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Study Says: Most Homes Pose Health Risks

By HHI Staff

According to new research released by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) in September 2009, the majority of U.S. families (67 percent) live in a home with at least one major health risk.

 

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NCHH surveyed adults (aged 18 and older) to gauge their level of awareness of the common health and safety hazards found in many homes. The results (www.nchh.org/Resources/Consumer-Survey.aspx) reveal that although most people realize serious health problems may result from the way their homes are built and maintained, they have not taken action to create a healthy and safe home environment for their loved ones.

In response to the new research, NCHH is encouraging families to make healthy housing a priority and promoting the Seven Principles of Healthy Homes as a guideline of the steps parents and caregivers can follow to identify and fix the health hazards in their homes. The seven principles include keeping homes dry, clean, ventilated, contaminant-free, pest-free, safe and maintained.

"With nearly six million families in the U.S. living in substandard housing, it's clear current housing regulations fail to ensure safe and healthy housing is accessible to families of all income levels," said Rebecca Morley, National Center for Healthy Housing executive director. "Raising awareness and empowering families to upgrade the health and safety conditions in their own homes is important, but we also need stronger regulations and greater investment from the private sector to ensure that healthy housing is accessible to all."

Recognizing that unhealthy housing conditions can take a significant and irreversible toll on the health and safety of occupants, NCHH is offering expert advice to help families apply the Seven Principles of Healthy Homes in their own homes.

Principle 1: Dry

 

Damp homes provide a nurturing environment for mites, roaches, rodents and molds, all of which are associated with asthma. To keep the home dry, NCHH recommends:

  • Install a drain pan under the hot water heater to capture water and prevent moisture problems.
  • Place dehumidifiers in basements and other damp spaces to remove excess moisture.
  • Repair downspouts to drain water away from the foundation and prevent moisture intrusion.
  • Place a water alarm near the sump pump or hot water heater to notify of flooding or water leaks.
  • Work with a dry wall professional to repair any water damage to reduce mold growth and maintain structural soundness.

Principle 2: Clean

 

Clean homes help reduce pest infestations and exposure to contaminants. NCHH offers the following tips to help keep the home clean:

  • Place a mat on the inside and outside of every door that leads to the outside.
  • Purchase and clean with non-toxic cleaning supplies.
  • Clean-up dust to eliminate contaminants such as lead dust, allergens and chemical residues. Pay particular attention to cleaning refrigerator drip pans and range hoods.

Principle 3: Ventilated

 

Studies show that increasing the fresh air supply in a home improves respiratory health. To keep the home ventilated:

  • Install exhaust fans vented to the exterior in bathrooms and over the range in the kitchen. Exhaust fans vented to the outside will help reduce moisture and contaminants in bathrooms and kitchen.

Principle 4: Contaminant-Free

 

Chemical exposures include lead, radon, pesticides, volatile organic compounds and environmental tobacco smoke. Exposures to asbestos particles, radon gas, carbon monoxide and second-hand tobacco smoke are far higher indoors than outside. To keep the home free from contaminants, NCHH suggests:

  • Avoid smoking inside.
  • Test for radon in the lowest level of your home to prevent lung cancer from radon exposure. 
  • To learn more about radon and how to receive a discounted radon home test kit, contact your state radon office at www.epa.gov/radon or call 1-800-SOS-Radon.
  • Hire a professional to test for lead in homes built before 1978. Call 1-800-424-LEAD to find a professional in your area.

Principle 5: Pest-free

 

Exposures to pests in the home, like mice and cockroaches, have been linked to asthma episodes in children. Since pesticide residue in the home brings risks for neurological damage and cancer, NCHH cautions against using pesticides and instead encourages parents and caregivers to take the following steps: 

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a safer and usually less costly option for effective pest management. It includes -
    1. Reducing sources of food, water and shelter for pests by filling cracks and crevices with copper mesh, expanding foam, cement and caulk.
    2. Using trash cans with sealable covers to prevent rodent and pest infestation.
  • Avoiding spraying and fogging, which are harmful to your health.

Principle 6: Safe

 

The majority of injuries among children occur in the home. Falls are the most common cause of residential injuries to children, followed by injuries from objects in the home, burns and poisonings. To prevent home injuries NCHH recommends:

  • Install nightlights in dark hallways and bathrooms to help prevent falls.
  • Install non-skid pads under carpets to help prevent slips, trips and falls.
  • Place a smoke detector on each level of the home, including the basement to prevent fire-related deaths.
  • Place a carbon monoxide alarm on each floor of the home to protect against carbon monoxide poisonings. Place the alarms outside sleeping areas and at least 20 feet from sources of combustion (e.g. furnace, hot water heater, stove).
  • Set water heater thermostats to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or below the medium setting and install anti-scald devices in water faucets and shower heads to prevent scalds.

Principle 7: Maintained

 

Poorly maintained homes are vulnerable to moisture and pest problems. Deteriorated lead-based paint in older housing is the primary cause of lead poisoning, which affects approximately 240,000 U.S. children. NCHH recommends the following practices to keep the home maintained:

  • Fix peeling lead-based paint in homes built before 1978. Hire a contractor trained in lead safety for renovations and major repairs to homes built before 1978. 
  • For maximum filtration, replace furnace filters every four months with a Merv-10 filter.

NCHH's healthy homes cost and maintenance check list offers additional tips to create a healthy home. Click here to download the checklist.

About NCHH

The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) is the only national scientific and technical non-profit organization dedicated to creating healthy and safe homes for children through practical and proven steps. NCHH develops scientifically valid and practical strategies to make homes safe from hazards, to alert low- income families about housing-related health risks, and to help them protect their children.

 

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Study Says: Most Homes Pose Health Risks:  Created on October 1st, 2009.  Last Modified on May 17th, 2010

 

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