Most of us tend to think of air pollution as something that occurs outdoors where car exhaust and factory fumes proliferate, but there’s such a thing as indoor air pollution, too. Since the 1950s, the number of synthetic chemicals used in products for the home has increased drastically, while at the same time, homes have become much tighter and better insulated. As a result, the EPA estimates that indoor pollutants today are anywhere from five to 70 times higher than pollutants in outside air.
Luckily, there are many ways to reduce indoor air pollution. We all know that buying organic and natural home materials and cleaning supplies can improve the air quality in our homes, but there are several other measures you can take as well.
How pollutants get into our homes
Potentially toxic ingredients are found in many materials throughout the home, and they leach out into the air as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. If you open a can of paint, you can probably smell those VOCs. The “new car smell” is another example of this. The smell seems to dissipate after a while, but VOCs can actually “off-gas” for a long time, even after a noticeable smell is gone.
We all know to use paint and glue in a well-ventilated room, but there are many other materials that don’t come with that warning. For instance, there are chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in the resin used to make most cabinets and plywood particle board. It’s also in wall paneling and closet shelves, and in certain wood finishes used on cabinets and furniture. The problems aren’t just with wood, either. Fabrics—everything from draperies to upholstery, bedding, and carpets—are a potent source of VOCs.
The good news about VOCs is that they do dissipate with time. For that reason, the highest levels of VOCs are usually found in new homes or remodels. If you are concerned about VOCs, there are several products you can buy that are either low- or no-VOC. You can also have your home professionally tested.
How to reduce VOCs in your home
Make smart choices in building materials.
- For floors, use tile or solid wood—hardwood, bamboo, or cork – instead of composites.
- Instead of using pressed particle board or indoor plywood, choose solid wood or outdoor-quality plywood that uses a less toxic form of formaldehyde.
- Choose low-VOC or VOC-free paints and finishes.
Purify the air that’s there.
- Make sure your rooms have adequate ventilation, and air out newly renovated or refurnished areas for at least a week, if possible.
- Clean ductwork and furnace filters regularly.
- Install air cleaners if needed.
- Use only environmentally responsible cleaning chemicals.
- Plants can help clean the air: good nonpoisonous options include bamboo palm, lady palm, parlor palm, and moth orchids.
- Air out freshly dry-cleaned clothes or choose a “green” cleaner.
Fight the carpet demons.
- Choose “Green Label” carpeting or a natural fiber such as wool or sisal.
- Use nails instead of glue to secure carpet.
- Install carpet LAST after completing painting projects, wall coverings, and other high-VOC processes.
- Air out newly carpeted areas before using.
- Use a HEPA vacuum or a central vac system that vents outdoors.
- Clean up water leaks fast.
- Use dehumidifiers, if necessary, to keep humidity below 60 percent.
- Don’t carpet rooms that stay damp.
- Insulate pipes, crawl spaces, and windows to eliminate condensation.
- Kill mold before it gets a grip with one-half cup of bleach per gallon of water.
We hope this information is helpful. If you would like to learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality, please visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/.
Now that spring has sprung, let’s clear the cobwebs and get your home ready! Here is our quick guide to spring home maintenance:
Inspection top to bottom: Now that the weather is temperate you will want to check on how your home weathered the winter. Check the roof for leaks, the gutters for damage, and the siding for cracks. You will also want to inspect your basement or foundation for any shifts. Make repairs now to prevent further damage.
Clean out the gutters: April showers bring May flowers… so clear out the gutters to keep rain from pooling on your roof or near your foundation.
Pest control: Spring is mating season for eight-legged critters, so sweep out cobwebs, clear debris, and check the nooks and crannies. If you live in an area prone to dangerous species like brown recluse or black widows, you may want to contact your local pest control, but otherwise, household spiders do help eliminate other bugs.
HVAC system: If you have an air conditioner now is the time to check to make sure it is ready before summer gets here and everyone else is clamoring for maintenance. Now is a good time to check your home air filters and replace or upgrade to keep allergens at bay.
Clear the clutter: Do a sweep around the house and get rid of junk that you don’t use! Take a little time each week to tackle a room. Closets, playrooms, and basements can be especially daunting, but getting rid of old stuff and refreshing your space will go a long way!
