Happy new year! After months of staying home and balancing the various facets of your life in one place, you’re probably itching to bring in some fresh energy for 2021. We’re here to offer some easy home design tips to help transform your space from ‘four walls and a roof’ into a holistic wellness ecosystem.
These healthy-home improvement projects span the spectrum of price points and difficulty levels, ranging from DIY solutions to more sophisticated technologies, and are meant to promote quality air, water, restorative lighting, humidity and weatherization at home — especially as we push through a Covid winter. Check out our white paper, The Science Behind Healthy Homes: 25 Factors that Impact Your Home, for more info, and read on for our easy home fixes to support your health, well-being, productivity, and resilience as you kick off the new year.
Research suggests that the concentration of toxins, allergens and other pollutants can be up to five times higher indoors than it is outside. Building materials and home products can release a number of different chemicals: some are benign, while others are known to be hazardous. And almost 75% of our exposure to one of the most dangerous air pollutants – very small particulate matter (PM2.5) – occurs inside our homes. Air pollutants can contribute to a range of short-term symptoms, such as eye, nose and throat irritation and headaches, as well as long-term adverse health outcomes, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and respiratory issues. Pollutants can remain present indoors for a long time due to tightly sealed buildings and long-term use of materials that release them.
Improving indoor air quality is especially key right now, as we’re likely to spend even more time indoors during the winter cold weather. Furthermore, SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, can be spread via airborne transmission. Long-term exposure to air pollution also might affect our response to the virus, as pollution has been linked to worse outcomes resulting from other coronaviruses. Below are some easy tips related to indoor air quality, and stay tuned for our upcoming white paper to learn more about “Improving Indoor Air Quality for Better Health: Key Factors that Impact Indoor Air and How to Address Them.”
#1: Buy an indoor air quality monitor to help identify which pollutants might be of concern in your home. Air quality monitors can help track particulate matter pollution and other indoor air pollutants as they arise. Many consumer-grade, easy-to-use monitors are available online.
#2: Install filtration: Most homes require a combination of filtration technologies to target indoor pollutants present in the home. Trying to decipher the differences between mechanical filters, carbon filters, and UV light can feel quite overwhelming, so we recommend a Delos Air Purification System as an integrated solution to target a combination of pollutant types. For example, our “Delos Powered by Healthway” Compact air purification system uses patented technology to deliver advanced air purification with 3rd-party tested performance on filtering out viruses, bacteria, and particles down to 0.007 microns (SARS-CoV-2 virus ranges in size from 0.06 to 0.14 microns).
#3: Ensure adequate ventilation: Ventilation systems can play an important role in diluting pollution concentrations that have built up indoors by bringing in fresh air from the outdoors. (Note, this is not recommended if outdoor air pollution is high. You can check the air quality in your area using this air quality data tool.) Here are some options to increase ventilation at home:
- Open your windows
- If you can adjust the fresh air intake of your HVAC system, set the fresh air intake to the maximum level
- Place box fans in windows to help pull in more fresh air (if there isn’t a centralized fresh air intake system in place)
- Upgrade your HVAC system to include ventilation
#4: Opt for certified healthier, sustainable materials: A chair is no longer just a chair and an oven cleaner is no longer just an oven cleaner. Every piece of furniture, building material, and cleaning product in our homes is potentially emitting toxins and pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds. Shop around for safer or non-toxic substitutes for your cleaning products, furniture, and building materials. For example, some paint formulas are specifically designed to reduce or eliminate toxic material off-gassing.
Here are some product certifications to help you choose healthier materials that are just as effective:
- Greenguard Gold
- CDPH Method v1.1
- EPA Safer Choice
- BIFMA e3
The humidity in our air can affect our comfort as well as our health. Ideally, indoor humidity levels should be between 40% and 60%, as discussed in our recent article, Can Indoor Humidity Impact Covid-19 Transmission?. Air that is too dry can negatively impact our immune response, irritate our respiratory system and disturb sleep. On the other hand, excessive humidity can create conditions conducive to the growth of mold and fungi. Additionally, air that’s too dry or too moist may promote the viability and movement of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Below are two tips to help you achieve optimal humidity levels in your home.
#5: Set up a humidifier: To help increase indoor humidity levels, inexpensive standalone/portable humidifiers are readily available in the market. Make sure to periodically clean your humidifier and drain the reservoir to get rid of any pathogens that might have built up inside, and choose a humidifier that’s the right size for the area in question. You can also work with a contractor to install an in-duct humidifier for your central air system. In our previous article, Relative Humidity & the Health of Your Home, we explored common types of humidifiers. Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post on how to choose the right humidifier for your home.
