In a way, our home is like a second skin. A healthy living environment is a key component of a well-rounded life—so how can you create one? By addressing these top five signs of an unhealthy living space, you can craft a beautiful, healthy house where you will love spending time.
1. High humidity
A home with elevated humidity (anything above 45 percent) can become a breeding ground for mold. If the humidity levels get high enough, they can also affect the drywall and create an environment where mold spreads behind walls. We now know that certain mold causes a plethora of health issues, from chronic sinusitis to nervous system damage. High humidity also welcomes dust mites, which can cause allergic reactions, stomach issues, and sleep disorders.
How to lower the humidity at home:
- Purchase a humidity monitor to measure the level of humidity.
- Make sure you run fan vents when showering and cooking.
- Open windows during seasons with drier air whenever you can.
- Purchase a dehumidifier if necessary (and stop using a humidifier).
Not only is dust a nuisance, but it also carries irritating dust mites that can disrupt our nasal passages and eyes. Studies show that dust mites put stress on our immune system, weakening it over time. Dust also brings in dirt and particles from outside, which can contain pesticides and herbicides that are potentially toxic to the nervous system.
How to minimize dust:
- Vacuum often and make sure your vacuum has a clear filter.
- Use a HEPA filter in your HVAC system to minimize the spread of dust.
- Don't wear shoes in the house, and wipe off paws before animals enter.
- Wash bedding, drapes, and stuffed animals often.
3. Water damage
Most people, if not everyone, have experienced water damage at home at one point or another—whether it be from a leaky window or a basement flood. Any of these forms of water damage can greatly reduce the health of your home if not cleaned up properly. If you spot water damage or an ongoing leak, it's important to clean it up properly so it doesn't attract mold.
How to spot water damage:
- Cracked, peeling paint on walls or ceilings
- Soft or warped walls or ceilings
- Trim that is not flush with the walls or floor
- Warped or buckling floorboards or flooring
- White mineral deposits of wood or basement floors
4. Tightly sealed homes
The energy-efficiency movement is in full swing, which means many houses are sealed ultra-tight, preventing any sort of outdoor air from reaching the inside. While this is great for energy bills, it's potentially a huge health problem. Toxins inside our homes that come from the air we exhale and the gas our appliances give off needs to be filtered out by fresh outdoor air. When a house uses a furnace or air conditioner, it isn't pulling in air from outside. Rather, it's filtering and recycling the indoor air, leaving the toxins in our houses. It's important for the health of our homes and bodies to make sure our home is ventilated either naturally or mechanically to prevent poor indoor air quality.
A tightly sealed home can also pull harmful Radon gas inside through floor drains and foundation cracks. When the pressure in a house becomes negative (because little air is coming in and more is going out through the roof vents), the air at the lowest levels of the home gets pulled upward. This means if there are floor drains or small cracks around the foundation, Radon gasses, which tend to be heavier, will be drawn into the house. Radon is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and has recently become a huge home health issue.
How to reverse the effects of a tightly sealed home:
- Use natural ventilation by opening windows and doors when possible.
- Use mechanical ventilation by installing an air-to-air heat exchange.
- Utilize fan vents that pull air outside when bathing and cooking.
5. Moisture intrusion
Moisture intrusion can refer to any water that comes into your house (whether from the inside or outside) as well as its less talked about counterpart, condensation. Water coming in from outside can obviously cause water damage behind walls and in ceilings. And we now know that water, even in small amounts, causes mold problems. Water can also show up from indoor plumbing leaks.
And though condensation may sound harmless, it can actually put your home at an even higher risk for mold growth. Often seen on windows when the outdoor air is cooler and drier than the indoor air, condensation can eventually drip down into the inside of walls, causing black, toxic mold.
How to prevent moisture intrusion:
- Check the outside of your house for holes, gaps, and leaks.
- Check gutters to make sure rainwater is properly diverted away from the house.
- Keep tabs on plumbing fixtures and drains, watching for any sign of a drip.
- Keep indoor humidity between 35 percent and 45 percent to reduce the risk of condensation.
It's important to keep up with our indoor environment. You wouldn't expect an apple to stay fresh in a wet paper bag full of worms. In the same way, we shouldn't expect to stay healthy in a toxic environment where we spend up to 80 percent of our time.