Deep clean: On a nice day open the windows, dust, wipe, scrub, and clean. You will get a nice workout and your home will look and feel so fresh after a winter of being cooped up.
Update your décor: Add a splash of color to your home with small embellishments. Add a colorful vase, a lighter throw for your sofa, pretty pastel pillows, or spring-time candles, to upgrade your living space.
Take it outdoors: Let your throw rugs, curtains, and other tapestries air our outside. Shake off the dust, spot clean what you can and let everything bask in the sun for an afternoon.
Don’t forget the back yard: It may not be time to start up the grill, yet, but you can get started on your outdoor entertaining checklist. Check your lawn, and if you have some spare spots start filling in with seed. Check your outdoor plants, prune, plant bulbs, start to replenish the soil for your garden, and mow, so you are ready to start when the season allows.
Speaking of the grill – if you have a gas grill you will want to pull this out and perform a maintenance check. Clean everything up and check to make sure all the gas lines are clear, as these can get clogged after sitting idle all winter. Make sure the grill is clear of spiders too, as they can build webs in the tubes, causing damage to your grill. You can start to bring out your garden furniture too, or clean it up if you left it covered outside all winter. Because before you know it, it’ll be barbeque season!
Our bulbs went full bloom at my house a few weeks ago, which prompted the awakening of spring fever: mostly the urge to air out the house and get rid of clutter (again, didn’t we just do this?). In my desire to purge, I have been trying to find the best ways to get rid of things; to sell some items in order to reinvest in updated accessories, to support local charities, and just get rid of the junk in the most environmentally-friendly way possible. I am not as methodical as I’d like to be, but I am already seeing a difference with the reduced clutter. Here are some of my tips and favorite resources:
Are you a piler or a stasher? We create stacks in our household, which we have to go through weekly, then move to our respective offices, where they wait (indeterminate lengths of time) to get filed. One of my first steps in clearing out the junk was to deal with the piles of paper. I shredded anything that should be shredded and recycled and filed the rest. If you are supremely organized, I suggest taking this time to note what bills you actually get paper invoices for, and move towards electronic billing. Also, if you haven’t already, take a moment to stop your junk mail, saving yourself a step in the filing process and reducing some paper use.
I finally went through the stack of magazines piling up next to the bed, tearing out any recipes, articles and ideas I wanted to reference later, and throwing the rest away. If you are looking for an electronic alternative to the magazine clutter, read your magazines online and save your favorite articles with a social bookmarking tool such as delicious.com to easily search your saved files with your own key words.
If there is a bookcase in our house, it will be filled so, instead of investing in ANOTHER bookshelf, I decided to make space for all the books I will likely buy this year by getting rid of books I probably won’t read. We will be reselling some books to amazon.com while others will either go to the local used bookstore for store credit or be donated to a local charity.
You can also gain a lot of space by going through your media. If you still have DVDs and CDs, inventory them and decide if you can move to a digital archive. It may take some time, but downloading and backing up your media could make you more organized in the long run and eliminate unnecessary clutter. Get rid of the disks once these have been backed up, reclaiming that shelf space.
As more and more of our lives are kept in digital files, it is important to take precautions to protect our files as well as the hardware that stores them. If you store important documents, family photos, media, or other items on your hard drive, make sure you have a backup plan. Learn more about digital storageoptions so if anything happens to your hardware you don’t lose everything.
Whenever I go to the hardware store, I must suffer from temporary memory loss; what else would explain the multiples we acquire? This year we are doing an audit. If we have enough stuff to justify it, we will do a garage sale, but most likely we will sell what we can on craigslist or eBay and give away the rest on freecycle.org. These are all great options for ridding yourself of unwanted, outdated and duplicate items. We also have a pile of electronics to get rid of: an old microwave, tv, toaster oven, printers, juicer, etc. We don’t want to dump these if they can be recycled. We are looking into e-cycle options in our area, including local Windermere offices holding e-cycle events regularly, which also benefit the Foundation.
The same rules apply to our excess storage.
As you de-clutter and reorganize, make updates to your home inventory list. Spring is a great time to make sure your list of household items is up-to-date for insurance purposes. It is also a good time to check on your major appliances to determine if your furnace/water tank/septic or other major systems need to be serviced.
