Is Your Home Making You Sick?

Your home is your safe zone, your place to relax and be alone or with your family, but what if it is also the source of your underlying health problems?

The health and safety of our indoor environments is growing more and more important for a number of reasons:  more people are working from home; homes are more air-tight; more people use year-round heat and air conditioning rather than opening windows; and more of our senior citizens are living in their homes longer.

Health has been linked to housing conditions for centuries including respiratory infections, asthma, lead poisoning, and injuries.

According to the CDC, home injuries are the leading cause of death for children. Due to their size and behaviors such as crawling, putting things in their mouths, not washing their hands, children are particularly vulnerable to home hazards. Children are more likely to be harmed by chemicals and other dangers in the home because their intake of food, water, and air is higher relative to their body size compared to adults.

In addition to other health concerns in the home, older people are more prone to falling hazards that lead to injury.

Homeowners and renters alike can maintain a healthy home – inside and out. If you are renting your home, do your part to keep it clean and pest-free and tell your landlord about any needed repairs.

How Do I Keep a Healthy Home?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has Eight Healthy Homes Principles to keep your home healthy and safe:

1. Keep it Dry

Moisture in your home leads to mold which can cause a number of health problems.
• Prevent water from entering your home through leaks in roofing systems.
• Prevent rainwater from entering the home with proper drainage away from your home – clean drains and gutters regularly.
• You can also check your interior plumbing for any leaking.

2. Keep it Clean

• Minimize dust and contaminants by creating smooth and cleanable surfaces – this includes floors. Carpet can trap allergens. Bag-style vacuum cleaners can spread those allergens around. Consider switching to a canister-style vacuum that can be washed regularly.
• Reducing clutter and using effective wet-cleaning methods will also minimize dust and germs.

3. Keep it Safe

• It may seem obvious, but store poisons, including all cleansers and detergents, out of the reach of children and properly label them.
• Assess your home for falling or tripping hazards like loose rugs and loose handrails; install grab bars in bathrooms if needed.
• Keep the yard and children’s play areas free from hard or sharp surfaces.
• Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and keep fire extinguishers on hand.

The Red Cross has a free smoke detector installation program: Call (419) 329-2900.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Healthy Home Chart

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Healthy Home Chart

4. Keep it Well-Ventilated

• Many bathrooms have fans, but are they really removing moisture? Is yours vented to the outdoors? Kitchens should be ventilated too, with a fan over the stove and a window that opens.
• Open your windows periodically to get fresh air in and use fans to reduce the concentration of contaminants in the home.

5. Keep it Pest-Free

• All pests look for food, water, and shelter. If you have pests, you can eliminate them by finding and eliminating the source.
• You can make your home inhospitable to pests by keeping your home dry and clean, seal cracks and openings with caulk, and store food in tightly-sealed containers.
• If needed, use sticky-traps and baits in closed containers along with least toxic pesticides such as boric acid powder.

6. Keep it Contaminant-Free

• If your home was built before 1978, lead paint may have been used. It is best to have the home inspected by a certified lead inspector who can recommend the best course of action. Treatment solutions may be containment (painting over it) or removal. If you are doing your own home repairs, check out the EPA’s Renovate Right guidelines for your protection and the health of those in your home.
Radon is a naturally occurring, dangerous gas that enters homes through soil, crawlspaces, and foundation crack. Awareness of the health dangers of radon is increasing. According to the EPA, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon-detection kits can be purchased at home improvement stores, and you can install a radon removal system if levels above the EPA action-level are detected. The State of Ohio offers FREE Radon Testing Kits. Order your Free Radon Test Kit.

7. Keep Your Home Maintained

Inspect, clean, and repair your home routinely. Take care of minor repairs and problems before they become large repairs and problems.

8. Keep it Thermally Controlled

Houses that do not maintain adequate temperatures may place the safety of residents at increased risk from exposure to extreme cold or heat.

The National Center for Healthy Housing has a handy Healthy Homes Maintenance Checklist indicating interior and exterior areas of your home and when to maintain them – Spring, Fall, Annually, As needed and When to Call a Pro.

Free and Low-Cost Help for Home Repairs

If your home is in need of repair, whether you’re a homeowner, landlord, or renter, the City of Lancaster’s Community Development Department has grant funding available for health and safety renovations for income-eligible residents. Call (740) 687-6663 for more information. A City employee will come to your home and conduct a free assessment to determine the health and safety repair needs of your home. If your home is eligible, repairs could be done at no cost to you.

Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio has a Critical Home Repair Program that provides affordable loans for income-eligible homeowners in Fairfield County.

A Tax Credit is available from the Ohio Department of Health for homeowners of any income level for lead abatement costs (lead risk assessment, lead abatement work, clearance examinations, and relocation expenses).

More simple steps you can take to reduce health hazards in your home:
• Don’t wear outdoor shoes inside your home, switch to house shoes or slippers when you get home
• Use dehumidifiers in damp areas
• Don’t let trash and clutter build up in your house
• Replace the furnace filter every three months
• Check smoke detectors twice a year
• Wash bedding weekly
• Bathe pets regularly
• Use door mats to trap dirt and water

Filed under: Community, Featured, Health, Home Improvement, Homepage Showcase, Life, News
Lynda Berge Disser

By Lynda Berge Disser

Lynda Berge Disser started her community development career in 1991 as director of a non-profit housing organization in an historic neighborhood. She has led training workshops for community-driven housing and commercial development across the country and has written grants that have brought in over $100 million for community development. Lynda currently serves as Director of the City of Lancaster's Community Development Department.