Nature busy at work, photo by Eric Beiter

Do you ever come home after a long day at work and feel like the energy has been sucked out of you?  We have all felt this way before and many of us consider home to be an oasis, a place to renew our spent energy reserves so that upon waking the following morning we can feel ready to tackle a new day.  Home is where we spend a vast majority of our time, it's where we eat, clean, sleep, play, and hobby around.  We all want our homes to comfort us and to be a safe place.  However, many of us are unaware of some of the toxic dangers that our homes pose.  For example, did you know that the average suburban lawn (all perfect looking and weedless) uses six times more chemicals per acre than conventional farming.  Imagine what exposing our children to these chemicals at such high concentrations does to their developments.  My point is straightforward, in order to enjoy the benefits of our homes we need to make simple choices and changes to make them safer and more sustainable.

Almost a decade ago we began taking steps to green our home.  The most important step we took was improving the air quality inside our home.  Since having children five years ago we've been minimizing indoor air pollutants that have the potential to harm development and contribute to sickness and disease.  We began by conducting radon testing upon moving into our home.  Results indicated that we had higher levels of radon than was considered safe.  Our home was built 150 years ago and does not have a concrete basement, therefore exposure to the soil underneath our house is eminent.  Since radon is an odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally when uranium in the soil breaks down we recognize the need to ventilate the crawlspace.  We thus mitigated the problem by placing a plastic barrier cloth on the floor of our home's crawlspace and installed a radon-specific ventilation system.    

In my opinion, ventilation is the single most important factor when trying to improve your home's air quality.  A problem facing many newly constructed homes, is that they are built air tight to increase energy efficiency.  This is wonderful for saving money on heating costs but has its drawbacks when using ventilation as a means to improve the air we breath indoors.  In our case, we had a 19th century home that had many gaps within our home's construction where air was seeping inside.  We had a heating company come to measure our home's energy efficiency and found problems with its insulation quality.  We had a home that breathed well and allowed for fresh air to seep indoors during cold weather, but we could barely afford to heat our home properly.  So, to take steps toward increasing our home's energy efficiency while keeping adequate ventilation we insulated the entire house and installed whole, house fans.  These huge fans help get stale air outside by pumping ceiling air to our exhaust fans that are located in each room.  Every few days while the whole, house fans are on, I turn on the exhaust fans for a few hours which helps draw the stale air outdoors.  Fresh air is thus drawn indoors through small spaces in the walls and floors as the exhaust fans operate.  These whole, house fans also keep us cool in the summer months and have eliminated the need for central airconditioning.  Instead, we keep our windows open during warm weather and cool ourselves down with the fans set on highspeed.  Thus, the changes we've made have been a win-win situation in our quest to improve our home's air quality.

Other steps we took to improve our home's air quality included various methods of air filtration.  We use air purifiers when we paint or have a remodeling project going.  We use houseplants in every room which help remove toxins through the process of photosythesis.  Certain indoor plants are noted to remove specific pollutants.  For example, we have a ficus plant to help remove formaldehyde present in the air after our home's insulation project.  Another measure we took to improve air quality indoors was buying a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum.  HEPA filter vacuums capture the smallest particles of dust on floors and furniture, ultimately keeping them from being stirred up into the air.

Eric and I have taken other measures to green our home.  Once the boys were born we knew that investing in natural latex mattresses and organic cotton pillows was incredibly important.  It could be viewed as an early college investment strategy, by keeping as many developing brain cells as healthy as possible.  We invested a large sum of money in two, 100% latex mattresses from an online organic and natural mattress company out of California named Lifekind.  It was worth knowing that our children wouldn't be breathing chemical fumes typically outgassed by the materials used to make conventionally made mattresses, such as polyurethane foam.  We also replaced all the carpets indoors upon moving into our house with wood flooring.  Underneath the wall to wall carpeting was the house's original pine flooring.  Pine being a softwood didn't hold up to the constant wear and tear so we painted the floor using low, volatile organic compound (VOC) paint.  Low VOC paint is becoming increasingly easier to find at home improvement stores.  When we first moved into our home nine years ago we couldn't find it here in Western NY, but today, two leading home improvement retailers sell it.  We also replaced an aging forced air furnace that was inefficient and produced lots of airborne dust.  We installed a base-board heating system with an energy star rated boiler, which has cut down on particulate matter in the air and has saved us a lot of money on heating costs.  Lastly, we changed all of our cleaning supplies to natural ones that have proven effective and are relatively inexpensive.  Currently, I'm using Shaklee cleaning products and am very happy with their results.  I use Shaklee's germicide product as a teet dip and udder wash before milking my goats.  The germicide kills more than a dozen microbes known to cause illness, and is non-irritating to my goat's sensitive mammary tissues.
Holly Bartel
6/30/2010 10:59:19

I am impressed how much I learned on what I read so far. I look forward on reading more.


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