Beware—The Air You Breathe (At Home) May Be Hazardous To Your Health Part II

I know indoor air quality isn’t a sexy “green” topic.  It isn’t as interesting as eco-friendly kitchen countertops or solar power.  In fact it’s kind of a scary topic because, well, there seem to be so many unknown variables.  But every day, in our homes, we live with dangerous chemicals that we have complete control over and can choose to minimize and even eliminate from our homes.  So I hope you will take a few minutes to read this blog and then take stock of your home.

This year—last month in fact, for the first time ever the President’s Cancer Panel reported that the country is not doing enough to emphasize the risk posed to all Americans by their constant exposure to chemical carcinogens.  Here’s s little of what they had to say in the report.

Environmental exposures that increase the national cancer burden do not represent a new front in the ongoing war on cancer. However, the grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program. The American people—even before they are born—are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.

VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS

Volatile Organic Compounds  (VOCs) represent a myriad of dangerous chemicals emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids.  Some of the products we use daily that contain VOCs are household products including: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.  The EPA website has a section on how to minimize risk such as using products only according to manufacturer’s instructions and using good ventilation with products such as paints and strippers.

ALTERATIVES

I’d like to offer some other suggestions.  When you paint use only very low or no VOC paints.  A few years back you had to go out of your way to find these paints.  But now all of the major traditional brands sell low and no VOC paints.  Aside from the health and safety issues, you will be pleasantly surprised that there is virtually no paint smell immediately after the painting is finished.

Cut back on all the chemical household cleaners that are dangerous and expensive.  I use vinegar and baking soda to clean EVERYTHING. Here’s my previous blog called Cleaning on the Cheap.

Perchloroethylene is one of the most dangerous VOCs there is and we wear it around on our bodies all the time.  This is a chemical used by dry cleaning companies and has known carcinogenic implications.  Recent studies show that people breathe this chemical when clothes are stored at home and when they wear them.  If you must wear dry cleaned clothes, use Green Earth Cleaners affiliates.  They use a non-petroleum based cleaning product that has no chemicals that are harmful to you or the environment.

A holistic approach to living a greener life involves your health, the health of your home and the health of the planet.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

Beware–The Air You Breathe At Home Could Be Hazardous To Your Health

You may assume that air pollution is what is going on outside your home–smog, gas fumes, pollen, etc.  A number of years back we heard about “sick building” syndrome where some employees got sick working in large windowless, ventilation poor office buildings.  But you probably don’t think of air pollution as something that’s found in your home. The truth is, that you are in far more danger from what you breathe inside your home than outside or at your workplace. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is not something most people think about when they are buying, selling or living in a home.  The health consequences of not being mindful of the quality of the air that family members breathe inside the home are becoming more and more important.

ASTHMA

May is Asthma Awareness Month.  More than 20 Million people are affected by Asthma in the US.  Rates have risen steadily over the last 30 years, particularly among children aged five to fourteen.  And believe it or not, many of the environmental triggers are inside your home. Indoor air pollution sources release gases or particles into the air and are the primary sources of IAQ problems. Asthma can be triggered by things like mold on your shower curtain and dust mites in pillows and blankets and even children’s stuffed animals!

FORMALDEHYDE

Another indoor pollutant that many of us that most people aren’t aware of and that can greatly exaserbate asthma and other allergies is formaldehyde.  Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, and household products.  There are concerns, but inconclusive evidence that formaldehyde may cause cancer.  The EPA points out that:

In homes, the most significant sources of formaldehyde are likely to be pressed wood products made using adhesives that contain urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins. Pressed wood products made for indoor use include: particleboard (used as sub-flooring and shelving and in cabinetry and furniture); hardwood plywood paneling (used for decorative wall covering and used in cabinets and furniture); and medium density fiberboard (used for drawer fronts, cabinets, and furniture tops). Medium density fiberboard contains a higher resin-to-wood ratio than any other UF pressed wood product and is generally recognized as being the highest formaldehyde-emitting pressed wood product.

RADON

How Radon Gets Into Homes

One of the most dangerous pollutants–one that can’t be seen, smelled or tasted, is radon gas. A little known fact is that radon gas causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.  As a Realtor, I am appalled by the number of agents who do not advise their buyers on the importance of having a radon test at the time of the home inspection.  Some time ago a woman from India who taught Yoga in her basement for years, was diagnosed with lung cancer and eventually died. When she was diagnosed she was mortified and ashamed.  She had never smoked and had been a healthy vegetarian all of her life.  I have always believed that radon gas was responsible.

Radon is a naturally occuring gas formed from the breakdown of uranium found in nearly all soils.  It is estimated that nearly 1 in 15 U.S. homes has elevated levels of radon. Radon can AND SHOUD be mitigated if the levels reach or exceed the current EPA recommended levels of 4 pCi/L. Have your home tested if it hasn’t been.  And test every couple of years.  Here is a link to the EPA’s Home Buyer and Home Seller Guide on radon. The graphic t shows how radon gets into homes:  1. Cracks in solid floors 2. construction Joints 3. Gaps in suspended floors 4. Gaps around service pipes 5. Cavities inside walls 6. Water supply.

In April of this year, the Presidential Cancer Panel called for better action on Radon.  The 2008-2009 Annual Report of the President’s Cancer Panel, entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We can Do Now”  has been released and highlights the risks from radon and states that “the cancer risk attributable to residential radon exposure has been clearly demonstrated and must be better addressed.”

Indoor air quality is such an important topic that I will continue it in my next blog.  Meanwhile check out the interactive  IAQ Tour of a house to see the dangers that lurk in your home.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.



