In many homes, the summer is characterized by more kids, more bugs and more remodeling projects – a recipe for health disaster.
It’s time to take a good look at your home and step up safety precautions. The National Center for Healthy Housing has launched a campaign to alert families how they can make their homes healthier with a few basic, low-cost steps. You can read the brochure on their Web site at www.centerforhealthyhousing.org. There are also many local resources for making your home safer.
Here are 10 suggestions from local and national experts to make your home healthier this summer:
Prevent pest entry – In the height of mosquito season, the Spokane Regional Health District suggests that you minimize mosquito breeding grounds, otherwise known as standing water. Empty your flower pot saucers, cover barrels and buckets, throw away any garbage you have in the yard, clean your garden ponds, make sure your rain gutters are draining correctly, change the water in your bird baths or animal troughs at least once a week and fix leaky faucets and sprinklers.
Fill cracks and holes in your house that make nice entryways for outdoor insects. Good materials are copper mesh, expanding foam, cement and caulk, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing. Be sure to always keep a tight-fitting lid on all garbage cans.
Keep carpets clean – Shoes drag in a lot more than dirt. Holly Martin of the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program says carpet is one of the biggest germ collectors in homes.
“Carpet is a place that just harbors a lot of bacteria and allergens and all sorts of things,” Martin says.
She suggests that if you’re planning a remodeling project, consider reducing the amount of carpet in your home. Hard surfaces are much easier to keep clean.
In the meantime, be sure to use track off mats at all entrances to your house.
Be cautious of lead dust – Despite all the jokes, very few people actually eat lead paint chips. But most people breathe.
Lead poisoning is commonly spread by dust released when lead paint peels or is disrupted during construction.
“Lead-based paint in itself is not a problem as long as it’s in good repair,” Martin says. “If you live in housing that is pre-1960, just assume it has lead.”
If paint starts to peel, strip it and re-paint. Martin suggests using paints that are low in volatile organic compounds, chemical components in paint that emit dangerous toxins as they dry.
During construction, set up plastic sheet barriers around the area you’re working on and wear the proper masks and protective gear to prevent dust inhalation. No matter how careful you are, the lead dust can settle on your clothes and shoes. If you’re concerned, have a lead risk assessment done on your home. Local companies who do the tests can be found in the environmental consulting listings in the yellow pages. The City of Spokane Community Development Department provides free testing through Kiemle & Hagood Co. for qualifying low-income families.
Manage mold – Mold lives in the cool, moist areas of homes. If you find mold, kill it with bleach and water, Martin suggests, and increase ventilation to that area.
“Make sure you’ve got good air circulation in all your rooms,” Martin says. “Don’t pile boxes and things in the back of your closet or places where air can’t get.”
The most problematic room in your house is almost always the bathroom. Martin suggests you wire the bathroom fan to the light switch so people don’t forget to flick it on when they’re using the bathroom.
Remove or ignore asbestos – Asbestos is a well-known carcinogen that used to be popular in building materials because it’s very strong and it has fireproofing characteristics. Building materials that may contain asbestos include roofing materials, insulation, vinyl flooring, caulking, cement board siding and some texture paints and coatings.
Margee Chambers, public information specialist at the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority, says if you suspect you’ve found asbestos in your home the best thing to do is avoid it.
“If asbestos is not disturbed, it’s not a problem. Your best bet is to leave it alone, or you can encapsulate it,” she says.
If you’re starting a home improvement project, SCAPCA suggests you test materials that might contain asbestos. Tests of sample materials at local labs cost around $25. You can remove contaminated materials yourself, but there are specific guidelines, which SCAPCA is happy to provide. If asbestos particles are released in the air, you could be putting your family, and even your neighbors, at risk.
Test for radon – Exposure to the colorless, odorless gas can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Because it’s common in the Inland Northwest, the Health District suggests testing regularly in the lowest lived-in level of your home. A radon home test kit can be purchased from the Health District for $4.15 plus tax. In some homes that test have high radon levels, a mitigation system should be installed. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/radon or call (800) SOS-RADON.
Repair holes and leaks sooner rather than later – Cracks and holes in your foundation, walls or flooring are an open invitation for pests and moisture to invade your home. The sooner you fix the damage, the less health risk for your family. Besides, procrastinating won’t be fun anymore if that leaky roof caves in.
Keep your shower safe – To prevent scalding, the Center for Healthy Housing suggests you keep your water heater temperature at no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also install anti-scald devices on faucets and showerheads.
While you’re at it, put bath mats and grab bars in your showers and bathtubs to prevent slips.
Carefully store and dispose of hazardous chemicals – Yes, you should keep hazardous chemicals out of the reach of children, but not too far out of reach. The Health District recommends you not store chemicals above eye level. You don’t want to spill when you’re fumbling to get to them on a high shelf. To keep them away from kids, lock them up. Hazardous materials are best stored out of a living area, like in an outdoor shed. If you put them on shelves, be sure they’re sturdy and check to see whether chemicals are compatible before you store them together.
When it comes time to get rid of chemicals, rely on Spokane’s Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Program and take your chemicals to Waste to Energy at 2900 S. Geiger Blvd., North County Transfer at 22123 Elk-Chattaroy Road or Valley Transfer at 3941 N. Sullivan Road. Pouring chemicals down drains, on the ground or in the septic tank is very hazardous to the environment.
Always use alarms – The Center for Healthy Housing suggests you use smoke detectors on every floor of your home. They range in price between $5 and $30 each.
Carbon monoxide detectors should also be installed on each floor of your home outside of sleeping areas and within five feet of the furnace, hot water heater or other sources of combustion. They generally run between $30 and $50 a piece.
The Center also recommends placing water alarms near your hot water heater or sump pump to detect flooding or leaks in places you don’t often remember to check. They cost about $10 per unit.
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