundation. Mold loves to grow on surfaces like wood and on fabrics such as your curtains.
The way mold spreads is by producing spores which then become airborne. They can easily become part of the dust in your home and cause major allergy symptoms to any sensitive person.
Air Purifiers and Filters
Air purifiers are great for removing indoor air pollutants. Unfortunately our indoor air is polluted in so many ways. From the chemicals which are used in the furniture you sit on, fumes from cooking fuels, outdoor air pollutants which seep into your home, some types of insulation and more. These pollutants increase over a period of time inside your home and are responsible for creating a myriad of health issues.
There are 4 main types of air purifiers which are available today:
- Negative Ion Generators – Any form of pollutant is known as a positive ion. This type of purifier uses a negative ion which attaches to the pollutant and neutralizes it.
- Ozone Generators – This produce ozone which helps remove bacteria and tackle pollutants.
- Ultraviolet Light – This type of purifier uses ultraviolet light to sanitize air that passes through it.
- Photo Catalysis – This type of purifier works by oxidizing odors, bacteria and pollutants.
The issue with certain purifiers is that while they do clean the air, using them for an extended period of time can cause other issues. While Ozone type purifiers are popular they can end up causing respiratory issues. While they do emit a wonderful fresh smell they could potentially cause lung damage.
Before purchasing an air purifier you may want to check with your doctor to see if this is what he recommends, especially if you have someone in your family that has asthma. You definitely don’t want to end up making their condition worse!
Houseplants as Purifiers
NASA completed studies which show that houseplants can purify the indoor air in your home. They do this by eliminating airborne pollutants such as:
- Trichloroethylene – found in inks and paints
- Benzene, Xylene and Toulene – found in inks, rubber, gasoline, soaps and plastics
- Formaldehyde – found in furniture, foam products, paper and certain cleaning products
The best houseplants for eliminating pollutants are:
- Gerber Daisies
- Heartleaf philodendrons
- Spider Plants
- Devil’s Ivy
- Peace Lily
Some of these plants are much larger than others and ones such as the Peace Lily may only be available at certain times of the year. Your local nursery will be able to advise you on which plants last the longest inside your home.
Philodendrons have large shiny leaves and the Elephant Ear Philodendron looks really exotic with leaves that can reach 22 inches in size. As well as purifying a room this houseplant would make a great focal point as well.
Spider plants are really easy to grow. So if you don’t consider yourself to have a green thumb this should be your plant of choice.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to using houseplants for air purification is to use plants that are in 12 inch pots and use 2 for a room which is 150 square feet in size.
Family and Living Rooms
Below you will find some useful tips on reducing allergens in your family, dining room and living room area. As well try to reduce the number of ornaments that you have in these rooms. While they look great they are also major dust collectors.
Remember that children’s toys can be a huge source of allergens. Always try to clean your child’s toys especially if they show signs of developing a cold. Germs can spread extremely quickly and cling to surfaces like coffee tables and door knobs. So take extra care to clean all of these surfaces regularly.
If you suffer from allergies then you might want to consider replacing your upholstered furniture with furniture that is made from leather, wood, metal or plastic. You may even want to cover upholstered furniture with slip covers made from a non-allergenic material.
Curtains and Blinds
Try to use washable curtains made from an organic or cotton material. Try to replace blinds with roll type blinds which can be washed easily. While horizontal blinds look great they are a huge source of dust and they can be difficult to keep clean.
Carpet can cause a number of allergies and can contribute to asthma attacks just because it is home to so many dust mites and particles. It is best to replace your flooring with a wood type of flooring instead. If you have any type of area mats or rugs then make sure you clean them regularly. When vacuuming your rugs choose a vacuum that uses a hepa type filter.
While wood floors are a healthy choice the method of harvesting the wood is what normally causes issues. Forests can be destroyed by companies that have no respect for the environment. This is why managed forests and sustained harvesting is so important. Wood is extremely durable and has a long life cycle and even the milling process does not take that much energy. To ensure that your new wood floor is an environmentally conscious choice, look for products which follow the recommended harvesting guidelines.
Forest Stewardship Council is an agency that was set up to provide approval for wood that has been harvested in a conscious manner. It is always a good idea to try and buy local species of wood as wood that has been harvested locally helps you support your community and is wood that hasn’t cost as much to be manufactured and transported to you.
