Our homes are full of hazardous chemicals that can irritate our skin and make medical conditions such as eczema much worse. Going eco isn’t just beneficial to the environment but also to our health. Our 6-step guide to green living will get you well on your way to creating a greener home, making your time at home a far more pleasant experience.
6 Steps to green living at home
Make your own air freshener
Did you know that by making your own air freshener you can reduce the amount of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air? Shop bought aerosol cans often contain chemicals such as formaldehyde which is a sensitizing agent, with the ability to worsen asthma and cause headaches, chest pains, dizziness, joint pain and ear infections – not pleasant symptoms by any means! In small, naturally occurring amounts, formaldehyde won’t cause any harm but within air fresheners, where you’ll find a larger amount that’s also concentrated, it has the ability to cause allergic reactions in 20% of people who come into contact with it. Air fresheners release chemicals in small particles, meaning that these can be easily inhaled into the lungs and transferred to the blood stream where they can cause damage.
Instead of buying a can from your local shop, why not make your own? Mix ginger, lemon juice and apple peel together in a saucepan and fill it with water until it’s completely covered. Boil it up and then let it simmer until the water has evaporated. Repeat as often as necessary. Fans of vanilla essence may prefer filling an empty spray bottle with cold water and adding a few drops of vanilla extract before spraying it around the room.
Clean with lemon
The wonders of baking powder are well known but did you know that lemon is just as great for avoiding those VOCs? To brighten up your copper saucepans or home accessories, microwave a lemon for ten seconds and then cut it into two. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt over its sticky side and rub it directly onto the copper. You can also squeeze pure lemon juice onto soap remnants and leave it in place for a few minutes before wiping it away. No harsh scrubbing needed!
Make smarter furniture choices
Your average piece of composite wooden furniture is pre-treated with flame-resistant chemicals and formaldehyde. Many of us buy pressed wood products instead of real wood in the bid to keep costs down but the overall cost could be your health. The gas never fully leaves the wood because it’s engrained in its structure during the making process.
The best choice will always be real wood, however if you need to buy pressed wood, exterior grade pressed wood is your best option as these are made with phenol resin which give off less formaldehyde than regular urea-formaldehyde products. Aim to shop for untreated items or items that have been treated with natural products. The Greenguard certification marker will be a good indicator of a greener choice of material as will the FSC-certification which guarantees that your wood was taken from trees in sustainably managed forests.
Swap your lights
No, I’m not asking you to swap your ceiling lights for candles but your incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). As an alternative to a glowing filament, CFLs contain argon and mercury vapour, as well as a ballast which produces an electrical current to excite the gas molecules inside the bulb. Once ultraviolet light is produced, this encourages a fluorescent coating on the inside of the bulb to absorb energy and produce the light that we see.
Their eco label comes from the fact that they don’t need heat energy, meaning that they use around 75-80% less energy than incandescent bulbs. Less watts are required to produce the same level of light that you’re used to in your home. By saving energy, you’ll be drawing less electricity from your city’s power supply which in turn will reduce greenhouse gases through reducing the initial demand to burn fossil fuels. A CFL bulb will last for around 10,000 hours compared to 1,200-2500 hours for an incandescent too – using 140 kilowatt hours of electricity over its lifetime, compared to a much higher 600 kilowatt hours.
Open your curtains
Prevent mould in your home by opening up the curtains every now and then to flood the room with light. The heat from the sun will remove the moisture in the air without you even noticing and lower the risk of mould growth since fungi aren’t partial to dry conditions. There are many different types of airborne spores and these can enter your home through open windows and doors and vents. Not only do they look unpleasant, if they’re allowed to thrive, they can cause all number of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis.
Change your paint
Have you ever wondered why you’re left with a headache after painting a room? That’ll be the VOCs working their magic. You won’t always feel immediate consequences (for example, when they’re present in furniture) but they can have long term effects in contributing to respiratory problems and allergic reactions. Regular, synthetic paint releases these chemicals while the product is drying and continues to do so over a period of five years.
Choosing a paint that’s labelled as organic doesn’t mean that it’s VOC free either, as most paints are man-made and VOCs themselves are a combination of man-made and natural chemical compounds which can be dangerous to your health. Working with a low or zero-VOC eco paint will cost you more (up to 15% for masonry paint and 30% for gloss) and increase the drying time to 16 hours but sticking with the cheaper brands won’t do your health any favours since they often contain the highest levels of VOC.
If mould is already growing in your home and it’s too late to open up the curtains, post your job in our Specialist Tradesman category and up to three local damp proofing specialists will get in touch to help. Our electricians can also help you with electrical connections should you need to make improvements before changing your lights. Browse their individual profile pages, complete with previous customer ratings, to help you decide who to hire.