Literally Walking the Walk– Walkable Communities are Green Communities

The word pedestrian pertains to walking. But another somewhat derogatory meaning is: monotonous, dreary, commonplace, dull–which is what some diehard city dwellers often think of suburban living.  Well, tell that to the homeowners with a 70-100% walk score on www.walkscore.com even though they live in “the burbs”. Tell that to my clients whose home sold for $40,000 above list price in 2009 in the middle of a housing recession, partly because their 1938 cape cod was walking distance to the vibrant Clarendon section of Arlington, VA. Walkability is the new green and sustainable. All over the country “more and more buyers want to live where they can park their cars and use their feet.”  And even though that often means living in the city, it doesn’t always.  An August 2009 Study by CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders, found that in 13 out of 15 markets they surveyed nation wide, home values were higher where there were substantially higher levels of walkability.  In their study “going from an average level of walkability to the 75th percentile raised the value of the median house by between $4,000 and about $34,000, depending on the market,”  The New York Times discusses the trend in Street Corner vs Cul de Sacs in a January issue.

In the May 2010 issue of Washingtonian Magazine, the cover article titled “Tales from the Boom and Bust–the Wild Ride of Local Real Estate”, there is a list of 100 neighborhoods and how they’ve fared in the last three years.  After studying this list carefully, it’s clear that the only neighborhoods that have posted an increase in value in the last three years are very walkable neighborhoods such as Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle and Georgetown in DC; Clarendon, Ballston, Crystal City and Rosslyn in Arlington; and Old Town and Del Ray/Rosemont in Alexandria. These neighborhoods have all posted a net gain in value in the last three years of at least 2%.  Cleveland Park has gained a whopping 23% in the last 3 years! This is a highly walkable neighborhood with an abundance of larger single family homes. The median home sale price in Cleveland Park went from $474K in 2008 to $625K in 2009! Contrast these neighborhoods to Great Falls (down 25%), Fairfax Station (down 16%), Ashburn (down 28%) and Gaithersburg (16%) to name a few, to see what I mean about the value of walkability. And even neighborhoods that haven’t posted gains have lost far less in value if the walkability level is high.

Now, if city living is just not your thing, more and more suburban communities are building walkability into their smart growth plans. The New Urbanism movement promotes mixed use walkable communities. Self contained suburban communities built around town centers and light rail systems are part of the new wave of community development. Ellen Dunham-Jones is the director of the architecture program at Georgia Tech.  She’s written a book called Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs that is a fascinating look at the potential for turning gas guzzling, car focused suburbs into models of walkable neighborhoods. Locally we have a number of walkable suburban communities as another article in the May issue of Washingtonian points out.

Sustainable living is no longer decided solely by whether you have solar panels, geothermal heat, good insulation, bamboo flooring, tankless hot water heaters, etc.  Being able to walk or even bike to the important places in your life is not only healthy for your body and the planet, it’s money in the bank when sell your home. You may pay a premium for buying in a highly walkable neighborhood but what you save in transportation will surely make up the difference.  Think one car instead of two, lower insurance, less money on gas and lower car maintenance costs.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.

Water–The New Oil

This morning I installed an EcoFlow (Waterpik)* shower head.  Of course I installed it incorrectly the first time because it I’m spatially challenged and it is absolutely impossible for me to complete any mechanical project correctly the first time. But still it only took me 15 minutes to install, even with the mistakes.

So why use an EcoFlow showerhead?  Well, a regular showerhead uses about 20 gallons of water for a five minute shower while the EcoFlow uses about 7.5 gallons.  The EcoFlow showerhead uses 40% less water than a 2.5 GPM showerhead, which is now the minimum standard.  And you can save even more by using the pause button on the showerhead while you lather up.  I love this feature.  Oh, and if you’re worried about not getting a strong water flow, don’t.  The shower is just as satisfying as using a regular showerhead.

Why should you be concerned about water usage, especially if like me, you don’t even pay the water bill because it’s included in the condo fee.  And even if you pay for water, in the US it’s subsidized at artificially low prices, substantially lower than anywhere else in the developed or developing world.  However, safe clean water is becoming a problem worldwide.  Our rivers are at risk, there is diminishing ground water, water pollution and climate change are threatening the world’s water supplies.  In the US the average American uses one hundred gallons of water per day while the worlds poorest people get by on less than five gallons.

The EPA’s new WaterSense program can help you to make wise water conservation decisions and the average family could save about $170 per year by installing water conserving fixtures in your home.  “Giving your main bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by installing a WaterSense labeled toilet, faucet, and showerhead can save your household more than 7,000 gallons annually—that’s about enough water to wash six months worth of laundry.”  Not all water saving fixtures have the WaterSense label because many brands are still being tested for qualification in the program. Currently there are no tax incentives for this program but there are regional incentives listed on the WaterSense webpage.

And when you get ready to sell your home and hire me, the EcoBroker certified and NAR Green Designee real estate professional to sell your home, I know just how to market all of the green and sustainable features to today’s buyers who really care about these things.

If you want to learn more about our endangered water resources, National Geographic’s “Fresh Water 101” is all about water.

Interesting  Water Factoids:

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh and two thirds of that is frozen. That leaves less than 1% to grow crops, cool power plants, supply drinking and bathing water, etc.

Farms and ranches use 64% of all fresh water.

It takes 4000 gallons of water to produce 500 calories from beef.

*There are other brands of low-flow showerheads. WaterPik is the one I chose.

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Gale10

Gayle Fleming

http://www.goinggreenhomesva.com

gaylefleming48@aol.com

703-625-1358

My purpose is to serve my clients and advocate for their highest and best good, so they attain their real estate goals.