Types of Wood Floors
The majority of wood manufacturers know that what their customers are looking for and have responded by using environmentally friendly products. One type of wood floor that you will run across is the reclaimed wood floor. A reclaimed wood floor uses products that have previously been used and the wood is then made into a suitable flooring material. Wooden beams from century old homes and barns as well as wooden shipping crates have all found their way into people’s homes as flooring.
Engineered flooring is extremely popular and is extremely long lasting. This type of flooring is actually more durable than a traditional wood floor. It is made up of layers of wood with the top layer being a thin veneer of finished wood. Engineered floors can withstand humidity and temperature changes better than solid wood.
Salvaged Wood Floors
These are perfect for adding character and warmth to your home. You can salvage many types of wood today including flooring and beams. Can you image using 100 year old wood in your home?
Linoleum floors at one time were regarded as a poor man’s floor as they were cheap and often ugly. Quite often this type of flooring can be confused with vinyl flooring. A true linoleum floor is constructed from natural materials including linseed oil. Linseed oil is well known for killing microorganisms. This makes them perfect for using in your kitchen.
Cork floors are another popular choice and add warmth and comfort to your floors, again a great choice for your kitchen. When it comes to being an eco-friendly product there is a lot to say for cork. It is a renewable source and extreme care is taken during the production of a cork floor.
Thin bark is stripped from trees in Portugal and Spain once every nine years. This is done very carefully so as to not damage any part of the tree. Wine corks are produced first and then all the remaining pieces are ground and pressed and then used for manufacturing products such as cork floor tiles and planks and cork bulletin boards. They come in different shades and colors for cosmetic reasons.
If you are looking for a durable floor then a Terrazzo floor might be a great choice. This type of flooring is made from small chips of marble or granite which are then set into concrete and polished to a wonderful finish. This is considered to be a highly sustainable eco-friendly flooring provided that no VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) sealers were used in the manufacturing process. While it looks great a Terrazzo can be hard on your feet if standing for long periods at one time.
Nothing on allergies and asthma would be complete without a section on vacuum cleaners. Your carpet is home to bacteria and dust mites along with your upholstered furniture and your beds. All of these surfaces should be vacuumed regularly to keep allergens as low as possible.
If anyone in your family suffers from allergies or asthma, your doctor has most likely recommended that you switch to a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) type vacuum cleaner. The word HEPA refers to the filtration system and to the size of the particles that it removes.
HEPA is used in home air purifiers and as filters for vacuums. For a filter to be considered HEPA it must remove 99.97% or particles that are at least 0.3 microns in size.
Types of Vacuum Cleaners
Shopping for a new vacuum cleaner can be confusing. To help you out we have listed a brief description of the various types of vacuum cleaners that are available today.
Upright and Canister Vacuums
The main difference between an upright or canister type vacuum is the size and the portability of the models. Upright vacuums are often stronger than canister types but they can also be heavier to carry around your home. Uprights are also easy to adjust when moving from carpet to a hard surface. Canister vacuums usually have longer cords but do have lots of attachments. This makes them great for cleaning curtains, blinds and for vacuuming your couch and mattress. Canister types of vacuums are normally quiet and can be pulled around more easily.
Bagged and Bagless Vacuums
The biggest concern for allergy sufferers is when it comes to emptying your vacuum. Is it better to use a vacuum with bags or bagless? Obviously you would think that a vacuum with no bags would be a bad choice as the dust could become airborne and cause major issues. However after careful research it has been discovered that emptying a bagless vacuum produces no extra dust than when changing bags in a regular vacuum. The major advantage to using a bag less vacuum is the cost of not having to purchase new bags.
When it comes to power a canister model usually operates at about 1100 watts while an upright model uses 1400 watts. The wattage refers to the power that it takes to make the motor spin. You may also see terms such as Air Wattage and Water Lift being used. These terms refer to the suction power of the vacuum. When shopping for a new vacuum, look for one with a HEPA filter. Some models of vacuum use more than one type of filter to remove even more particles.
These types of vacuums are extremely convenient and portable. They are perfect for using to clean small surfaces in your kitchen and bathroom and are great for cleaning your car or for taking to the cottage. Look for a hand held HEPA type vacuum if this is your choice.
Going Green in Your Kitchen
Kitchen is a busy central hub for most families. Let’s see how we can add eco-friendly and green products to your kitchen for both health and environmental concerns.
If you are looking to remodel your kitchen then you can start with using eco-friendly kitchen cabinets, counter tops and floors. Bamboo floors and cabinets are becoming widely popular as is the use of recycled timbers.
