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!
Keep in mind that we have been planning this for years. We stayed in our condo a lot longer than we expected and saved and planned to implement all of these items when we moved in. I understand this isn't necessarily acheivable for everyone moving into a home to do it all at once!
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.
One thing everyone can do to reduce the toxic load on their home and health is to implement the No Shoes In The House rule. One study showed that our shoes carry over 421,000 units of bacteria including coliform and E. coli, while another showed lawn herbicides, and yet another revealed coal tar. Each are tracked into the home even after walking long distances after exposure and can carry moderate to severe risks. It's an easy fix and don't feel ashamed to ask visitors to oblige, their shoes are filthy too! Get yourself a polite (or snarky) doormat to help. ;)
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 carcinogens. 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:
Benjamin Moore Regal Select Waterborne Interior Paint with Zero VOC
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.
Maybe I should have cleaned those windows? ;)
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 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 Stain or Fire Retardants
No Synthetic Dyes
No Synthetic Poly Primary or Secondary backing
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 ethically sources British wool from free-range sheep. They all need hair cuts after all!
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!)
Bedding and Mattresses
We may already know 1/3 of our life is spent sleeping. This is the pitch many mattress sales people use to convince us to buy “the best” product. But, by what standard do we define “best?”
Most sleep environments are riddled with VOCs, formaldehyde, flame retardants, pesticides, polyurethane foam, all linked to various illnesses, by the way, which are found in mattresses, bedding and/or bed frames. Even some spring coils contain helical wires (aka antenna) which boost the mattress into an EMF (electromagnetic field) hot-spot.
I know, I know; it never ends. Everywhere we turn, something else is hurting us. I wanted to find a truly safe comfortable and supportive mattress, which is how I would define “best.”
I’ve had several mattress companies reach out to partner over the years and I’ve passed many times. Their standards didn’t ever match my own. Or they just simply weren’t comfortable.
After much research, and sending one mattress back, we think we found the winner with INTELLIbed. This mattress features a Gel Matrix, a technology used by hospitals to help heal the severely wounded, burn victims and long-term care patients with bedsores because it significantly reduces pressure points.
While it’s not an “organic” mattress, the materials are:
Anti-microbial (resitant to mold and fungus)
Inert (do not conduct heat or cold)
My husband and I were already looking at beds with different levels of support on either side of the bed; he wanted firmer, I wanted softer. But with the INTELLIbed, their food-grade Gel Matrix makes the bed firm AND soft.
Say what? While it’s 3x firmer than the average foam, the design allows incredible pressure relief.
Seems like a “smart” bed without EMF! Oh, and speaking of EMF, the spring coils included in this bed are individually wrapped (not continuous, open or helical coils) there is no such concern.
And there is NO smell whatsoever. And you know I can smell those toxins a mile away! I’ll have a full review on the mattress in once we’ve had a couple months to sleep on it! I can tell you it's super comfy and we are BOTH happy right now. READ THE FULL MATTRESS REVIEW HERE.
We are also still using and loving:
While we’re at it…did you know Coyuchi has a sustainable linen option called Coyuchi for Life? You can get new organic sheets, towels and duvets at a low monthly rate and send them back to renew, recycle or upcycle; thus keeping them out of the landfill.
And if you’re wondering what Sawyer is sleeping on, we ended up getting her The Verse Organic Mattress from naturepedic. Both Charlie and I felt this was a good transition for her!
The bed we surprised Sawyer with was a Montessori-style floor bed in the shape of a house! It’s so stinkin cute you guyssss and she loves it!
The bed is made with pine or birch, only treated with honey, which you can opt-out of if you want.
We got the bed with slats which raise the bed off the floor just enough to give me peace of mind against my moisture/mold fears.
She also uses Obasan’s 100% Pure Organic Wool Mattress Protector with Straps (and their pillows). Most mattress protectors come with some form of plastic or PLA. Since wool is naturally water resistant, nothing else is needed, so nothing else was added!
