Knowing what to look for in an eco-friendly home isn’t very complicated: You want energy efficient systems, well-insulated windows and walls, maybe a small indoor herb garden, and other common upgrades. But do you know what to avoid? The chemicals and materials that go into some of the more structural parts of your house (like adhesives, building materials, and paint) could be emitting dangerous toxins that affect you and your family. Here are four materials to make sure you avoid.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are organic pollutants that show up in a wide variety of common household and office products: Paint, cleaning materials, permanent markers, and furniture (just to name a few). They affect indoor air quality, and can cause side effects ranging from headaches and nausea to liver or kidney damage. So how can you avoid them? Look for “low-VOC” or “no-VOC” versions of your favorite products; buy the smallest amount you need; and use them only in ventilated areas.
The chemicals known as phthalates show up in everything from perfume and shower curtains to glue and insecticides – so they aren’t that easy to avoid. According to the National Library of Medicine, exposure to phthalates comes through “air, water, or food,” and though the effects of phthalates aren’t confirmed, they are “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Steer clear of them in your kitchen by avoiding food packaged (or stored) in plastic or cans, and microwaving leftovers in glass bowls instead of plastic.
You’re most likely to find formaldehyde in mass-produced building materials and pressed-wood products, like plywood paneling, MDF, and particleboard that are held together with formaldehyde-heavy adhesives. According to the EPA, formaldehyde emissions can make your eyes water or nauseate you – and it has also been linked with cancer in lab animals. To reduce your risk, look for pressed wood products that are made with phenol resins instead of urea resins and make sure your home is well-ventilated.
If you want to outfit your home with a minimum of environmental impact, then you want to avoid as much petroleum use as possible. And that doesn’t just mean getting a hybrid car and switching to alternative energy: Petroleum goes into everything from paraffin wax and Teflon to nail polish and plastic, according to Mother Nature Network. The easiest way to limit your use? Become a more conscious consumer and think twice before you buy anything new.
More Great Links
- How to Conserve Energy at Home
- What's the one thing you can do to your home to save the most energy?
- 22 Ways to Save Energy and Water in an Apartment
- “An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: VOCs.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. (Mar. 25, 2013) http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
- “Phthalates.” National Library of Medicine. (Mar. 25, 2013) http://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/chemicals.php?id=24
- “6 Simple Steps to Avoid BPA and Phthaltes in Food.” Silent Spring. (Mar. 25, 2013) http://silentspring.org/pdf/our_research/six_steps.pdf
- “An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Formaldehyde.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. (Mar. 25, 2013) http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formaldehyde.html
- “8 Unexpected Places to Find Petroleum in Your Home.” Mother Nature Network. (Mar. 25, 2013) http://www.mnn.com/local-reports/illinois/local-blog/8-unexpected-places-to-find-petroleum-in-your-home