#6: Implement dehumidification: Microorganisms such as mold, fungi, and bacteria can grow rapidly on indoor surfaces when humidity levels are high over long periods of time. Inhaling or touching these microorganisms may cause allergic reactions for people with asthma or mold allergies. Adding portable dehumidifier units or installing dehumidification systems could effectively slow the growth of these microorganisms by lowering the relative humidity for your indoor space.
As we discussed in our recent article, How Safe is Our Water? Key Contaminants & Treatment Methods, drinking water can contain a range of different types of pollutants that can adversely affect our health. Although the United States sets protective standards to limit the presence of pollutants in our water systems, contamination can still occur from inadequate maintenance of aging water infrastructure or distribution systems (e.g., piping), or from unregulated well water. Below are just a few easy ways to help improve the water quality in your home.
#7: Get your water tested: Regularly testing your water with a reliable testing kit can help to identify any issues with your water, whether you can taste them or not. With this information, you are then empowered to find an appropriate solution. Having your water tested by a professional is another option (and many companies offer it for free!).
#8: Install water filters: Filtration is one of the most effective treatment methods for mitigating water quality concerns. Different types of filters are designed for different types of contaminants. Our recent article provides detailed guidance on how to choose the right filtration technology for your needs. In addition, water filters differ in terms of their placement and can be installed either at point-of-entry (POE; meant to treat all the water that comes into the home) or point-of-use (POU; meant to treat water that comes out from a specific location).
Many of our body’s functions, including sleep and alertness, naturally operate on a 24-hour cycle, called the circadian rhythm, that mirrors the solar day. Light is the primary way that this internal clock is “set”, so getting daily exposure to the right light at the right time of day is critical. While our ancestors enjoyed a healthier and more dynamic exposure to light, bright light in the morning and darkness at night, the modern world exposes us to much dimmer levels of electric light throughout the day. Still, it’s in our power to regulate our lighting so that our brains receive the right signals. Bright light during the daytime can support alertness and productivity, which is especially helpful while working from home. The right lighting can also help us get a better night’s sleep. More specifically, dimmer, warm-colored light in the evening can help to support the circadian rhythm and promote better sleep,
which in turn helps to support our immune health and our moods so that we can better manage the pandemic. Below are just a few ways to help make your lighting work for you.
#9: Make your lighting tunable: Specialized tunable lighting fixtures and controls can enable indoor electric light to mirror outdoor natural light — brighter and bluer light in the day time and dimmer and warmer light in the evening. Depending on the cost and scope of the project you want to pursue, some options include:
- Manually programming circadian timing and settings for tunable smart light bulbs
- Implementing light bulbs or products with preprogrammed lighting settings that align with our circadian rhythm
- Implementing comprehensive circadian lighting solutions
To learn more about lighting strategies, as well whole-home solutions to promote health and well-being, contact a Delos Home Wellness Expert.
#10: Install blackout shades: Blackout shades can help eliminate outdoor light pollution to support a darker sleep environment. You can choose smart shades (or program regular shades to be controlled by automated home assistants) to automatically align with your bedtime and wake-up time – for a ready-to-go sleep sanctuary!
Our homes should be healthy for us, but they should also be healthy for our planet. Energy efficiency can help minimize the harm our homes have on the environment. Moreover, energy efficiency upgrades can improve resident health more directly, e.g. via supporting thermal comfort and reducing indoor pollutants. Modifications such as sealing and insulating, which can help make your home more environmentally friendly while providing better protection against the elements, are called “weatherization”.
Winter is a great time to consider weatherization, since it can help keep out the chill and reduce heating bills. Many states even offer weatherization assistance programs for low-income households. Make sure that your upgrades include protections for indoor air quality too, so that your weatherization doesn’t increase the concentration of indoor air pollutants. Below are some easy ways to help weatherize your home.
#11: Air seal windows and doors: Air leakage can occur through cracks and openings, such as around doors and windows. A qualified home energy auditor can help identify areas that need air sealing, which you can address through caulking or weatherstripping.
#12: Improve your insulation: Insulation can help prevent the heating and cooling in your home from leaking outwards through your building envelope. Common problem areas include the attic, walls, and floors adjacent to an unheated space, like a garage or basement.
Edited by: Bing Bing Guo, MPH, Regina Vaicekonyte, MS and Radhika Singh