Choosing Suitable Kitchen Appliances
When it comes to your kitchen the worst source of allergens is from the type of flooring you choose. However you can improve things like the cost of your hydro bill and you can change to using more environmentally friendly products in your kitchen.
Here are some useful tips for reducing sources of allergens in your kitchen:
- Ensure that you use a vented exhaust fan on your stove and be sure that it vents to the outdoors.
- Don’t leave dishes in your sink, make sure you scrape off the plates and wash them after use.
- Clean your fridge on a regular basis and always clean up spills immediately.
- Make sure you store any type of food in a sealed container and put pet food into its own container with a sealed lid.
- Empty your kitchen waste every day and don’t leave food crumbs on your countertops.
- Always wash your countertops with soap and water daily.
Your largest energy sucking appliance in your kitchen is your fridge and it can use as much as 15% of your household energy costs. You can read about the energy star rating on appliances at at Energy Star and compare appliances to find out which make and model would be best for you. If your budget allows, always look for the energy efficient star ratings on products.
When choosing a new fridge you want to buy the right size for your kitchen. This includes one that will fit in your available space and one that is actually the correct size for your family. You don’t want to buy too large or too small of a fridge.
The style of your fridge matters as well and models which have a top freezer section have about 80% of actual usual space. Where bottom freezer models have 57% of usable space and side by side models have only 63% usable space and on average they use 20% more energy than the other two configurations of fridges.
Ice and Water Dispensers
As much as having an automatic ice dispenser or in-door water dispensers are handy they will cost more on your hydro bill by as much as 10 to 15%.
The type of oven you have will determine on what power sources you have available. You may be able to choose from electric, gas or propane or you may have no choice.
If you choose an electric stove you have the option of adding solar panels to your home at some point in the future. This is great if you really want to get into using renewable energy sources.
Induction cooking surfaces are extremely energy efficient and can be seen on more stoves and cook tops today. These surfaces are extremely sensitive and cool down very quickly when compared to the traditional electric coils. The heat is transferred directly to the pan on the stove and the heat around the pan is not heated as with a traditional gas or electric stove.
When using an induction cooking surface you really do need to have the correct type of cookware for best results. Look for pots that contain Ferromagnetic materials, which means that the metal used as magnetic properties. Look for labeling on cookware to make sure that it is compatible with induction surfaces.
Natural gas is often recognized as being a cleaner fuel choice. At one time it was much cheaper than electricity but this is not always the case today. On the positive side gas stoves can still be used during a power outage. One of the negatives of using gas appliances is that they can omit carbon monoxide fumes into your home. So if you go this route make certain you have carbon monoxide detectors in place.
Other items that you can go green in your kitchen include your lighting fixtures and accessories as these will also help reduce your hydro costs.
Your Drinking Water
One thing you can do in your kitchen is to improve the quality of your drinking water. Even though town and city water may be processed and filtered it does not always taste great! For those of you who have to deal with a well then you must commit to regularly testing your water to ensure that it does not contain bacteria or become contaminated with E.coli.
The best way to deal with your water is by installing some form of filtering system in your kitchen. This can be done by using a simple filtering system such as the popular Brita Jugs or by purchasing a more advanced filtering system. This is the type that usually gets installed directly under your sink.
Green Kitchen Utensils
Some of the easiest things to change are you kitchen utensils. With certain kitchen utensils appearance is important as you want them to become part of your kitchen decor. Using items such as Bamboo cutting or chopping boards are both practical and eye pleasing. Cutting boards come in various shapes and sizes so be sure to buy a large enough one for all your cutting needs. You may want to purchase a separate cutting board for preparing your meats on. There are several boards made from recycle materials that would be perfect for this use. Just make sure they are BPA- and melamine-free products.
Other kitchen items made from Bamboo include:
- Cutlery drawers
- Salt and pepper boxes
- Desk organizers
- Tea boxes
- Cutlery blocks
- Draw dividers
- Recipe Boxes
There is another natural product that is gaining in popularity and that is the use of wood from harvested trees in managed forests. These are trees that were specifically grown to be used for commercial use and so no natural trees or forests were damaged during the manufacture of these products. A great example are products produced by Epicurean, they have a great line of kitchen products featuring wood harvested from managed forests in the U.S.
You spend a good deal of your time sleeping in your bedroom. So this is possibly the most important room in your house to consider when it comes to allergies and asthma.
There are various types of flooring available on the market, and many people like to use a laminate, wood or engineered floor in their bedrooms. Carpets are notorious for harboring dust and microscopic pollutants. Many people with allergies and asthma will acknowledge that just removing this one thing from a room makes a huge difference in their life.
