We touched on the basics of a healthy home on our Green Building page. But to make a home healthy it helps to understand what makes a home unhealthy. There are three ways things in your home can harm you: you can eat them, you can breathe them or you can touch them. Let's look at each briefly so you can start to think about your project... and your current home!
Things you eat
Babies crawl on floors and get their hands dirty. Babies put their hands in their mouths. That's how lead paint dust or chips get eaten in old homes. So you want to minimize the number of bad things that can get eaten in and around our home. Tohn Environmental Strategies of Wayland did an interesting study. They took samples of the "stuff" on the floors of a one-year old home. They found lead, DDT, and other contaminants! The builder didn't use lead paint and DDT was banned years ago... so how did the contaminants get into the house? Here's a clue: the concentrations of the contaminants was highest near the door and decreased with samples farther into the house. The contaminants were tracked in on shoes. Our homes are part of the broader environment we inhabit and many, if not most, contaminants in our homes come from outside our homes.
Some strategies to address this include:
Things you breathe
Most everyone remembers the formaldehyde in the materials used to make the trailers supplied to people affected by Hurricane Katrina. That's a good example of a building material that wasn't "healthy" (another story about formaldehyde used in the finishing process of clothing can be found at http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=2329). If you are building a home with a quality builder and selecting good materials, you shouldn't have trouble with formaldehyde or other known contaminants. And if your home is thoroughly flushed with fresh air before you move in, "experts" say you should be fine. But there are other contaminants to consider. Radon for instance, is not good. If you want to learn more about why it is not good, read up at http://www.epa.gov/radon/. So what should you do to reduce the amount of bad things you breathe in your home? Here are some suggestions:
Things you touch
This is typically the least relevant item in the healthy home discussion. While there may be things that can harm the people building your home during construction (e.g., sawdust, un-cured foam insulation, fiberglass insulation), you shouldn't be exposed to any of these items once you move in (and a good builder protects the workers during construction through a robust training and safety program). However, if you have a specific allergy to a wood or fabric or finish, avoid using the material in your home.