When you build or remodel a home, some of the most important decisions you may make are the ones regarding the types of products and materials used in your construction. Our family just moved back home after a 3 ½ month remodel and amongst the countless decisions we had to make, choosing safer products to use in our home construction was at the top of our list—and we had a lot of lists going!
We have now been through four remodels in the last nine years (one being an impromptu remodel in 2013 after the floods, so we aren’t quite as crazy as you might think 🙂 ) and here are some of the most important things that we learned throughout all of our renovations.
When we did our first basement remodel and large renovation, we chose to live at home. Although it was very hard to uproot our family for several months, we decided it was best to move out of our house this time around. Being away from the noise, dust, and fumes is generally a good idea, if you can make that work.
Choose wood over carpets
Carpets are full of synthetic fibers and glues and can pose an issue for allergies as well as collecting germs that are harder to clean. In our first remodel we took out all of the upstairs carpet and added hardwood flooring.
Buying and refinishing wood flooring
We initially purchased pre-finished hard wood flooring. The advantage of pre-finished wood is that the finish is put on the wood prior to installation in your home. There is no smell at all in your house. Nine years and 3 kids later, our floors needed refinishing. We chose a water-based product to refinish/reseal our floors, instead of the more toxic oil-based options available.
Our advice is to choose real wooden floors when possible (over laminates) and search for non-toxic coating for refinishing, if possible as well.
Paint with low or no VOC paint
Although it costs more per gallon, we have never looked back after switching to no or low-VOC paints inside our home. They have much less odor than regular paint, and whatever smell they have dissipates very quickly.
In our first remodel, we painted only one room with regular paint and the rest of the house in low VOC paint and the contrast was unbelievable!
Also, if you live in a home built prior to 1978, you may want to check to see if you have high lead rating within the home as many paints contained lead back then.
Carpeted areas should be vacuumed regularly and professionally cleaned yearly—and especially after finishing a remodel! People who suffer from allergies and asthma generally report great relief after carpets have been cleaned. Professional carpet cleaning can help remove trapped pollutants below the surface that vacuuming misses. It is important to choose a service that cleans without chemicals. We used a service that uses a solution similar to hot carbonated water for carpet cleaning. Additionally, a good company will avoid over-wetting and will use equipment that assists the carpet in drying quickly (so as to avoid mildew or mold).
The air in your home circulates through the air ducts in your house multiple times a day. While these ducts should be cleaned every few years, it is especially important to clean them after a renovation to remove the dust and contaminants, therefore improving your indoor air quality.
Invest in an air purifier
Air purifiers are important in houses because they quickly and quietly clear allergens and other particles, such as odor, pollen, smoke, dust, pet dander, and other pollutants present in the air. (This is the air purifier we have at home and work and we love it!)
During a home remodel, many people choose to install built in closets. These closets are often assembled with traditional paints and glues. We are a huge fan of the Elfa closet system from the Container Store. They use a hanging rail system that is totally customizable and does not use a single drop of paint or glue. We have Elfa in every closet that it will work in our home.
Purchase real wood furniture when possible
After you build or remodel a home, the next step is to fill it with furniture! Solid wood furniture is not only a better, lasting quality but is also a much more non-toxic option. Particle board, plastics, and more are filled with synthetic and man-made materials that are commonly full of toxins. Use your common-sense judgement with this. If things you purchase have a strong odor when you take them out of their packaging, you may choose to let them off-gas outside or in a garage before setting them into your home.
Invest in a water filter
Clean water for cooking, drinking, and showering is a great step you can take to improve your health. We recommend a solid block carbon filter (such as the Multipure Aquaversa) or a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system. An RO system is the only way to remove fluoride from the water (fluoride has been added to all water since about the 1950’s and is hypothesized to be a factor in the increase in autoimmune thyroid disease). Although an RO does remove fluoride, it also removes all minerals in the process.
Choose natural pesticide options
There are natural options available for some of the insects that will attempt to make your home into their home. Check your local health food store or hardware store and put in some research into finding natural alternatives.
It’s not uncommon to see an increase in pesky critters after a remodel when walls have been opened up. We have used a natural pest service for many years for the spiders that make a home in our basement and the wasps that try to make it difficult for us to enjoy summers on our deck.
Choose natural lawn care
The final step of our recent remodel will be to landscape this spring. Its important to remember that what gets sprayed on the lawn surrounding your house will certainly get tracked into your home. We have a shoes-off policy in our house. Additionally, we have chosen to use a non-toxic lawn service.
I know that all this can seem overwhelming at first, but remember that you don’t have to make all these changes at once! Start with the one or two that feel most important to your family’s health, and gradually make more healthful choices as you improve upon your home.
In our next blog post, I will be discussing making safer and non-toxic choices with some common and everyday items in your home.