Creating a Less-Toxic Home Environment

We finally are moving into our new home! I’ve been working on creating a less-toxic home environment and will be updating this post in real time as each stage approaches. I haven’t done this type of post before, so we’ll see how it goes!

Our new home was remodeled about 10 years ago, so any of the chemicals and materials used will have off-gassed by now, which was a big deal for chemically-sensitive individual like me. And even if you aren’t as sensitive, I’d still be cautious of new buildings since chemicals/indoor pollutants can and have contributed to serious and chronic health effects.

So while this is no way covers everything, these were our areas of concern and how we addressed them.

I'll keep adding bite-size sections for the next few weeks until it's all complete!

Jump to:


Paint

Creating a Less-Toxic Home Environment | janny: organically.

We wanted cool, neutral colors in the home and many of the rooms were bright aqua and orange, so we needed to address them. What better time than when the house is empty? This was the first thing we tackled.

The health concern with paint is primarily surrounding the harmful gases emitted, known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). They are found in paints, lacquers, paint strippers and varnishes (and other items such as cleaning supplies, wax, disinfectants, building materials, furnishings, glues, adhesives, etc.). Many VOCs are hazardous air pollutants, while some, like Benzene and Formaldehyde are listed as human carcinogen. Studies have found long term exposure to VOCs to cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, nausea and memory impairment.

The problem with some VOC-free paint is it doesn’t always perform well. I didn’t want my paint bubbling up on me or interacting with existing paint, a warning Laura from Laura’s Natural Life gave me about AFM Safe Coat.

After hearing good reviews, we starting looking at Sherwin Williams VOC-Free ProMar 200, but then Molly from MaisonPur started dropping interior lingo about how much more dimensional Benjamin Moore paint was, so we just went that direction. Clearly I trust her! This was a team effort!

Our final selections:

We used Avi Decorative Painting Inc, a highly reputable business in the Bay Area of California, who happens to specialize in an environmentally conscious approach to painting.

Creating a Less-Toxic Home Environment | janny: organically.
Creating a Less-Toxic Home Environment | janny: organically.

Maybe I should have cleaned those windows? ;)


Carpet

The old toxic padding gets removed

The old toxic padding gets removed

The new, pure wool padding!

The new, pure wool padding!

Pure wool carpet

Pure wool carpet

During our open-house hopping days, there were a number of houses I walked in to only to walk right out of. We all know that “new paint” smell, and this was similar, but there was no new paint. It was new carpet!

Most carpet is made from synthetic fibers with a chemical backing, glued with toxic adhesives on top of a synthetic pad. The odor is the smell of the VOCs off-gassing; a cocktail of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, styrene, benzene, toluene, 4-PC, stain protectors, flame retardants, insecticides, etc. The smell may fade after a week or so, but they continue to off-gas for years. In fact, carpet installation is an extremely toxic profession because of their constant exposure to these chemicals.

Because of this, we opted to go for wool carpet because it’s not a synthetic fiber, while also being a natural flame retardant. After looking at numerous brands, we chose Earthweave because they were truly the most natural and high performing.

While many wool carpet brands are cleaner than synthetic carpets, I discovered nearly all are using synthetic plastic or styrene (a possible carcinogen backing and/or secondary backing and are mothproof the carpet with insecticides/pesticides.

The stand out points for Earthweave:

  • Naturally pigmented coloring (or, if dyed, uses natural, organic dyes)
  • Hemp/Cotton Primary backing
  • Jute Secondary backing
  • Biodegradable after 20-25 years
  • No mothproofing
  • No Stain or Fire Retardants
  • No Synthetic Dyes
  • No Synthetic Poly Primary or Secondary backing
  • No Styrene

Did you catch the part about being biodegradable? I think we overlook the fact that synthetic fibers take hundreds of years to break down, and Americans are throwing about 5 billion pounds of carpeting into landfills every year. Doesn’t sound very eco to me!

We paired the carpet with Earthweave’s wool pading because our other options were, you guessed it, synthetic and toxic foams.

Obviously wool isn’t a vegan choice, but it was the best for our situation. Earthweave sources British wool from free-range sheep.

Earthweave recommends using Host carpet cleaning products with their wool carpeting and using a HEPA filter Vacuum at least once a week! This is the one we use!

Rugs: We chose this jute & natural rubber gripper. Grippers are used to prevent slipping, for sure, but also to protect against color transfer from the rug.

Special thanks to Andy from The Green Design Center who helped me narrow down my carpet choice! (More from Andy later!)


A Sustainable, Eco-friendly Kitchen Set-Up

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We’re convinced organization is a key ingredient to achieving a peaceful environment, in fact, Charlie wrote about this on my blog last year. At one point in my life, I was organized, but setting up a work-flow system is just not my strong point, so I’m working with a company, BlissHaus to help me streamline my kitchen while using long-lasting, sustainable, plastic-free organization tools.

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For organization experts, it might come instinctively to set up plates, bowls, cups, silverware and food storage compartments around the sink/dishwasher. It was an "ah-ha" moment for me when Wiebke explained how I would only be turning or pivoting around the sink/dishwasher as I load/unload. Then, obviously, the cooking necessities go around the stove.

But it was the transition to airtight glass jars that's the game changer for me. I have never felt so happy in a kitchen then when I see everything out of boxes and bags and lined up in the most organized fashion possible.

We worked together to set up the system. Usually, she comes with a team and organizes/declutters kitchens for her clients. But she does have a shop to purchase many of the products featured in my kitchen, including those jars and labels!

I wouldn't have put the pots and pans in the pantry myself but I'm loving it all!

I wouldn't have put the pots and pans in the pantry myself but I'm loving it all!

Beautiful labeled jars

Beautiful labeled jars

Market tote-bag and sacks to house your bulk bin items with the proper fill line depending on the size jar!

Market tote-bag and sacks to house your bulk bin items with the proper fill line depending on the size jar!

It's hard to pick a favorite part of the kitchen, because it's all...so...good. But I am so excited about my little apothecary section with my herbs and oils for all my teas, tonics and magic potions!

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These were previously in bags stacked in cardboard boxes above our fridge and it didn't make for easy access. Now I'm inspired to concoct! Well, once the rest of my house is put back together.

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Stay tuned for more as we continue to move in. I'm going to talk bedding and mattresses, whole house air filters, whole house water filters and EMFs!