Looking for a new home or apartment can be daunting and stressful, at best. Searching during a competitive time of year can be all the more frustrating, and some of us may even begin to compromise on what we’re looking for just to bring the whole house-hunting process to an end. Unfortunately, this is where we can steer in the wrong direction and unknowingly end up with an unhealthy home.
What exactly can make a home “healthy”? The answer is surprisingly simple: the air!
Many of us take for granted the air we’re breathing is safe and healthy since it’s usually out of sight and out of mind–but this actually isn’t the case, especially for air that’s indoors. In fact, indoor air can be 5x more polluted than outdoors, which can affect allergies, asthma, our ability to concentrate, the quality of our sleep, and more. Particularly “unhealthy” or “bad” air can even cause a variety of health problems, including dry skin and eyes, coughing and sneezing, headaches, eczema flare-ups, hives, and nausea.
How safe the air we’re breathing is depends on the balance of five particular factors that affect our air quality: it’s levels of chemicals, dust, humidity, carbon dioxide, and temperature. The safety of your future home can depend on its ability to keep these five factors in check.
To help you on your hunt for the next home, we’ve pulled together a list of a few questions to ask yourself (or whoever is providing the home tour) to make sure you’ll be living in the safest and healthiest space possible.
When was the last time the living room was painted?
This question isn’t actually to see if the room is in need of a fresh coat of paint–at least not in the way you may think. The problem actually is the new paint.
Paint contains a variety of toxic chemicals, including VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which evaporate at room temperature. After a room is freshly painted, VOCs will leak off the walls (a process known as “off-gassing”) for months. Living in a home infested with VOCs will start to wear away at your immune system and can cause a variety of side effects, including headaches, nausea, coughing and sneezing, and hives.
If the room was recently painted, talk to the landlord or previous homeowner about the possibility of sealing the paint with a non-toxic top coat, which can be found at most hardware stores.
Will there be fresh air when you cook?
There’s nothing wrong with cooking–as long as you can air out the kitchen! We may not realize it, but cooking on a stovetop actually creates high levels of humidity, and regularly having air that is high in humidity can cause dangerous mold and mildew to grow in our home.
This is especially important if the kitchen has a gas stove, which can release harmful chemicals into your air every time the burners are turned on.
Make sure to check the kitchen for a fan (above the stove or otherwise), or at least for a few windows near the stove.
When was the flooring installed?
Brand-new flooring is typically applied with both adhesives and top coats that contain high levels of VOCs, which can potentially off-gas in your room and give you a number of side effects that could disrupt your sleep. The same can be said for carpet backing–however you’ll want to stay away from old carpet as well, since carpet collects dust that can irritate your allergies. If there is carpet, look into any options to have it replaced with non-toxic flooring.
Do the windows allow for enough airflow?
High levels of carbon dioxide have been shown to disrupt your sleep cycle, so it’s important to see if the room provides a way to be easily aired out before bedtime.
Is there enough ventilation?
Bathrooms are the most at-risk for humidity, so you’ll want to make sure there are a few options in the bathroom that will help you get rid of damp air. Exhaust fans are very effective at keeping the humidity in bathrooms low, but be sure to check and see when the fan was installed and when it was last cleaned. In the absence of a fan, larger windows that will promise enough air-flow can be just as effective.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed at the idea of having unsafe air in your home–don’t worry! The best way to start is by understanding what’s in your air with an indoor air quality monitor, like Awair. Awair tracks toxins and chemicals in your air and provides you with personalized recommendations to help you stay safe and healthy.