As the seasons change, it is a good idea to go through your clothes in order to renew and refresh your wardrobe. If you have items that can be updated with a few alterations, make a plan to spend some time with your tailor. Otherwise, look critically at the clothes you have. If you didn’t wear it in the last year and it cannot be altered to work with the rest of your wardrobe, consider donating it to Goodwill or your preferred charity. Throw any soiled or damaged clothes away. Spring is also a great time to get rid of any old linens and towels that have seen better days.
You will likely be surprised by how light your load is once you have really gotten into the de-cluttering process. If you have furniture you don’t use or that doesn’t fit with your décor, consider your options. You may be able to repurpose your furniture for more efficient use, such as a console table as a landing strip next to the door, an armoire for playroom storage, or even old doors as a headboard. Or you may breathe new life into your furniture by painting or re-staining. If you can’t repurpose, why not recycle? You can donate your furniture, sell it on craigslist or give it away on freecycle.org. Getting rid of excess furniture can revitalize a room almost as much as buying new furniture.
Once you have cleared the clutter and made way for a fresh perspective, figure out what will help keep the clutter at bay, and add design elements that inspire you. Decorative baskets keep magazines in order; decorative vases with flowers add natural elements help keep the indoors fresh; and new lighting or a new paint color can brighten up a room in an instant. Subtle updates in your rooms can make all the difference once the clutter is gone.
What are your tips for preparing for spring? What are your favorite spring rituals, once the cleaning is done?
For many house hunters, a dream home isn’t complete without being a good fit for the family dog. Some might see the fenced in yard, and consider the box checked. However, if you are looking for your next home, you may want to look a little deeper to be sure the fit is right before signing on the dotted line.
It’s worth taking a little extra time to consider your pooch in a little more depth. Here is a quick checklist of considerations to be sure you find the right fit for your canine companion:
What’s in a Yard?
A fenced yard is, of course, ideal for many dog owners. It gives you the ability for off-leash play, a must for meeting the exercise needs of active breeds such as Border Collies or Labradors. But not all yards are the same. Here’s a quick checklist of what to look for:
- Check the fencing to be sure it is secure. Factor in any repair costs into the cost of the home since they will need to be addressed right away.
- Are there flower beds with potentially toxic plants that will need to be moved outside of the fenced area? Examples include many spring bulb favorites such as daffodils, tulips, and crocus, as well as some bushes such as azaleas.
- Is there a nice shady spot so your pooch can find shelter from the heat on a hot summer day?
- Is there access to water for an outdoor bath?
- Will delivery people be able to access your main entrance when the dog is outside without entering the fenced part of your yard? It is easy to overlook, but this can become a major annoyance if you do a lot of online shopping.
Indoor Space Considerations
It won’t always be a beautiful sunny day, even in your dream home. Make sure your new home will have enough space for a little indoor play on rainy days and during colder winter months. A long hallway can make a great runway for a game of fetch when getting outside just isn’t practical.
Likewise, consider the needs of aging or injured dogs. Does the layout of the home require going up and down stairs to get to the most used areas of the home? This can be a major problem for some special needs dogs, and a deal breaker for some pet owners.
Finally, most dog trainers recommend that every dog has a little space to call their own during times of stress. This may be as simple as a corner of the living room with a comfy dog bed or crate. If you have a puppy, however, a space that can be puppy-proofed and cordoned off (with appropriate flooring for potential accidents during potty training) is in order.
Go for a Walk
It may be impractical to include a dog walk for every home you look at while searching for your dream house. However, once you are down to a short list, it is time to actually take your dog on what is likely to be the daily walk route. Make sure this is a walk you would feel comfortable making every day, or even letting the kids take.
Be on the lookout for hazards: A dangerous intersection, a portion of the walk that requires walking in the road, or a neighbor who lets their dog run right up to the curb with invisible fencing (a recipe for territorial fights with leashed dogs passing by). A drive through is unlikely to reveal these walk spoiling annoyances. In addition, look for evidence of good lighting for evening or early morning walks.
Nearby Canine Amenities
If you are moving to a new part of town or relocating to a new state altogether, it is worth doing some research to find out where the pet services are located. Depending on the services you tend to use, it can make a big difference in your quality of life to be able to take advantage of nearby conveniences.
