Using eco-friendly materials to improve indoor air quality

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By Terri Williams September 18th, 2019
For business

Poor indoor air quality can lead to headaches, fatigue, and dizziness.
Most people are aware of the many outdoor environmental pollutants. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average person spends 90 percent of their time indoors – and time indoors means exposure to indoor pollutants that impact the air quality. Common indoor pollutants can lead to headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and irritate your eyes, throat, and nose. More serious effects include respiratory conditions, cancer and heart disease.

Using eco-friendly materials can greatly improve indoor air quality. “As a designer who specializes in sustainable design, I define eco-friendly as not only healthy for the environment but also healthy for the client,” explains Joan Kaufman, an interior designer and President of Interior Planning & Design in Naperville, IL.

Here are a few items and materials that can reduce indoor pollutants:

Paint

Paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are used as solvents or thinners to improve the paint’s performance and drying time. “Always use no-VOC paint. Almost every major paint brand has an enormous amount of color selection with no VOCs,” says  Erica Reiner, owner and principal of Eco Method Interiors. “Walls take up a lot of surface area in the home, and the price of no-VOC or even all-natural milk paints is comparably affordable.”

VOCs are also found in paint strippers and solvents, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, cleaners, disinfectants, and pesticides.

Flooring

Flooring also contains VOCs, and the EPA notes that flooring commonly contains dirt, dust pollen, mold spores and pesticides, which can be tracked in from the outside. Reiner recommends eco-friendly carpet options. Before purchasing carpet, check the label to see if it has the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Indoor Air Quality designation. Also, choose felt padding instead of carpet pads with styrene butadiene rubber.

“The floor is a big surface area and I’ve seen so many good and competitive options out there now, so be sure to check things out,” Reiner says. “There’s all sorts of styles and colors of sustainable cork, sustainable bamboo, carpet squares made from recycled plastic bottles, and carpet made from wool.” In addition, Reiner recommends using a low-toxin flooring adhesive.

Countertop materials

Kitchen countertops can contain VOC, and Kaufman recommends countertop materials that are rated as low/no VOC to make a positive difference in your air quality. Eco-friendly options include recycled glass, recycled paper, reclaimed wood, and bamboo.

Furnishings

“Use natural, unprocessed fibers whenever and wherever possible,” advises Reiner. “If you can get a sofa and accent chairs made with natural and untreated fabrics and foams, this is such a good thing to do for your family’s health – and the environment.”

Reiner recommends natural unprocessed fibers for curtains as well. “Finding these soft goods can be the most difficult task because of all of the processing in the textile and furniture industry, but my rule of thumb is look for certain criteria rather than try to learn all the things you should try to stay away from.”

Why shouldn’t you focus on what to stay away from? “It is a never ending and never shifting list due to the nature of chemical compounds and, frankly, how lax our consumer protection is here on household goods,” Reiner says. “Look for natural fibers made from plants you recognize and look for companies that specifically advertise their eco-friendly processing.”

Air

“Improve the air flow in your home and prevent mold growth by opening windows, installing fans and adding a dehumidifier to the mix,” advises Peter Duncanson, disaster restoration expert at ServiceMaster Restore.

“Opening windows allows fresh air to flow throughout the home, generating a cross-ventilation and carrying extra moisture out with it,” he says. “Ceiling fans are great for improving air circulation and drying up any areas that may be prone to mold growth, especially in the bathroom.” Additionally, Duncanson explains dehumidifiers will help circulate the air while also drying it out.

Your HVAC system also plays a role in your home’s indoor air quality. Changing out your air filters on a regular basis can help remove air pollution. As a rule of thumb, the air filter should be changed at least once every three months. However, there are other signs – such as a gray filter or a lot of dust – that indicate you need to change it more often.

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Image/Shutterstock

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