Yes outdoor air pollution is a problem, but did you know indoor air quality can be up to 10 times worse than outside? Smaller quarters and contained areas allow chemicals and pollutants to build up over time. This is why it’s recommended to “off gas” items outside; the sun and open space can speed up the process and break down the chemicals far faster than it would inside a home.
But finding a good air purifier could be tricky. Anyone remember the Sharper Image fiasco? They came out with the popular Ionic Breeze and sold a couple million units. A consumer report showed how the product didn’t do what it claimed to and how low the Clean Air Delivery Rate was when compared to a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. After several legal battles, Sharper Image eventually filed bankruptcy after a class-action lawsuit ensued against them.
Needless to say, I was picky about what I chose. Andy from The Green Design Center, mentioned above in the carpet section, walked me through all the points that made us select the winner, which we had installed directly to our furnace for clean air throughout the entire house: The RS-4 Integrated Air Purification Systems by Dynamic Air Quality Solutions
Dynamic Air Quality Solutions is a brand used by many, including several government organizations to clean out contaminants like Anthrax.
Their whole-house RS-4 filter addresses all three elements of indoor air pollution:
The air is cleansed by removing submicron particles and contaminants such as: dirt/dust, bacteria, odors, and smoke using electronic polarized-media technology to provide maximum ozone-free air cleaning.
Airborne particles pass through the field and adhere to the media capturing 97% of particles at .3 microns and continues trapping particles much smaller in size. These are the particles that are otherwise absorbed into our bloodstreams to trigger asthma attacks and allergy symptoms, in addition to more serious health issues.
The Germicidal UV Air Purifier is a high output germicidal lamp that harnesses the energy of the sun’s UVC rays to disrupt the DNA of living viruses, bacteria and other living airborne organisms so they can no longer reproduce. UVC is effective against viruses, germs, bacteria, molds and mold spores, pollen, and other pathogens.
The Activated Carbon Matrix uses advanced composites and extrusion technologies to target contaminants such as include VOC’s, Hydrogen Sulfide, Chlorine, Sulfur Dioxide, Chlorine Dioxide and other acid gases and odors.
These products come with a limited lifetime warranty electronic components while the UVC lamps are warranted against defects for two years
The UV bulbs should be changed every two years while the media filters should be changed quarterly, but remember, there is no longer a need to change the standard air filter in the home after this is installed
Dynamic uses independent contractors who buy and sell their units, which I understand. What you need to be aware of, though, is that these contractors are free to sell the unit for whatever amount they want, in fact, I was quoted $2,200 by one and $2,500 by another.
This is why I recommend contacting The Green Design Center to purchase the product, because their retail price of the RS4 is less than $1,300. Since there is no pricing for these filters online, no one has anything to compare it to…until now. Give them a call if you are interested in purchasing!
Contact a local licensed HVAC contractor to install the unit into the furnace/duct. When calling, I recommend saying something like
“I need an air cleaner installed into the duct work on the furnace side. It’s the same concept as an April Air 5000 or Lennox Pure Air.”
You can provide them with the spec sheet (link below) to help them determine if they are a right fit for the job. It should take about 2 hours for the install.
If you don’t have the ability to install a whole-house air purifier, I highly recommend the Austin Air Purifier mobile systems, which is what we used in our condo. While we used the Allergy model, if I could do it over again, I’d choose one of the Healthmate models (regular or Jr.) for filtering it ALL!
There is a slight difference with the Healthmate vs. Healthmate Plus + versions:
Healthmate: Recommended for most air quality concerns.
True HEPA filter plus 15 lbs of granular carbon blend for high efficiency particulate removal and control of wide variety of most common household chemicals, gases, and odors.
Healthmate Plus+: Recommended over Healthmate if you have chemical sensitivities or just want the top tier
Everything in the HealthMate, PLUS the carbon is impregnated with a special blend of potassium iodide for additional adsorption of wood burning smoke, VOC chemicals, including formaldehyde.
While we have used, loved and will keep our Berkey Water Filter System for travel or emergencies, we wanted a whole-house system to ensure all water at the home was #jannyapproved, as Charlie would say.
