After a tiring day at work, you can’t wait to get home. You think about turning on the air-conditioning and finishing off a bag of Doritos while watching your favorite telenovela. Your home is your refuge, after all; it is where you feel most comfortable.
More importantly, it is where you feel safest – I, for one, definitely feel that way. But are we really safe inside our own homes?
If you’re not too careful, the house you just bought or the apartment you are now renting might actually be a death trap in disguise. Make sure you don’t have any of these dangers lurking in your home!
If you’re renting an old apartment, it might come with a bonus: poisonous lead paint!
Buildings at least 30 years old might still have lead-containing wall paint. Pay particular attention to old, chipped paint – its dust is a perfect vehicle for inhaled lead.
Although well-known for targeting the brain, lead actually affects almost all systems of the body. Poisoning may be missed because its symptoms are vague. It causes seizures and learning disorders, affecting brain development especially in children and fetuses. It also leads to infertility in adults as it effectively lowers sperm count.
TIP: Do not attempt to remove lead-based paint on your own! This might release more lead into the air. Hire a specialist. Meanwhile, keep your home spic and span – wiping down all your walls and floors helps keep lead dust to a minimum. Don’t run hot water from old pipes as well; this releases lead from its inner coating. Better yet, move to a new home!
That leafy plant you have beside your couch might be the toxic dieffenbachia
It’s a really popular indoor plant because it doesn’t need much sunlight. But because it looks so pretty, your kids and pets might find its leaves yummy to chew on.
Someone who eats Dieffenbachia leaves can suffer from painful throat swelling. This may lead to life-threatening respiratory obstruction, reported a 2013 study by Gökhan Alt?n and colleagues published in the Journal of Craniofacial Surgery.
TIP: Either steer clear of this plant or make sure your little ones and furry friends can’t reach them.You can also ask your trusted gardener or botanist for a list of indoor plants which are both pet- and child-friendly.
Your brand-new furniture might be laced with formaldehyde
If you are fond of buying cheap, lightweight furniture from the department store, chances are, you’re bringing formaldehyde home. That’s because this compound is used to treat plywood paneling. Formaldehyde is associated with allergies. It is also linked to certain types of cancer, according to a 2013 study by James Swenberg and colleagues, published in Toxicologic Pathology.
TIP: Go for pure hardwood instead of “disposable” pressed wood furniture. Besides, pressed wood chips easily over time.
If you have old outdoor furniture from circa 1970s or earlier, you might be exposed to chromated copper arsenic (CCA)
This substance was used decades ago to make sure wooden furniture doesn’t rot, especially if it’s meant for outdoor use. CCA is known to cause cancer.
TIP: Throw away old outdoor furniture and wooden panels. CCA has long been phased out, so buy new alfresco furniture and they’re sure to be CCA-free!
Your building contractor may be using way too much vinyl
Most of the pipes in your home are probably made of polyvinyl chloride (vinyl or PVC) because of its durability.
Unfortunately, it emits dioxins, which are extra-strong cancer-causing agents. Once emitted, they persist both in food and in the environment.
TIP: If you are building your home from scratch, ask your contractor for alternatives to vinyl. These include polyethylene and polypropylene. Bioplastics are also a great option.
If you’re still using dark paint for your roofs, you are contributing to your own heat wave.
Dark paint traps heat indoors. The result: unnecessary indoor heat and equally unnecessary air conditioning use that bores a hole in the ozone! Heat also affects the different materials used to build your home, potentially contributing to the release of toxic indoor chemicals.
TIP: Paint your rooftops white or use a light color. Ask your hardware store for a brand of paint that uses biotechnology specifically made to increase solar reflectance.
Your old-school shower heaters are a fire hazard
Any electrical appliance that is almost as old as – if not older than – you probably already has faulty wiring.
TIP: Have a professional replace the old wiring. Also make it a point to have them replaced regularly afterwards.
A room without proper ventilation is considered a health threat
Even a room that has no windows should have adequate ventilation. Otherwise, it provides an ideal setting for accidents, such as poisoning from carbon monoxide and other toxic gases.
TIP: If natural ventilation (read: open windows) is not feasible, install exhaust fans and a mechanical ventilation system that circulates the air in your home.
Insects can harm you and your loved ones
Insecticide use may be the solution – if only it wasn’t harmful to both insects and humans.
TIP: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests “preventive pest control”. That means you should get rid of food sources accessible to pests, seal off open cracks, and get rid of all open water sources inside the house. If chemical pest control is necessary, always follow what is written on the label and purchase only that which is meant for home use. Bonus tip: There is now an insecticide paste which you can use in hard-to-reach areas. There is no need for you to vacate the premises right after use as it doesn’t have the fumes of its spray counterpart!
Make sure your home isn’t silently poisoning you and your family. With this preliminary list of housing hazards to watch out for, you are one step closer to ensuring that your home sweet home is also a home safe home.
Dr. Stef dela Cruz received the 2013 Health Media Awards from the Department of Health. She is a columnist who maintains a blog www.stefdelacruz.com during her spare time. Catch her on Twitter twitter.com/stefdelacruzmd and Instagram (@stefdelacruzmd).