Think about what services you are likely to use most, and check on Google Maps to locate:
- Dog boutiques (particularly important if you buy specialty food)
- Grooming services
- Doggy daycare and boarding
- Pet sitting and dog walking services
- Dog-friendly restaurants (BringFido.comis a great research tool for this)
- Dog parks and dog-friendly paths for long walks
Although luxurious hardwood flooring adds a great deal of ambiance to a home, it will have the opposite effect if it gets scratched up from the nails of a rambunctious canine. Large and even medium sized dogs can easily create unsightly scars in hardwood floors that can only be fixed by a professional who will need to sand away the wood then stain and refinish it. It’s a costly fix!
Modern carpets can generally hold up to doggy traffic. However, think about where you will be coming in and out of the house with your pooch to be sure you have a place to wipe muddy paws first on rainy days. A mudroom or garage entrance can easily stow a few extra towels for the job.
Tile and high-quality laminate flooring are the most durable as both will resist scratching and are easy to clean.
Consider Pet-Friendly Condos and Planned Communities
If you have a truly pampered pooch, one way to go the extra mile is to ask your realtor about dog-friendly communities in your area. Many condominium complexes, for example, have pet services right on site. Pet grooming, pet-sitting, dog walking services, and even a fenced in dog park and/or pool is available in some areas.
Work with a Knowledgeable Realtor
Make sure to let your agent know upfront that you have a canine member of your family to consider during the house hunt. If there are certain “musts” such as a fenced yard, or proximity to veterinary services, be sure to put that on the table upfront to help your realtor find a home that works for you and your furry friend.
Sharon is the lead author at wileypup.com. She received her M.S. in Science & Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and has worked as a professional dog trainer for over 10 years.
It is finally summer; time for barbecues, summer camp, and family vacations. In recent years we’ve heard of people shortening their vacations, staying closer to home, or going nowhere at all for “staycations”. Another way to save money, while still getting away, is to leverage your own home for a home exchange.
A home exchange—often called “house-swapping”—is a money-smart vacation idea that’s been around for a long time. With virtually everyone feeling the economic squeeze, some exchanges are more popular than ever before.
Why a home exchange? Since accommodations are usually the priciest part of a vacation, a home exchange saves money, allowing travelers to take longer vacations and perhaps splurge a bit on dining, tours, or shopping. Larger families appreciate how homes meet their needs for space, meals, and a good night’s sleep. And, home-swappers often say they enjoy “living like the locals,” especially when traveling internationally.
How it works. The basic idea of a home exchange is that two families agree to live in each other’s home (usually at the same time) at no cost—it’s considered an even trade. Exchangers find one another via home exchange website that provides detailed listings of available homes. Exchanges take place within the United States or internationally, and the length of stay is whatever the parties agree upon. Exchangers typically do not meet in person but get acquainted via phone calls and emails before the exchange happens. Details, including pets, the use of a car, and cleaning are all agreed upon ahead of time, usually in a written contract provided by the website.
What makes a house desirable? You might be surprised! As a general rule, home exchangers are looking for location, location, location. They want to explore attractions in your area, attend an event, or visit family. A beachfront house in California is highly desirable, as is a condo in an exciting city—and even a home in the suburbs will appeal to the right travelers. Because swappers are primarily looking for a convenient jumping-off point for their adventures, your home’s age, floor plan, and furnishings don’t matter too much, as long as it’s clean, comfortable, and accommodating.
Vacation homes are ideal. Whether it’s a rustic cottage on a secluded fishing lake or a condo at a popular ski area, a second home is ideal for exchanges. Logistically, you don’t have to vacate your primary residence, and you have more flexibility as to when the swap can happen. For this reason, many retirees—who often own second homes and enjoy freer schedules—find home exchanges especially appealing.
First steps. If you’re intrigued, start by exploring a few websites; you can view a lot of information for free. Home exchange websites typically charge an annual membership fee of $50 to $100 to list your home. If you decide to join a service, you’ll provide several photos and a detailed description of your home. You’ll also post your desired destination(s) and travel dates, and you’ll be able to peruse the homes that meet your criteria. It’s common to trade information with several homeowners before finding just the right match, and the process may take several months.
