Healthy home reduces illness
We try to eat right. We exercise. We take vitamins. We avoid second-hand smoke.
In a health-conscious society, we take all kinds of precautions to safeguard our personal well-being.
But there is a potential source of health problems that we never give a second thought: our homes. Modern houses provide protection from the elements and comfortable temperatures, but there are hidden dangers from certain building materials and practices that could aggravate asthma and allergies. Some building materials contain substances, such as formaldehyde, which, under the right circumstances, cause toxic fumes to be released.
Claudette Reichel, a housing specialist with the LSU AgCenter in Baton Rouge, conducted a Healthy Home Improvement Seminar on Tuesday at the Iberia Parish Parkview Branch Library. The seminar - for professionals and do-it-yourselfers - focused on remodeling, which is a perfect opportunity to replace potentially harmful conditions with healthier options.
"Most of the time is spent on components of the house, identifying potential health hazards and how you can correct it and how you can do no harm, creating a health hazard that didn't exist before the remodeling project," Reichel said.
"There are some fairly low-cost strategies that can perform better than standard practices," she added.
The advice was geared specifically to the environment of South Louisiana.
"One of the big areas, one we spend the most time on is 'keep it dry,' " Reichel said. "(Moisture) has an effect on dust mites and mold, which affects allergies and asthma," she said.
Moisture can also seep into formaldehyde-treated materials, such as insulation and wood. This can cause "outgassing," emission of the toxic substance into the air. Formaldehyde outgassing can cause burning of the eyes and nose and irritation of the airway, nausea, headaches and other problems.
Keeping the home free of pests is also a key point, Reichel said, but it's important to control insects and other pests with the smallest amount of chemicals possible.
"There are approved roles and ways to use chemicals, but what we introduce is the technology and concept of integrated pest control - how to look for and find entry points that can be blocked. We use materials that have a natural repellent effect to roaches and termites, such as borate-treated materials - insulation and wood."
Borate is a form of boric acid, a time-honored substance for safely controlling pests.
Sealants may be used to close off penetration points, Reichel said.
"And there are nifty little gadgets. For instance, there's a weep hole protector for weep holes in brick veneer. It's a copper mesh that can be used to block entry, especially where rodents may be coming in," she said.
Moisture control also helps to make a house less attractive to pests, she added.
Conserving energy and reducing energy costs is often a concern for homeowners. But, sometimes a house can be sealed so tightly that it can lead to health problems.
"You need to keep it properly ventilated," Reichel said. "You need that right balance of adequate ventilation for good air quality to dilute unavoidable contaminants, but not too much and not at the wrong time or wrong place, because it would drive up energy costs and reduce comfort.
"You can make a house really tight, but you must provide adequate ventilation.
"People who have health conditions will want to invest in a higher standard of air quality than people who have no health conditions and don't want to be made unhealthy by their home and the air."