Who doesn’t want their home to be more environmentally sustainable? Greener homes are healthier to live in, help you to live like a responsible global citizen, and are a smart way to take care of the world’s limited natural resources.
Though an entire eco-friendly home renovation is probably out of your budget, there are lots of small ways you can change your space to make your home more sustainable and healthy to live in. The effects go deeper than the aesthetics, as environmentally conscious changes in your home will help you save money in the long run while keeping you safe from toxic chemical exposure.
If you’re looking for the inspiration you need to transform your home into an earth friendly space, read on!
The dangers of common household chemicals
There’s no doubt that the average home today is far from healthy. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), over 80,000 chemicals are used in everyday objects around the house, and over a thousand have been proven to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they can alter your hormone levels. Even worse, few of these chemicals have been adequately tested for how safe they are when they interact together, meaning that there is no real way to know what their damage will be on your body in the long run.
Even the dust in your home can make you sick. Traces of ten harmful chemicals that are known to cause cancer can be found in 90 percent of dust sampled from homes, meaning that most of us breath in these chemicals on a daily basis.
Where are these toxic chemicals found? Some of the top damaging materials in the average home are listed below.
- Mattresses: Most mattresses contain PBDEs, antimony, and formaldehyde which can build up in the body over time and increase your risk of cancer. Because a third of life is spent in bed, these toxins can really add up.
- Mothballs: Paradichlorobenzene, the active ingredient in some mothballs, has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Other types contain naphthalene, which can lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Pressed wood products: Faux wood is made from combining pieces of wood together using a glue that often contains formaldehyde, which can lead to watery eyes, burning throat and asthma attacks.
- Carpet chemicals: The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in new carpet can damage your health by triggering breathing problems and asthma.
- Lead paint: Though it’s been outlawed for decades, lead paint still exists in older houses and can cause huge problems with nervous systems, brain development, and the kidneys, especially in the young children that accidentally eat it.
- Cleaning products: Air fresheners and other cleaning products can release toxic levels of polluting chemicals that are especially dangerous in non ventilated areas. Some cleaning products contain ammonia, which can irritate, burn and cause long term damage to skin and eyes. Worse of all is when these chemicals interact with the ozone and create a truly poisonous combination.
- Flame retardants: Often used in furniture, computer casing and clothes, flame retardants contain PBDEs that can lead to learning problems, decreased sperm counts and even lower thyroid functioning in humans.
- Cosmetic chemicals: Many shampoo and lotion products contain phthalates that bind the color and fragrance to the product, which can act as hormone mimickers and cause reproductive problems in mammals.
Looking at natural home substitutes
Clearly, any kind of exposure to these kinds of chemicals is bad news. It might not be realistic to get rid of every toxic substance in your home, but by following these tips you can make a bold change for your body and the health of the planet.
1. Trade out your light bulbs for CFLs
You can make a big difference in your home for both environmental sustainability and your wallet if you take the time to switch out regular light bulbs for energy efficient ones. Replacing just a few of your incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones (CFLs) can save you over 75% on your lighting bill. Best of all, these bulbs tend to last ten times longer than regular ones, meaning you’ll be sending fewer bulbs to the landfill.
Note: Keep in mind that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury that can be dangerous if you come in contact with it. Take care not to break any bulbs and carefully dispose of them once they burn out.
2. Invest in better insulation
About 40 percent of home heat is wasted because of poor insulation- an enormous and expensive waste of polluting fossil fuels. Not only is conventional insulation often leaky, it can also be filled with damaging chemicals like asbestos. To keep your lungs safe and to stop wasting fossil fuels, invest in extra layers of environment-friendly insulation. You can insulate your home with GreenFiber (a product made from shredded newspaper) by layering it in attic spaces to prevent excess heat from escaping out the top.
Caulking and weather stripping around windows and doors can also prevent heat from escaping and lower your home’s carbon footprint.
3. Use your water efficiently
Few people have any idea how much water they use every day- and the average consumption of 100 gallons per person/day for Americans is sure to be surprising. You can cut down your water usage by installing low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators in your bathroom to help you save water without needing to compromise on water flow.
To be even more efficient with your water usage, you can install a rain barrel underneath the gutters of your roof. This water can be used to water your garden as a sustainable alternative to groundwater sprinkling systems.
4. Make your own cleaning supplies
The danger is in the unknown when it comes to commercial cleaning products, but you can control your exposure to these toxic chemicals by making your own products. Simply dilute vinegar in water to form a natural antimicrobial spray, or make your own dish soap and laundry detergent to keep artificial fragrances out of your clothes. Recipes abound online for ways you can easily keep your space clean while not supporting the questionable products of conventional cleaning companies.
5. Compost your food scraps
Food production in the United States is a massively inefficient process, as over 40 percent of all food spoils before it can be eaten. Worst of all, much of this food rots right in the refrigerators of the people who buy it.
You can help divert this stream of waste going into landfills by turning your uneaten food scraps into high quality soil amendments. It couldn’t be easier to set up a worm bin in your pantry or to invest in a stainless steel compost bucket, or a bokashi bucket– a Japanese system that ferments food and can even handle meat and dairy. Once your system of choice has made quick work of your food scraps, you can add the new compost to your garden for use as a rich soil amendment.
Yard waste can also be utilized for composting. Simply fit all your food scraps and garden debris into an outdoor composter and give it a turn every few weeks until the material has broken down completely.
6. Grow plants indoors
Not only is being closer to greenery good for the soul, it also helps to keep your indoor environment healthier. Plants work as natural air filters, meaning that they can absorb the harmful pollutants coming off your carpets and furniture and make your home a safer place to breathe deep. Indoor plants also help to maintain the humidity levels of your house, meaning you’ll be able to stay comfortable in the dry heat of winter.
7. Choose low VOC paint
When the time comes to do some major interior redecorating, be sure to invest in nontoxic brands of paint. Though traditional paints are filled with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can affect your respiratory health, paints that are labeled “low VOC” or “No VOC” reduce these risks and help keep your lungs safe.
8. Invest in sustainable flooring
Many forms of flooring are toxic for the environment. Wood flooring contributes to the decimation of forests around the world, while carpets and vinyl can expose you to a cocktail of chemicals. If you are looking for some sustainable alternatives for your home, it’s smart to invest in renewable forms of flooring like bamboo, stone or reclaimed wood. Not only will your decor be unique, you also won’t have to worry about the environmental footprint your home leaves behind.
Finding ways to make your house more natural and environmentally friendly can be overwhelming, but the results are always worth it. Keeping your family safe from toxic synthetic chemicals will make a big difference for your health and the health of the environment. There are an endless number of ways to start making your home more sustainable today, so have fun exploring the options and working to completely transform your space for the better!