Focus on the basics. Once you’ve agreed to an exchange and are preparing your home for guests, think about what makes a hotel room enjoyable. A clean, clutter-free home is universally appealing, and comfortable mattresses and attractive bedding are a must. Your kitchen should be well organized, and internet access is a big plus. Your guests know they’re staying in someone’s home, so don’t worry about scuffed baseboards and well-worn furniture. Likewise, don’t expect five-star accommodations when you step into your host’s home.
Is a home exchange right for you? If the very thought of others living in your home and sleeping in your bed—or you in theirs—makes your palms go clammy, an exchange is probably not for you. But many travelers are hooked!
What are your summer vacation tips?
When you think of your home, it likely conjures up feelings of safety, shelter, and comfort. However, accidental injuries in the home are one of the leading causes of harm to children 14 and younger. By taking certain precautions, many of these accidents can be prevented.
While supervision is the best way to keep your children safe at home, you can’t watch them every second. Childproofing, to whatever degree you are comfortable, will go a long way toward keeping your littlest loved ones safe and healthy at home.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Many accidents happen with or around water.
If you have children at home, it’s advisable to adjust your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding. Furthermore, you should never leave a small child unattended in a bath tub, even for a few seconds. And be sure to safely secure doors that lead to swimming pools and hot tubs, including pet doors. When cooking or boiling water, turn pot handles in, or better yet use the back burners, to prevent little hands from pulling them off the stove.
Household chemicals can be very harmful to children.
It’s important not to keep poisonous materials under the sink, even if you have a cabinet guard in place. Keep dangerous chemicals up high and in a room that isn’t accessible to your little ones. Seemingly innocuous medicines can also be dangerous. Make sure your medicine cabinet is out of sight, mind, and reach.
Use safety latches and gates.
It’s advisable that you use safety latches on drawers, cabinets, toilets, and windows, as well as place covers on all electrical outlets. Gate off stairways and entrances to rooms, such as garages, that contain dangerous or fragile objects.
Secure furniture and other objects.
Heavy furniture, electronics, and lamps must be secured to prevent a child from pulling them over. Bookshelves and entertainment centers often come with devices that attach them to walls so that a climbing child won’t topple the furniture. The end-caps on door stoppers can be a choking hazard, so it’s advisable to remove them. Place plastic bumpers on sharp corners or edges of coffee tables, entertainment centers, and other furniture to prevent cuts and bruises.
Install a carbon monoxide detector.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke alarms. Be sure to test both devices regularly and replace batteries as needed. The American Red Cross advises families to learn first aid and CPR, and to devise an emergency evacuation plan for fires and earthquakes.
Emergency contact info.
Last, but not least, in case an emergency does happen, always keep numbers for your child’s doctor, your work and cell, and other emergency contact info in an easily found place, preferably near the phone.
Accidents can and will happen, but by following a few small steps you can have peace of mind knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your family from harm in your home.
Ipod and water bottle in hand, Dave strolls down a flower lined path toward his first destination of the morning, his gym. At the door to the gym, he is greeted by his wife, Janet. Janet takes a sip of her latte, gives Dave a kiss and tells him she’s off to the studio. While Dave is turning on some music and contemplating how many miles he’ll put on the treadmill today, Janet walks up a staircase to her studio.
The kiln in the corner warms the studio from the chill of the rainy night before. Janet hangs her coat and inspects yesterday’s creations on the drying rack. In her mind, she’s sizing up what glaze and design she’ll use for each piece. Dave will head to his office on the other side of the building after his workout.
Depending upon where you live, you might have your own vision of this scene. Perhaps it’s a downtown building that has ground level shops, like a gym, and small spaces upstairs for rent, like a studio. Maybe an office park in the suburbs. Perhaps even a co-op village. For Dave and Janet, though, the gym and studio are in a part of their backyard that used to be home to a jungle gym, sandbox and 4-square court. When they became empty nesters, they decided to consolidate their life, cut commuting expenses, and take advantage of some unused space at home. They created a two story, backyard cottage that had a gym, bath and shower, and kitchenette on the ground floor, as well as side-by-side offices on the upper level. Dave, rather than a kiln and pottery supplies, has a desk and display of catalogues that he will use in presentations when clients visit him.
