When we design and create a new interior for our clients we want to ensure that they are going to be living in a truly healthy environment and by ‘healthy’ we mean that every part of their wellbeing is thought through in that space, from physical through to mental health.
One of the major threats to physical health in our homes is high concentration of toxic particles. The risks from these toxins range from sore throats to headaches, eye and nose irritation, allergies, respiratory problems to poor sleep quality and in cases of long exposure they have been linked to heart disease and cancer.
Our aim is to limit these harmful elements and to put systems in place to ensure that indoor pollution is kept to a minimum before and after our clients move in. We also want you to know all about the toxins that could be lurking in your home and how you can take steps to improving your health by removing or reducing them!
So What Are These Toxins & Where Do They Come From?
It’s quite scary how many different sources of toxins there can be in our homes! Here are some of the main offenders and their sources:
Volatile Organic Compounds can be found in household paint finishes, new furniture, carpeting, adhesives, sealants and varnishes, solvents, cleaning products, aerosols, dry cleaning, air fresheners and tobacco products. They can irritate the eyes and lungs causing breathing difficulties, particularly for those with existing respiratory problems and have been linked with nervous system damage and in cases of high exposure, cancer.
Formaldehyde is found in resins and composite wood products such as plywood, particleboard and fiberboard that are often used to manufacture furniture, kitchen cabinets and flooring. Exposure to formaldehyde can cause skin, eye, nose and throat irritation and high levels may cause some types of cancers.
Mould & Fungal Toxins can cause an allergic reaction in a high percentage of people leading to nose, eye and skin irritation. Mould is often found in damp buildings and those with poor ventilation.
Pesticides and insecticides are known to cause cardiovascular, kidney and reproductive difficulties, they can be found in pest control products, some foods such as fruit and in chemical garden treatments.
Respirable and Fine Suspended Particles (PM10 and PM2.5) are not only generated from outdoor pollution but also inside by dust particles, photocopiers, printers and by tobacco smoke. These small particles can get deep into the lungs causing respiratory problems such as irritation, asthma, bronchitis and cardiovascular illnesses.
Heavy metals can be found in our drinking water supplies, building materials, deodorant and preserved wood, and the risks can be fatigue, nausea, neurological disorders and cancer.
Phthalates and PVC are found in plastic wrap and bottles, food storage containers, cosmetics, shower curtains and baby toys and they can cause disruption to the endocrine system.
What Can We Do To Make Our Homes Less Toxic?
Right from the beginning of a refurbishment or new build project we look for ways to limit toxins and we do this in many different ways.
Existing building materials that may contain lead, asbestos or VOC’s are carefully removed and new materials are selected and installed on the basis of low VOC content. Care is also taken during construction to clear the space of dust and any pollutants that may have been inadvertently introduced. New ducts are sealed from dust contamination during construction and new filters are fitted to existing systems after completion. Doorways and windows are sealed using temporary barriers and walk off mats are used to reduce transfer of dirt and pollutants.
Interior Finishes & Furniture
Low or no VOC interior paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants and flooring are used throughout our projects. We specify FSC hardwood, reclaimed wood or formaldehyde-free composite wood products when they are used in the building fabric or for furniture; low VOC paints, Osmo oils and waxes are used for finishing.
New furniture will ‘off gas’ toxins, particularly when first unwrapped, so must be aired out thoroughly for a few days prior to being brought indoors. Look for a GREENGUARD label to help you source products with low emissions or buying vintage (or secondhand furniture over 1 year old) is a great alternative as much off gassing will have already occurred. In homes where we are accessorizing we choose eco mattresses and organic bed covers and bedding made from natural materials in wool, cotton, linen and silk.
Ventilation & Fresh Air Supply
One of the best ways to improve the problem of toxins in the home is to improve ventilation. We take a holistic view of the air supply and management in all our projects and advocate a whole home air purification or HVAC or VRV system if possible. Alternatively it is important to have a fresh air intake supply from a duct system (with integrated carbon filters), which is in turn integrated with air conditioning. An alternative is a stand-alone air purifier that can be plugged into any room and will filter 99% of pollutants.
