How To Prevent Toxic Materials Polluting Your Home
Have you ever walked into a new home and felt ill, sick or dizzy? That ‘new’ smell is often a really unhealthy toxic mix of Volatile Organic Compounds that are emitted from all sorts of materials used in construction and renovation and can cause poor health in your family.
Most affected by VOC’s are those with respiratory problems, asthma, allergies and skin conditions such as eczema; particularly sensitive to their affects are small children and the elderly. In China, strong links have been made between home renovation and leukemia and moving into new properties is regularly delayed by over a month to leave time to air-out the toxic chemical mix from the indoor air.
If the level of potential toxins in your home renovations worries you (and the reality is, they should) employing a LEED or WELL AP accredited Interior Designer means that you can be sure that all measures have been taken to make sure you walk into a home with completely fresh air. At Liquid Interiors we follow rigorous procedures so that toxic materials are banned from use in any part of our projects. We find that this really improves the experience of moving into a new home, where the air is fresh and safe for everyone to live and sleep in.
It’s time for us to completely reconsider the materials we use and bring into our homes rather than relying on air purification to remove nasty chemicals from our indoor air. Below we focus in detail on the specific materials you should replace with non-toxic alternatives if you are buying a new home or doing a home improvement project.
Choose your paints very carefully making sure that you use a brand that has zero or very low VOC’s so that you don’t risk the paint slowly emitting toxins into your home. Some paints only emit for a few days or weeks so really good ventilation can be enough but others can go on to create VOC’s for years.
Be careful that you or your contractors don’t add any hardeners or chemicals for wood paint; furniture paint can be much higher in VOC levels so this is an area to be vigilant. Likewise if you are stripping paint from furniture or doors use a healthy option that is labeled as low VOC with no odor. In all cases air out a newly decorated room extensively before you begin using it.
To air out your home open all doors, drawers, cupboards then open the windows to let fresh air in and use a fan to circulate and draw new air into the space. In humid weather you may need to keep the air conditioning on too, this will help the process by reducing humidity, which should ideally be at 30-50%. Use an air quality monitor to make sure the air is clear of toxins before you finish airing out.
The use of adhesives in home products is widespread and many of them contain chemicals that can combine to produce VOC’s. Ensure that you go for a non-toxic adhesive or glue with low VOC’s and use it in a ventilated area. There are now many more low VOC adhesive alternatives that don’t compromise performance.
Look for the small print on adhesives used for hanging wallpaper, sticking plastic laminate to wood, adhering wood veneer, stone and flooring and many other applications. Adhesives may also have been used on items before they enter your home so checking the glues used off site is also important.
Sealants & Grout
Caulking sealants and grouts can cause a toxic seal around windows and tiles that emit VOC’s into the air. Choose a non-toxic, low VOC brand alternative that won’t off-gas into your home and has no odor, especially in poorly ventilated spaces such as small bathrooms.
Waterproofing sealants used prior to tiling can give off really strong VOC’s and toxic sealants in general tend to be used in lots of places we wouldn’t think of for filling in gaps. Before your project begins also ensure you research low VOC eco sealant colors to ensure you get the right color match for your interior. Not all brands have a large choice and you don’t want to risk your contractor swapping in an alternative that might be high in VOC’s.
Wood Stains & Varnishes
Toxic wood stains and varnishes are easy to replace with more natural alternatives such as beeswax or oils such as Osmo Oil. Natural coatings produce a beautiful and durable surface and are a much safer option particularly for toys, kids furniture, countertops, wood veneer and wooden food bowls.
Interiors of wardrobes and cupboards are a particular area that can be polluted by varnishes, adhesives and sealants and as they are not easily ventilated the VOCs can take years to dissipate so make sure a natural alternative is used.
Sustainable Healthy Flooring
Flooring covers a very large area of your home so it needs to be as healthy and sustainable as possible to avoid impacting significantly on the indoor air quality.
