You might not realise it but there is a huge connection between our housing and our health. We can spend as much as half our lives within our home so it is becoming increasingly important to keep this consideration at front of mind. Historically, homes were used to protect people from bad weather and wild animals. Yet, as our health knowledge has expanded, we have learnt that a healthy home needs safe water access, fresh, clean air and ways to evacuate waste.
A healthy, safe, affordable and accessible home helps to support our basic human needs and protects us from potential illness and injury. Some homes (especially older ones) have several health hazards including lead-based paint, mould, rodents, pesticides and second-hand smoke. Not to mention other invisible threats such as carbon monoxides and radon. Therefore, your home could be contributing to your overall state of health.
Possible threats and solutions
Illness or condition
How it can be prevented
Smoking and second-hand smoke
problems, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), lung cancer, and deaths from fires.
- Don’t smoke in the home
- Don’t let anyone else smoke
in the home
- Install fan systems that can
remove radon or vapour barriers that can block radon
Lack of a working smoke alarm
Fire related injuries and death
- Install smoke alarms on every floor of the home
- Use long-life smoke alarms with lithium-powered batteries
- Test all smoke alarms every month
Moisture and mould
Asthma and respiratory problems
F- Fix water leaks
• - Keep house well ventilated
Acute poisonings and
conditions such as
cancer, low birth weight and prematurity
- Keep pests out by cutting off their water, food, and access
- Use pesticides wisely
- Store pesticides properly
This table does not summarise all possible threats. Your home could still be affected by mites and other organisms in carpets, built-up dust, blocked air conditioning filters, signs of asbestos or even contaminating fibres from soft furnishings. With the exception of asbestos, which can be deadly in just small amounts, most of these things are irritants in low doses. Some can aggravate existing conditions such as asthma or allergies whilst others can just make you feel a little dull and lethargic. If simply being at home is making you feel chronically fatigued, tired or unwell, it’s time to check up on your home’s health.
Likewise, you could be exposing your family to a range of chemicals, germs and viruses within the home from a range of simple household items such as the below:
Sponges and dish towels
The humble kitchen sponge and dish towel can hold mould and thousands of germs if not cleaned and stored properly. To combat this issue you can place the sponge in the dishwasher on a drying cycle or get it wet and then put it in the microwave to sanitize. When it comes to dish towels, these can harbour unhealthy microorganisms, so it is important to wash them often using a hot cycle in your washing machine.
Whether you sleep with a partner or not, you are never truly alone when it comes to your bed. Not only can you find hair, dead skin, fungi and pollen in your bed, you’ll usually find a collection of dust, dust mites, and even pet dander. Start by washing your bedding in hot water to kill dust mites on a weekly basis, and vacuum your uncovered mattress regularly.
Virtually all surfaces within your home, but particularly doorknobs, carry staphylococcus (staph), a common bacteria. While this bacteria is minimal threat, it can be harmful if it enters your mouth, eyes, cuts or scrapes causing an array of health issues. To avoid, give your surfaces a good swipe with an antibacterial cleaner, helping to keep staph and other microorganisms under control.
Many carpets emit the same volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as paint. These often cause people to experience flu-like symptoms including eye, nose and throat irritations – especially after the installation of new carpet. To avoid trouble, ask if the carpet can be aired out before installation. Also, open windows and doors and use fans to allow as much air to circulate as possible. Consider selecting carpet and related products that meet low VOC-emitting criteria for indoor air quality acceptance. Once in place, vacuum your carpets (and rugs) often to ease allergy-related problems due to dust and pet dander.
The most important ingredient in a healthy home is natural ventilation. Whenever possible, allow fresh air to get into the home and provide a way for hot, stale air to be extracted. When renovating, consider ways to make your home more eco-friendly. An eco-friendly home is not only a healthier home, it helps the environment and saves you money.