Backyard cottages have been gaining in popularity and attention lately. With the changes in the housing market making it impractical to sell some homes, possibly gas prices making long commutes impractical, or maybe the desire to simplify a life that’s been too removed from home, its’ easy to see why someone might choose to build one. Many people build them to be guest quarters, mother-in-law apartments, a rental unit for additional monthly revenue, or temporary lodging for boomerang offspring who are trying to land that first job out of college. Some of these are as simply built as a miniature starter home, and yet others are elegantly equipped as a five-star hotel.
To maximize the value of these buildings, they should be planned by an architect so that they will work for your intended use. In the example, Janet’s kiln would be heavy and very hot, so several building precautions would be warranted. One short cut to avoid would be to do anything less than fully permitted and inspected, as failure there can cost far more than the property tax levy to take care of later. It’s advised that unless you have lots of experience, have the riskier tasks done by subcontractors.
These buildings will add value to the homeowner’s property over time, as if they are built properly, they’ll appreciate in conjunction with the value of the home. The reasons for having one are many and personal, but if you were to drive down many city streets, you will find one hiding under the trees in a corner of the backyard.
Can you see a point of your life, and a place on your property, in which a backyard cottage would make sense?
By Eric Johnson, Director of Education
Johnson has several years experience as a real estate agent and real estate instructor, as well as experience in construction project management, digital media/publishing and insurance. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from University of Colorado.
This weekend I spent the greater part of Saturday taking care of the ongoing household to do list and the transformation made a huge impact. There certainly is more to do, as is the nature of home improvement, but having a finite list of things to accomplish and making time to enjoy them made all the hard work worth it! Here is my top ten list of how to make the most of your time when tackling home-improvement projects.
1. Imagine your perfect place. Your home should reflect your personality, the way you spend your time, and fit your needs. If you want a place to entertain, to relax and meditate, to create art, nurture your children, or display your collections, you will want to consider your priorities. Once you have explored the possibilities the next step is to prioritize your to-do list in order to make the most impact.
2. Make a list. Some home project lists could go on and on (and on), so it’s a good idea to write out a list and discuss the details with the members of your household so you know where to start and who is responsible for what.
3. Prioritize. Once you know what needs to be done it’s time to prioritize the list. If there is something timely (like getting gutters before the fall) keep that in mind when prioritizing, but also think about those projects that will bring you the most joy in daily life.
4. Do one project that really makes a difference. I recently finished sprucing up the living and dining rooms with new curtains and new furniture for storage and display. These are the rooms I spend the most time in at home, so the difference is palpable to how I view my home. Now we are ready for a big dinner party which is one of the most important things in our household. From this experience, I realized that small changes and some cleanup can make a huge difference.
5. Keep it reasonable. Make sure your list is reasonable. The goal isn’t to get everything done in one weekend, which typically isn’t feasible anyway. Rather, you want the time you invest in your home to be enjoyable and give you the sense of satisfaction (and motivation to do more).
6. Gather your tools. Nothing will derail a project like not having the right tools. Once you know what you are going to accomplish make sure all your supplies are ready. You’ll be far more efficient if you hit the hardware store, fabric store, gas station, etc. prior to getting started.
7. Work together. Some projects are two-people projects. If you share your household, enlist other members to share the work. Some projects need two people to lift, spot, hand tools, push, pull, etc. If you live alone, have a work party by inviting a friend over to help. You can return the favor if they ever need help with a household project.
8. Enjoy the process. Blast music, take breaks, and step back to reflect on your household improvement. If you need to dedicate a weekend to doing your chores, you may as well still enjoy it!
9. Get the list done. If you’ve taken the time to make your list reasonable you shouldn’t have any trouble completing it. Doing so will reaffirm your sense of accomplishment, so when you look at what was done, you won’t be thinking about what you have to do next.
10. Bask in your success. Focus on the improvement, enjoy your space, and most importantly, use it! If you made your bedroom a sanctuary, light a candle and relax with a good book. If you reconfigured your kitchen for more efficient use, have your own Iron Chef moment and cook a huge meal. Just remember, all your planning and hard work should be enjoyed.
What are your tips for making the most out of your home?