Dust mites are the worst enemies in your bedroom. You can minimize exposure to them by using allergen proof bed covers. These are covers that go over your mattress and pillows. They are made from fabric which is tightly woven. This helps prevent the dust mites from escaping and colonizing in your mattress.
It is important to always wash your bedding every week. This includes all the sheets, pillowcases and bed covers. To kill dust mites and remove allergens was in hot water that is at least 130F or 54.4 C.
Keeping your humidity levels low in your entire home helps as well and you should aim for a humidity level of below 50%. You may need to use a dehumidifier or an air conditioner to maintain this level. A hygrometer is a device which measures humidity levels and is available at your local hardware store.
Children love stuffed toys and you don’t want to stop buying them for your little ones. Instead to help deal with allergies and asthma buy stuffed toys which are washable. When washing use hot water and allow them to dry thoroughly.
Bed Sheets and Pillowcases
You sleep under covers for at least 6-8 hours if not more, especially children. So it is important to choose appropriate materials for anyone with allergies and/or asthma.
It is possible to shop for non allergy bedding and more companies are manufacturing this type of bedding. A good non allergenic material will stop things like dust mites, pollen, pet dander and mold spores from infesting your bed. The bedding will actually act as a physical barrier.
Your bed could contain between one and ten million dust mites. These dust mites just love a warm a moist environment. When you sleep you don’t actually breathe in the dust mites, instead you breathe in their waste particles, which is what you would be allergic to.
If you wake up in the mornings with any of the following symptoms, you may benefit from using non allergic bedding:
- You have a known allergy to pet dander, down or dust mites
- You wake up with a stuffed up nose, itchy eyes and a sore throat
- You wake up extremely congested
- You suffer from nighttime asthma attacks
- You want to prevent allergies in your young children
- You are looking for a healthy mattress cover
- You are trying to improve the quality of your sleep
The John Hopkins University did a study which showed that allergen levels decreased by 90% within a month of using mattress and pillow covers.
Buying Non Allergenic Bedding
When choosing your new non allergenic bedding, there are several factors that you want to take into consideration such as:
- Quality – This is extremely important and you need to know how effective the bedding will be and how comfortable it is to sleep on.
- Pore Size – This refers to how much space exists between the threads in the bedding. The pore size will determine the effectiveness for blocking potential allergens. Dust mite fecal particles are around 10 microns in diameter. One micron is 1/25,000 of an inch. A dust mite can be about 300 microns in size and one grain of sand is 800 microns. Pet dander and mold can be as small as only 3 microns. Ideally, you would be looking for bedding with the smallest micron measurement possible.
- Traditional Allergy Bedding – This is the type of bedding that has been on the market for a number of years now. It consists of fabric which is breathable; this is normally a blend of 50% cotton and 50% polyester. Mattress covers would be coated with an inner membrane of urethane, this coating can be noisy and adds warmth to the bed, not always ideal.
Newer products have become available which don’t have the coated material on the inside. These are known to be cooler and much quieter to sleep on. This type of bedding consists of a cotton and polyester blend which has been woven together very tightly. Some brands are available with a pore size of 3.9 microns.
Bedding made from microfiber materials are known to be extremely non-allergenic. Due to the nature of the microfibers, the bedding is soft, cool and extremely breathable. Nobody would even know that they are not sleeping on regular sheets. Microfiber sheets offer great protection against mold, mildew and stains, plus they are very durable and help protect against soils.
Organic sheets are those that are made from tightly woven organic cotton. To be truly organic the manufacturer should not use any type of dyes, chemicals or treatments in their processes.
There are lots of areas inside your home that you can improve to create a healthy home environment. When it is time to buy new bedding opt for allergy free and items made from natural materials. Green up your kitchen by choosing lots of bamboo items, plus they will look fabulous siting on your counter top. If you need any new flooring you might want to consider bamboo or cork for this too.
Just doing small things will help make your home healthier and more environmentally friendly. Stop purchasing and filling the landfill sites with plastic water bottles, instead switch over to stainless steel or BPA free ones.
Replacing older appliances with energy efficient ones can ultimately help you save money on your energy bills. If your furnace or stove are really old, a newer, more efficient model can help save you lots of money in the long run.
Just taking up gardening or recycling and composting when possible are great ways to join the “going green” movement. Start today to create a better tomorrow by making your home a healthier place to live in and and help reduce the environmental damage.