Health Begins at Home
By Giselle Mazurat
Return to Samples

Some experts say our homes can be just as polluted as a large city. This means our health is at risk since we spend most of our time indoors, especially during the winter. This risk increased significantly during the Energy Crisis of the late seventies when we started to seal our homes more efficiently to prevent heat loss.

Our home is a haven for two types of pollutants:

  • Biological pollutants include moulds, mildew, dust mites found in mattresses and pillows, pollen, animal dander (dried saliva and skin particles) and bacteria. These toxins come from high humidity, rotting house structures or furnishings, wall-to-wall carpeting, water build-up from leaks or humidifiers, plants, insects and household pets.
  • Chemical pollutants include combustion gases, radon, lead, pesticides, asbestos and compounds released from paint, turpentine, cleaning agents and other household products.

Toxins enter your body mainly through the air we breathe. They trigger symptoms such as irritated eyes, headaches, dizziness, allergies, fatigue and asthma. Other symptoms include respiratory infections, nausea, impaired co-ordination and skin rashes. Chemical toxins can increase the risk of cancer, lung disease, allergies, kidney and liver disease and damage to the nervous system.

Some pollutants can give off a smell. For example, a musty or dusty smell can be a sign of a biological pollutant. Even if you can’t detect a smell, condensation on the walls and windows or mould in the kitchen or bathroom can be a sign of a biological toxin. Radon or carbon monoxide can indicate a chemical toxin.

Should I Buy a New House or an Old House?

Generally, a new house is more toxic than an older house because new building products release more chemical toxins into the air. New houses can be up to 15 times more polluted with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) than houses built a few years ago.

Older houses can also pose serious health risks from chemical toxins. Combustion gases such as carbon monoxide come from leaking or back-drafting chimneys, fireplaces, unvented gas stoves and heaters, automobile exhaust and cigarette smoke. Radon, a radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in the soil or rock under your house, can enter your house through foundation leaks. Some older homes may have lead-based paint on the walls, lead in the soil, dust or water and asbestos from old, deteriorating insulation or fireproofing.

Whether your home is old or new, formaldehyde can be found in paints, glues, carpets, vinyl wall or floor coverings, wood products, toiletries and various household products. Other sources of chemical toxins include pesticides, termicides and fungicides.

Reducing Pollution in Your Home

Install an adequate ventilation system that changes the air about once every three hours. Your ventilation system should maintain moderate temperature and humidity levels to minimize toxins and mould growth. Make sure the incoming and return air is filtered properly so the air is evenly distributed in your home.

If an area in your home is polluted, seal the area with safe building materials to separate it from the rest of your house. Keep the area well ventilated to bring in fresh, clean air.

Your Home is Your Health

If you want a healthy home:

  • Choose a house located away from industrial pollution, heavy traffic and power lines.
  • Ensure the finishing on floors has a low-toxicity level. Examples include hardwood, linoleum or ceramic tile.
  • Use non-toxic paint for drywall and ceiling finishes.
  • Ensure your home has low VOCs and formaldehyde-free furniture and furnishings. Examples include natural, non-dyed, non-allergenic fabrics and hardwood furniture with low-toxicity finishes.
  • Use unscented, non-toxic household and personal care products.
  • Don’t use aerosol air fresheners, deodorizers, mothballs or perfumes, especially if you’re asthmatic.
  • Make sure your home has enough lighting to prevent mould growth.
  • Don't smoke inside your house.
  • Don't leave your car idling in the garage for a long time, especially if the garage is attached to your house.

You may not be able to control everything in the environment, but you can control the pollution in your home. Your home is your sanctuary — your place to retreat. It’s where you raise your children, eat, sleep and spend a lot of your time. So, make sure your home is healthy because your health begins at home!