If you’re using laminate or veneer flooring then check what has gone into making the product, they very often have many different chemicals involved in the process. Ask if the coating on the wood is low VOC? If you’re using engineered wood ask which glue has been used to apply the surface wood to the plywood backing and is the plywood E1 or E0 certified?
Be mindful that vinyl flooring is often made from reprocessed plastic and can contain PVC, phthalates and other toxic chemicals. Hard wood floors and ceramic tiles tend to be the safest options but any wood should also be FSC certified.
No Fitted Carpets
Carpet fitted wall to wall is a large contributor to indoor air pollution as it can off-gas from artificial dyes, stain repellents, adhesives and other toxic chemicals. Longhaired carpets can also be a real trap for dust and are not good for anyone with allergies.
In general it’s better to have hard flooring and warm it up with rugs that can be removed and cleaned easily. Carpet tiles are another option. If you are determined to have a fitted carpet due to the construction of your home or the climate you live in then ensure you source one that is made from natural fibers, check that it is sustainable and that natural materials and adhesives have been used for the backing.
Formaldehyde Free Wood & Plywood Veneer
Free standing and built in furniture, particularly kitchen cabinets, are often made from plywood veneer and other composite woods such as particleboard. There is a high risk of there being lots of added formaldehyde, which can cause skin, eye, and nose and throat irritation and trigger asthma. Ask your contractor or suppliers to use E1 or E0 certified FSC composite wood, which is low or free of formaldehyde.
In addition, check the coatings and adhesives if the items are being put together off site. When purchasing furniture it tends to be that higher quality furniture is less toxic or buy second hand where off-gassing has already largely occurred.
Phthalates In Plastics
Plastics such as shower curtains and plastic furniture and kids toys often contain phthalates, the same can be true for some synthetic leathers and other finishing materials. Phthalates are hormone disruptors and can harm the immune system so search out more natural alternatives.
Managing Pollution During Improvements
During your renovation there are several things you can do to reduce toxic contamination of your home while reducing the mess and dust that any renovation work inevitably creates.
- Have a walk-off mat at the entrance to your working area so that any dust or dirt from feet can be rubbed off.
- Protect from dust contamination by sealing up doors with temporary barriers, this is particularly important if you’re working on just one room in your home. Use dustsheets and coverings to protect furnishings from dust and ensure you remove the coverings without letting the dust escape.
- Protect any ducts from possible contamination by sealing them up, this will prevent dust remaining after you’ve finished and also protect filters from clogging up.
- Even if you seal them it is worth vacuuming grills, ducts and diffusers once you’ve finished your work. If you have a ventilation system then changing filters before you reoccupy the rooms is also a good idea.
- During renovation work store and protect any materials that might absorb or hold onto debris, dust or toxins.
- Use the dust guard on any saws.
Working With Contractors
During our projects at Liquid Interiors we have procedures in place to ensure that all materials used on site are non-toxic and low VOC and we visit our sites regularly to ensure that the correct materials are being used.
If you’re employing a contractor, make sure you specify all the non-toxic materials you wish to have used right at the start and check the pricing. Make sure your contractor has allowed for these materials in their quotation as, in some cases, they may be more expensive. You can insist on them using products you have checked, and you may want to take pictures of the tins that have been bought and check the labels. You can also check the Material Safety Data Sheet to see if the product is toxic and what restrictions (if any) there are to using it.
At Liquid we also insist on a site management system that limits the toxins that are created during any build process. Of course, a full green clean and fresh air flush out is also carried out on completion and the combination of these measures ensures that our clients move into their new homes with completely fresh air.
This is not the norm for Hong Kong or anywhere else in the world but we believe that fresh, clean air to breath in your home is one of the true luxuries in life.
For more information check out our blog post ‘How To Design & Live In a Non-Toxic Home’ where we talked about how air quality in our homes can be affected by many different toxins, their sources and what you can do to reduce them.
For more information, feel free to contact Liquid Interiors, your healthy and eco conscious interior design consultants.