Reducing Contamination in your home to protect your family

Real Estate Agent

Most Canadians are aware of the health risks posed by chemical toxins in the workplace. However, many of us may not know of the risks posed by long-term exposure to chemicals in the place where we spend most of our time: our homes.

In the vast majority of cases, the best way to reduce levels of chemical contaminants is to prevent them from entering your environment in the first place. To keep your house as chemical-free as possible, thoroughly screen all substances you bring into your home and carefully select building materials if you’re building or renovating.

To identify potential sources of toxins, take an inventory of the products and materials that you use and avoid or minimize those known to give off chemical emissions (also called off-gassing). Unfortunately, only a few products-such as glass, ceramic tile, metal, stone, and other hard, inert materials-do not release emissions. To find out what other products may emit chemicals, look at literature or websites that provide reliable information about specific products or consult with qualified experts who are trained to understand the materials you’re using.

The most common sources of off-gassing are the chemicals used to clean around the home, including solutions, floor wax, stain removers, air fresheners, scented soaps and detergents, fragrant fabric softeners, and personal cosmetics. Using these substances can result in continuous exposure to chemicals, so if you or your family experiences any adverse reactions, switch to unscented or non-toxic cleaners.

Another source of chemical emissions are products that you use frequently and in large quantities, such as building materials. In general, substances such as paint, varnish, and glue will release emissions at the beginning and decline over time to low or non-detectable levels. Materials that are subject to high temperatures (such as a carpet laid over a heated floor) or high moisture levels (like particleboard furniture kept in a humid spot) can also be significant sources of chemical emissions.

Unless you have an impaired sense of smell, you can often use your nose as a guide. But remember that while an odour can indicate the presence of emissions, the absence of odour doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of chemical contaminants. The concentration of the chemical contaminants may simply be lower than what you can detect or they may have no discernable odour, such as with carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and radon.

Occasionally, poor indoor air quality comes from unexpected sources. For example, strong, unpleasant odours have been traced to overheated plastic sockets in light bulbs receptacles, so never use a higher wattage bulb than recommended and note that some light fixtures may require a ceramic socket.

To reduce kitchen odours, take proper care of your garbage or compost container, including rinsing any meat packaging before tossing it into the trash and keeping perishables in the freezer until garbage day. Always turn on the range hood while cooking. In the bathroom, use the exhaust fan to remove moisture and residual odours.

If you notice that the air quality in your home deteriorates suddenly, examine any items you’ve brought into the house recently. If you think you’ve identified the culprit, isolate the item in another room or encapsulate it temporarily with polyethylene. Then note whether removing the item helped clear the air.

Comments (15)

Steve Kantor
Best Agent Business - Virtual Assistance

Good advice, Sam. Thanks for making more of us aware of the hidden dangers.

Jan 05, 2015 08:40 PM
Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Well, my old sniffer doesn't do the job it once did.

The only solution is, clean it up and keep it that way.

Jan 05, 2015 08:46 PM
Sam Marji
Mississauga, ON

Good Idea

Jan 05, 2015 08:49 PM
Joe Jackson
Keller Williams Capital Partners Realty - Columbus, OH
Clintonville and Central Ohio Real Estate Expert

Fantastic tips Sam. So many times we forget about what we can't see. Thanks for sharing.

Jan 05, 2015 09:29 PM
Brenda J. Andrew
Professional Realtor in Conroe/Willis, TX

Great useful tips, some of these I didn't know about.  Thanks for sharing!

Jan 05, 2015 09:53 PM
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

My wife has bloodhound genes and can sniff out everything in our home and I suspect our neighbors too...This includes our cars and all our clothing as well as our third of an acre too. Good post and I recommend airing out the house often

Jan 05, 2015 10:23 PM
Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert
Zion Realty - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner of Zion Realty

The major source of off-gassing in my house is my two kids!

Jan 05, 2015 10:41 PM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV
Cornerstone Business Group Inc - Winchester, VA
Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro

Sam, my wife has a super sniffer. On the other hand, you could beat me in the head with a rose and I couldn't smell it. 

Jan 05, 2015 11:16 PM
John DL Arendsen
CREST "BACKYARD' HOMES, ON THE LEVEL General & Manufactured Home Contractor, TAG Real Estate Sales & Investments - Leucadia, CA
Crest Backyard Homes "ADU" dealer & RE Developer

Like Lenn, I've spent too many years in the salt water surfing and my nose ain't what it used to be. I've recently installed carbon monoxide detecters in all of our properties and rentals.

Jan 06, 2015 12:16 AM
Sybil Campbell
Fernandina Beach, FL
Referral Agent Amelia Island Florida

Sam, I commented on the re-blog of this by John Arendson, but wanted to stop by and welcome you and thank you for this informative blog.

Jan 06, 2015 12:20 AM
Sybil Campbell
Fernandina Beach, FL
Referral Agent Amelia Island Florida

Hi Sam, it's me again, congratulations on the feature, good job!

Jan 06, 2015 12:23 AM
Sam Marji
Mississauga, ON

Thanks Sybil and all the rest for the very nice comments and feedback. Much appreciated.

Jan 06, 2015 12:31 AM
Kevin Mackessy
Blue Olive Properties, LLC - Highlands Ranch, CO
Dedicated. Qualified. Local.

Succinct list of tips for dealing with the various odors we can encounter while living in our homes.  Hopefully it is easy to isolate the smell, and deal with it right away. 

Jan 06, 2015 03:07 AM
David Popoff
DMK Real Estate - Darien, CT
Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct

Great information regarding indoor air quality something we all need to be more aware of with energy efficient construction and new buildings

Jan 06, 2015 06:53 AM
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Sam Marji Air quality is very important - and an aspect usually not given much importance at the home inspection. (And it can be bad because of mold, too.)

Jan 07, 2015 02:31 PM