Don't compromise your health when you fix up your home
bad indoor air can be harder onyou than a diesel belch at 20 feet. Formaldehyde, ammonia and other toxic chemicals from carpets, furniture, particleboard, wood finishes, glue and paint send out their vapours for years without perceptible odour.If you’re renovating or remodelling, take the opportunity to green your home. Most reno materials have healthy counterparts — but you have to search for them, and they’ll run you more cash than the bad stuff.
To avoid the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in paint (even water-based latex has harmful ingredients), use Glidden Lifemaster 2000 (low VOCs) or AFM’s line of water-based acrylic paints. You’ll quickly discover that you have to suffer for your good health — earth-friendly paint costs 25 to 50 per cent more than the toxic kinds and offers a limited tint choice of eggshell and pastels.
AFM also makes non-toxic sealers, primers and finishes. Colour Your World has its own brand of low-VOC paint, as does Benjamin Moore Paints. Healthy Home Services Inc. in Thornhill, an online company, offers a complete line of eco-friendly products.
Paint strippers are powerful concoctions that contain methylene chloride, which is proven to cause cancer in lab animals. And even masks can’t save you from the fumes. An alternatives is Bio-Wash Paint Stripper and 3M Safest Stripper, which use a non-toxic caustic base.
Furniture and kitchen cabinets should be solid wood as opposed to particleboard. Also look for an FSC certification label verifying sustainable forestry practices. A cost-saving option is recycled lumber, cabinets, drywall, windows, doors and electrical fixtures from Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store in North York. Most chemical off-gassing is over, and you can feel warm and fuzzy about saving farmland from landfill. None of their stuff has lead paint or other contaminants.
Make sure pressure-treated wood for outside use is treated with borate, not CCA. Borate, made from borax, is far less toxic but can drive up the cost of a deck or outdoor porch and stairs in the average home by about $2,500. Or consider Trex, a composite board made of recycled green plastic bags — $3.28 per linear foot, compared to regular wood at 82 cents. It’s popular for decks because it ages to look like wood. If your budget is tight and you have to use chemically treated wood, use AFM sealer to help block the toxic effects .
One of the main villains in the home is that lovely wall-to-wall carpet and underpad glue oozing up to 200 toxic chemicals. Ceramic tile, cork, bamboo, wood or natural linoleum made from linseed oil and flax make great flooring. To install, look for low VOC grouts and adhesives. Hardwax Oil is a natural plant product for hardwood floors. If carpeting is a must, then try hemp, wool, seagrass or recycled PET (a hard plastic) carpets (same soft fibre as in polar fleece). Use a wool or synthetic recycled heat-fused (not glue-fused) underpad without toxic adhesives.
Vinyl flooring is a no-no because it’s made from PVC — an organochlorine poison and the most serious threat to health and the environment of all plastics. Studies show that phthalates in vinyl leach into the air and eventually into us. Construction accounts for two-thirds of all PVC produced, and since its fumes account for many deaths in fires, it’s wise to avoid vinyl and plastic where possible, even in pipes and siding.
At the very least, look for chlorine-free plastic. Clay pipes are an expensive alternative but last four to five times longer than PVC. If you’re replacing windows, consider wood instead of vinyl frames. To beef up your insulation, cellulose, made of 100-per-cent recycled newspaper, is available treated with borates for fire resistance, insect protection and rot.
EXPERTS”You can make a healthy house and then ruin it with your activities. No smoking, scented products or storing of old paints or pesticides inside the house. A high-efficiency gas furnace is fine in newer homes, but the gases are sucked back into older ones. Electric heating is healthier but expensive.”
JOZEF KROP MD and environmental specialist
“PVC in vinyl flooring does not cause an allergic response. There may be an odour when it’s new, and some individuals develop symptoms that they relate to odours from almost anything. The average person can live a normal life (with standard construction materials). Dust mites and animals are the most common allergens relevant to asthma.’
SUSAN TARLO MD, asthma specialist, Toronto Western Hospital
“Urea-formaldehyde is a known carcinogen in particleboard. Instead, use plywood made with the far less toxic phenol-formaldehyde. Use non-petroleum-based products like regular wood glue instead of contact cement. Use a natural cure or acetic acid caulking. Latex caulking is safer than most, but still emits VOCs.’
BRENDA BARCLAY SMITH Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Society
“There is nothing in latex paints that will cause a reaction unless the person is very sensitive. The higher the sheen, the higher the VOCs. The darker the colour, the more VOCs. After 15 to 30 days, all solvent is off-gassed.’
SAM MARINUCCI, Para Paints