All cooking areas should be fitted with a suitably sized exhaust such as a cooker hood with exhaust duct and fan to remove cooking fumes and gasses created by food preparation.
On low pollution days ventilating your home by opening doors and or windows will also help to release toxins and rejuvenate the indoor air. We install real time indoor air quality monitors throughout our projects so that steps can be taken to improve the air quality as soon as it falls below acceptable levels.
Of course, living with plenty of plants in the interior will help the air quality as plants remove harmful toxins from the air as well as producing oxygen.
High humidity coupled with inadequate ventilation can foster mould and spores especially in small spaces and wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. Aim for your ventilation system to keep relative humidity in-between 30% – 50% to limit the growth of mould spores. By controlling the temperature and humidity of the home VOC and formaldehyde off gassing can also be limited, Smart AC control can be very useful to help with this. Systems such as Drymaster Dehumidification systems can dramatically reduce moisture levels as well as remove indoor air pollutants.
Water purification systems can remove heavy metals from drinking water; these can either be full home systems or individually fitted to the water faucet. Water purification can also remove chlorine from drinking, bath and laundry water which, when heated, can convert to chloroform. Removal will improve skin and hair and uses less soap.
If at all possible avoid using chemical based pest control products in your home, natural and safe alternatives are available and should be used as a first option. Also ask family and friends to remove their shoes on entering you home, pesticides and other chemicals can be tracked indoors on shoes and remain, polluting your home. Providing low cost natural slippers for guests is an option. If you have a garden use natural pest control methods to avoid cross contamination of chemicals into your home on clothes and shoes.
Conventional cleaning products can be extremely dangerous to our health even if we aren’t coming into direct contact with them. Non-toxic, hypoallergenic cleaning products will protect from harmful effects, so before our clients move into their new homes we conduct a full green clean using only ECO certified green cleaning products.
Once the property is occupied we help to put in place a maintenance schedule because keeping a home clean is a really practical way to maintain a healthy indoor environment. Ensuring that air conditioning systems are regularly cleaned out using non-toxic cleaning products is very important; and that cleaning and replacement of any mechanical vents and filters is done regularly.
Any waste that may affect indoor air quality should be removed regularly and windows should always be opened when cleaning, even with green cleaning products. We advise avoiding use of artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances as they can also pollute the air you breathe.
Using high performance equipment, such as microfiber cloths, for cleaning improves the results and using a damp cloth on wipeable surfaces will reduce dust and mould growth. Any cleaning equipment should be stored in a separate well-ventilated area making sure any bleach and ammonia based cleaning products are kept in separate bins with labeling to ensure they are not mixed.
If a deep clean of your home feels daunting, we recommend our partners Johnsons Group who offer green cleaning solutions along with fantastic green cleaning products. They have different cleaning regimes available from removal of VOC’s to deep cleaning of furnishings including rugs, curtains, mattresses and sofas to remove dust mites, pollen and other particulates and they can conduct allergen and allergy tests. They have an amazing range of green cleaning products, which you can see here. and their YouTube channel has lots of useful videos.
Air Flush or Building Flush
On completion of our interior design projects we always end our fit out with a complete air flush for 48 hours straight. In this process all cabinets and air pockets are opened, humidity is maintained below 60% and fresh air is forced through the building to remove VOC’s and other toxic pollutants that may have entered the space during construction. This provides the highest possible air quality before our clients occupy their home.
How Does It Feel To Live In a Non-Toxic Home?
We have completed many projects based on the principles outlined above and with health at the very heart of the design. The response from our clients has been wonderful; many of them feel the health benefits of a non-toxic home almost immediately. We believe that interior design isn’t only about delivering a tastefully stylish and functional space, its effect on health, wellbeing and the planet are equally important.
To see a blog about a full project that was created to be the ‘Healthiest Home In Hong Kong’ click here.
To learn more about improving your indoor air quality this blog may be interesting or alternatively this one also goes into further detail about indoor air quailty.
For more information, feel free to contact Liquid Interiors, your healthy and eco consious interior design consultants.