By Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau
Imagine living in a place where abundant natural resources and infinite freedom come together in perfect harmony. Imagine waking to the steamy scent of a tropical ocean forest and drifting off to the sound of the ocean under a million stars at night. Our family lived in such a magical place for nearly twenty years. Building our lives from the ground up, we settled between the wild oaks and the wild sea, establishing a home, a home business, and a home school, in as idyllic a place as we could find in modern America. Our hidden paradise provided much of what we needed for a naturally healthy life, like an artesian well, seasonal berries to pick, and enough fish for a daily catch. Most importantly, the location helped shield us from many of the pollutants and toxins we wanted to avoid, so we were able to raise our children away from some of the ills of urban life.
When circumstances required us to relocate to a nearby city, my husband and I worried about the effects of leaving our beloved island home. Not just the impact on our psyches, but on all of our bodies, too. Greater pollution and allergens weren’t things we were accustomed to, nor were anxious to introduce to our kids and pets on a more regular basis. Neither were the lawn fertilizers and pest control products so abundantly used by closest our neighbors, not to mention what seemed like daily applications of chemicals used throughout our new city.
I made a commitment that year to keep our immune systems strong and improve our living situation as much as I could. Knowing I could never control what happened outside, I decided to take control of the inside of our home instead. Taking gradual steps to “green” our new home, over a period of several years, I was able to create a healthier indoor environment for our family. And, though there are still projects I’d like to do, as I look back at the process, I realize most anyone could do this, too.
Just by choosing one or two of these ideas, I believe others can start creating healthier homes, too.
Possibly the easiest way to start creating a healthier home is to eliminate places where dust and irritants tend to collect. In many homes, this starts by removing materials used to cover windows and glass doors. Since drapes, curtains, and most custom window treatments are huge gatherers of dust, mites, and other insect parts, these become highly concentrated areas of irritation in modern homes. Particularly in bedrooms where people spend so much time, just removing window coverings immediately results in much better air. Where window coverings are really needed, I recommend replacing them with products that can easily be vacuumed or wiped with a damp cloth. In our healthy home, I used vinyl and plastic blinds, an inexpensive solution that is easy to clean. In places where I really wanted curtains, I chose durable fabrics that would withstand frequent laundering, so I could wash them in hot water once a month. We still have the privacy and room darkening we desire, without all the micro-particles we don’t.
As with window coverings, many wall coverings come with chemicals or fumes or collect harmful particles that release into the air. Although I love the look of modern wallpapers, decorative fabrics, patterned tiles, and rustic wood, these are often fabricated in ways that contain chemicals, or hold on to odors and allergens that constantly permeate the air. In our healthy home, I opted for washable, low-VOC paints for our walls, choosing this slightly more expensive option over the traditional paint formulations found in most home stores. Going with low-VOC and zero-VOC paints means I avoided bringing thousands of harmful chemicals found in ordinary paints into our home (called, “Volatile organic compounds”), and there was no unpleasant off-gassing during and after painting, either.
The number of flooring choices available on the market today is absolutely mind blowing. From tiles of all shapes and sizes to stain-resistant carpeting to wood-look products, and more, it can be impossible to figure out what to buy. When creating a healthy home, however, the choices immediately become more obvious. Carpeting, for example, is immediately ruled out, since one can never remove all the dirt and particles from its fibers. Many engineered wood and laminate products can also be eliminated, since they’re made with formaldehyde and other substances known to be harmful to people and pets. For our healthy home, I looked for products with the least amount of chemicals and/or off-gassing, which were also easy to clean using natural solutions. I chose porcelain tiles for our kitchens and baths, opting for as little grout as possible to make it harder for germs to collect. In areas where I really wanted the look of wood, I went with a bamboo plank that was tough enough to resist our busy lifestyle, and could also be cleaned with plain soap and water. To avoid chemically laden glues and adhesives, we used a nail-down version of our bamboo, but a floating option was also available, that would have been acceptable, too.
Furniture and Appliances
The cost of these items can make it challenging to furnish a home and maintain a healthy environment, too. I learned there are actually only a few features that make a difference in the greening of a home, so the best I could do was to purchase the quietest and most energy- and water-efficient appliances we could afford, and try to keep them maintained so they continued to do a good job. We installed noise-reduction kits that were available with some of our appliances, which really helps keep the audio disturbance to a minimum. I clean refrigerators and dishwashers frequently to prevent moisture thus mold growth. As a final measure of safety, to reduce my family’s exposure to EMFs (dangerous frequencies called, “electromagnetic fields”), we made sure none of our appliances were placed on the other side of bedroom walls where they would be harmful over a period of time.
As to indoor furniture, I look for pieces with washable surfaces, or ones that collect as little dust as possible. Since simple lines are easier to clean, I gravitate toward plainer geometric styles, as opposed to pieces with intricate detailing. For seating, leather and imitation leathers were my top picks, since they can be easily wiped down with a damp cloth and have few exposed surfaces to vacuum. Where leather wasn’t possible, I went with low-profile upholstered pieces, adding washable slipcovers, even sometimes sheets and blankets that I launder on a regular basis. Our mattresses are also covered with zippered barriers that provide allergy and dust-mite protection, and I keep our beds fresh and sanitary by using only bedding fabrics that can withstand frequent hot water washing.
Despite diligent efforts to green our home, I realized there would always be things I could do nothing about. Short of taking drastic, industrial (and sometimes expensive) measures, I understood that perfection was not my goal, just creating as healthy an environment as I could reasonably achieve within our budget, without becoming obsessed. This is where air handling came in, since cleaning our air helped me overcome certain obstacles I could not control. I started by updating our older air conditioning units, and I now run central air pretty much throughout the year. With that, I also occasionally use humidifiers and dehumidifiers as needed in certain areas, like bathrooms and laundry rooms. We routinely change our air filters, using the highest quality filters we can afford, and my husband also installed filters throughout our home in other places where air was coming in. Finally, in the rooms we spend most of our time, I added air purifiers, and I keep those particular rooms closed off to the rest of the house so they do not become contaminated.
My journey to creating a greener home has led me to finding other valuable ways to keep my family healthy, like not wearing shoes in the house, and not using candles or air fresheners any more. We converted an outdoor swimming pool to a natural system, thus eliminating the fumes that were making their way into the house. With only a few exceptions, I have eliminated all household chemicals, and I mix up all of my own cleaning solutions and beauty products from a list of safe ingredients. And though I have always been careful to source healthy meats, poultry, and produce, I have stepped up my efforts more recently to include the purchase of as many non-GMO versions of products as I can find. I limit my family’s use of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and have found so many other alternatives that work as well, if not better.
If these measures all sound a bit extreme, it may be because this seems like an expensive or daunting thing to do all at once. Please understand that even just using one or two of these ideas will really make a big difference in your home! It’s all right to begin gradually, too, as this makes it easier on the mind and wallet. But with a little effort, anyone can convert a toxic home into one that is naturally safer and healthier for the whole family!
Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau is an education guru, habitual writer and compulsively organized homeschool mom. Her book, Suddenly Homeschooling: A Quick Start Guide to Legally Homeschool in Two Weeks, Marie-Claire loves cooking, observing nature, DIY projects, and anything with a vintage flair. She lives quietly in the woods with her husband, their children, and her two furry best friends. Visit her site www.marieclairemoreau.com.
So, what about you? Do you have tips for greening your home? Do you make it a priority?
p.s. I shared this on the Homesteader Hop!