Busting the 5 Myths about Non-Toxic Home Renovations
Home renovations are fun but having a toxic home is not!
Take a moment of play and rest with your child in their room.
As kids, we have heard a lot of myths in school and even ones our parents used just to make us go to sleep. But in today’s time, we also now have myths about what we think should be done in our own homes which often come from family and friends. And while doing home renovations is fun and exciting for any family, however, some myths can be detrimental more than beneficial. It can be five times more toxic indoors than outdoors when it comes to air quality. In fact, most respiratory problems, as well as some cancers, are triggered by your environment. The silver lining is that your environment is something that you can control.
For this blog post, we’re covering five myths about non-toxic home renovations and what you can do to always have your home in check!
Myth #01: “Building a non-toxic home or green building is more expensive.”
Invite greenery in your home through plants in macrame potholders.
In China, it’s typical to wait between two to three months before a family can move into a newly renovated home to relieve the toxic fumes occupying the space. However, in Hong Kong, this practice is unheard of and unfortunately, most homeowners still use the same toxic materials we were accustomed to.
Generally, living in green buildings means having non-toxic quality features that enhance the quality of life. Your extra investment for your green and non-toxic home may vary between one to nine percent. It really depends on how high-tech the solution is. Starting small is okay and a one to two percent increase in expenses won’t hurt your pockets. While they may seem expensive to invest in, it’s worth looking at especially when you put high consideration of the benefits it may give you in the long run—enhanced worker productivity, improved indoor air quality, and healthier homes and homeowners. It gives the best worth of your money and of your health.
Myth #02: “Any designer and contractor can design and build a non-toxic home.”
Add a touch of life and dimension to your home through vases and low-maintenance plants.
Starting home renovations means considering the who and the what: “Who is the designer and builder I’m gonna work with? What materials do I plan on using?”. These two questions will help start your journey towards a better and healthier sanctuary because the truth is, not everyone can ensure you will be having a non-toxic home.
If you have uncertainty with your builder or designer, ask for their credentials or certifications that may prove their capabilities to deliver a non-toxic home; take it as a red flag if they cannot provide you one and chances are, materials brought in during a renovation may likely be toxic. Especially in Hong Kong, materials brought in during the renovation may be toxic. All it takes is one last-minute substitute material on-site to make air toxicity hit off the charts.
Rowena, our principal founder, is a WELL certified, eco-home expert and if you are looking for other designers and builders out there, best check if they have certifications! Some of these credentials are the local green building standard called BEAM in Hong Kong. Internationally, common standards are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), BREAM in The UK, and the WELL Building standard to name a few. Ask them about their process and see if it replicates what you see here. Talk to your builder directly and ask them how they control toxins from entering your home sanctuary project; if your builder cannot answer these questions then, don’t assume that the designer can control the process.
Myth #03: “Using low VOC wall paint is good enough.”
The short answer to this statement is, “No, it isn’t good enough.” But why? While you may be using a non-toxic wall paint, the wall or wood you are painting on may not! This is why it’s important to have proper control over the materials that are going to be used in your home.
Different tones of wood in different parts of your home or furniture add depth and texture to your own space.
Chemical compounds called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can be found in paints, adhesives, and wood coatings. Formaldehyde is a colorless and odorless volatile organic compound (VOC) usually found in wall paints. This may be linked to some cancers in humans through prolonged exposure and even infertility in women. Also, these VOCs may show adverse effects on people who have asthma and can cause eyes, nose, throat, and skin irritations.
One of the easiest ways to track traces of VOCs in your home is by reading all labels and cross-checking them with the acceptable amounts according to the WELL Building Standard. Go beyond the labels of “green” and “eco-friendly” and see what they’re made of. If you plan on using plywood, make sure they are E1 or E0 Certified plywood—this ensures formaldehyde emission is at its lowest and is most safe for use.
Myth #04: “I can just use an air purifier to remove toxins in the air.”
Using an air purifier in your home may help your air quality to a certain extent but it will not fix and address the root cause of the problem. Air purifiers are recommended if (1) you have pets such as cats and dogs in your home, (2) you want to remove regular kitchen smells, or (3) you are sensitive to dust, allergens, or other chemicals in your home. It can give you some temporary relief but it will not remove the source of the problem.
What are the best solutions to improve air quality at home? First, open windows periodically and let fresh air in! This is perhaps one the best takeaways you could get as fresh air inside your home means air is truly recirculated and ‘replaced.’
Breathe in the fresh air and relish the view from your home.
Second, if flushing out doesn’t solve the problem, identify if there are pieces of furniture, building materials, mold, or anything that’s trapping a lot of dust. There are certain VOCs that can’t be removed by your air purifier so cleaning these spots or better, removing the sources of toxins before doing a flush out will make sure no toxic remnants will remain inside your non-toxic home.
If after doing extensive cleaning and a flush out are not enough, another extra measure homeowners could do is have VOC Removal Sprays which are used on pieces of furniture and can even be fogged and misted using a machine to cover a larger area. Smaller areas would just require you to spray on the material and then wipe clean with a piece of cloth to reduce and remove the VOC present on its surface and in your space, making sure your non-toxic home remains non-toxic.
Myth #05: “My non-toxic home will remain non-toxic forever”
Maintenance and cleaning are integral parts of any home. Once you move in, your non-toxic home needs to be maintained with non-toxic materials for it to sustain the quality of life.
You may not be aware but daily tasks can be polluting your indoor air and affecting your quality of living. Soiled shoes and items brought from outside of the home may bring potential toxic particles inside your space. To ensure safety and eliminate this worry, small additions such as a mat to remove large particles from shoes by your entrance and a green disinfectant spray in a small nook for packages brought from outside may help. If you plan on hiring cleaning and disinfecting professionals, ask if they use natural and non-toxic cleaning agents before you give them the green light.
Enjoy some family time with you and your family in this space.
Aside from maintenance and cleaning, you may also find yourself wanting to light candles occasionally just to give a different ambiance and more warmth to your space. Make sure, however, that what you have are beeswax candles which are non-toxic when lit. You may also use a mist diffuser —this is a better option for you than regular candles which make use of petroleum.
Use certified green cleaning products for general cleaning. Vinegar and essential oils pretty much do the job for most things. If you have a green building home that uses non-toxic materials but then you use a harsh concentration of bleach, it’s still polluting your air and not helping your home. You should always open the window whenever you’re cleaning anything for it to be effectively replenished.
The Final Word
Now that we have busted some myths surrounding air quality and home renovations, see what you can have done at your very home. It is no myth but requires a keen eye and some effort to have a safer and healthier home while catering to the needs of your family.
When it comes to green building and sustainable home renovations, air quality is just the tip of the iceberg. Our principal founder, Rowena, is an expert in this field and this stems from her personal experiences with toxic homes and this motivated her to be an accredited professional based on the WELL Building Standard. This is an international building standard created by both doctors and architects to improve health and wellness through the built environment.