We selected the Radiant Life Series 6 System (for municipal and well water) and here’s what it does:
Removes chlorine, chloramines, fluoride, heavy metals, VOCs, lead, THM, HAA, VOC’s and hydrogen sulfide
Promotes an anti-bacteria, anti-fungal, anti-algal and scale prevention water environment
Uses an advanced media blend of tri mixed bed carbon, sediment base, zeolite and KDF
Prevents scale and mineral build-up on plumbing and water appliances
Filters ALL of your home's water including water used for kitchen and bathroom sinks, showering, bathing, laundry, dishwasher and toilets
Features a long filter life (maximum capacity of 1,250,000 gallons or 8+ years)
Virtually maintenance free for the lifetime of the product
Wrapped in premium stainless steel for added quality, protection and durability
To clarify some of the acronyms, THM, HAA and VOC’s = trihalomethanes, haloaceticacids and volatile organic compounds, which include things like industrial solvents, herbicides and pesticides.
The carbon filter is Granulated Activated Carbon media designed to filter the greatest number of potential contaminants from the incoming water supply without removing essential minerals.
Here's a more complete list of the contaminants addressed with the filter:
Unfortunately, I found many filters that remove fluoride were only removing the naturally occurring type and not the type added to city water. This filter removes all types; fluorosilic acid/hydrofluorosilicate, sodium fluorosilicate and sodium fluoride. The fluoride is removed at approximately 85%.
It’s recommended to purchase their Spin Down Pre-Filter along with with the whole house filter. This device will capture dirt, sand, silt and sediment before it reaches your whole house filter and other vulnerable downstream devices and appliances in your home.
We also purchased the Whole House Conditioning System because we have such hard water, our clean dishes, sinks and showers are coated in white residue due to the calcification. Our bodies were itching and the skin on our hands and feet were beginning to crack! Hard water can be destructive to appliances, potentially decreasing the lifetime of the hot water heater, washing machine and dishwasher by several years, while at the same time increasing energy consumption.
This system is not a traditional “water softener” though. Instead of using a salt-based softener, which can give water that slimy texture and kill grass and plants, this conditioner dissolves the “hard” minerals (calcium and magnesium) into microscopic crystal particles and prevents them from building up into scale. This keeps the minerals in the water without adding sodium.
These whole house systems should lengthen the life of our water-using household appliances and the dishes should be cleaner/shinier and the clothes should be softer! Calcification, be gone!
Bottom Line and other options
The lifespan on the filter is 1.25 million gallons or 8 years with no regular maintenance. When it’s time, we’ll simply replace the filters. Easy peasy.
This filter is not for the faint of heart. We hired a plumber to assess our situation and ensure the system was compatible with our set up. They returned to install the system (I highly recommend using a licensed professional do this!). Since the system backflushes every 4th day, we are having this water routed to the irrigation system to water the grass, plants and (soon-to-come) garden.
When finding a plumber, they all seemed to be well-versed in the Aquasana Whole House systems, which, while they are Reverse Osmosis, they put the minerals back in the water, so that could be an option as well!
Radiant life also offers under-the-counter (drinking water only) filters and this one would be the one we would have gotten if we were going to stay in the condo. And of course, our trusty countertop Berkey is also still an amazing option. The shower head add-on is still a great option for those who cannot do a whole-house system.
Does it work: I can tell you without a doubt the hardness has been addressed phenomenally. Even though we could all feel a difference in the shower, we wanted to make sure it wasn’t psychological. I could see first-hand that dishes, especially my cast iron kettle, no longer are coated in white.
While we tested the water before installation, I want to give it a few weeks before we run the test again to give it time to cycle through the home and begin to address the calcification in the pipes.
We’ll be sharing the results once we do the side-by-side comparison…even though we’re already polling everyone who comes into our home to compare tap water with the whole-house system and the Berkey. They definitely taste the tap, but can’t tell the difference between the Berkey and the Whole House!
A Sustainable, Eco-friendly Kitchen Set-Up
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.
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!
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!
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.
Stay tuned for more as we continue to move in. I'm going to EMFs with an expert soon!