How to make a healthier home |

How to make a healthier home

I’ve noticed you have what amounts to a green home tour coming up, featuring new technologies and ideas for “healthy homes,” as you call them.

We have a 30-year-old home, though, and can’t apply new green building concepts. How can we make our home “healthy” too?


Ailing in Avon

Your point is not only an excellent one for your own situation, Ailing, but for our race as a whole. Buildings are directly responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas production, and new construction is but a wee, small fraction of that. If we are to seriously address climate and other issues, we must address your infirm home and many millions of others like it.

And it’s a social question as well ” if only the relatively wealthy (who can afford new construction) get homes that are cheap to operate and healthy for inhabitants, liberals everywhere will demand we tax cheapness and health. I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Limbaugh).

Shameless self-promotion warning. I will mention our Healthy Homes Tour on June 16 in Eagle, thank you very much, that does primarily feature new homes. Of course you will see things that you can’t do to an existing home, but the tour this year actually does feature one home far older than yours (96 years, actually) with some modern energy- and comfort-conscious retrofits.

Visit our partner’s Web site at for more information on the tour.

So you can rest assured that there is plenty you can do to make your home a “healthy” one. We won’t define “healthy” here, but instead define areas of opportunity and then strategies within those areas. You should then understand what healthy means for a home.

Indoor air quality is rather a newbie. Asthma and other respiratory ailments have increased worldwide at what can be conservatively called an astounding rate ” one in 10 American children now has the wheeze. No one’s sure why, but as we spend over 90 percent of our lives breathing indoor air, that’s a great first place to look.

Your first opportunity to improve your home’s air quality is cleaning products. Switch to “natural” cleaners with ingredients you can pronounce instead. Or go with surprisingly effective baking soda, vinegar and water.

Then, when you’re in the market for paint, sealant, adhesive, etc., look for those with low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compound) content. They can be more expensive, but they’re cheaper than a lifetime supply of albuterol.

Finally, carpets, carpet backing and some wood products can contain nasties like formaldehyde. If they are nasty-free, they’ll typically say so.

Energy-efficiency is all the buzz these days, for good reason ” money. Most older homes can save an easy 20 percent on their utility bills with free to cheap changes like weather stripping, caulking and changing to compact fluorescent bulbs. Old homeowners can cut bills about 50 percent with some investment like improved insulation, setback thermostats and Energy Star appliances.

Check out for some detailed suggestions.

Only after you have done what you can to make your home more energy efficient should you look at renewable energy. Renewable electricity systems ” such as solar and wind ” are still very expensive, so you’ll reduce the size and cost of any system by reducing the amount of energy you need. Solar hot water is usually a no-brainer, as it can pay for itself rather quickly.

Water is our most precious resource and will likely be our greatest resource concern in the future. So fix leaky toilets and fixtures, replace shower heads and faucets with low-flow (though still excellent pressure) fixtures, xeriscape and learn best watering practices, and use your dishwasher instead of hand washing.

The list of opportunities to improve the health of existing homes is far longer than you might imagine, and certainly longer than this column. And whether you can make certain changes to your home, the Healthy Homes Tour next Saturday will help you better understand how a home works and what you can do to make it work better.



Terra Mater is the alter-ego of Matt Scherr of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability ( If you have a question about local recycling, sustainability or other such issues, e-mail

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