Big Decisions

10 Things to Look for When Buying a House: Health Edition

The style is all up to you

Taking the plunge and buying a house? You obviously weren't taken down by the avocado toast trend stealing all your hard earned moola. As you walk through potential homes we have 10 environmental health suggestions for things to look, smell, listen, and maybe even taste for.


  1. The plumbing - Check the pipes, or ask a plumber or the inspector to check them. But, as you walk through, flush a toilet, turn on a faucet, see if the water gets hot, make sure the water doesn't come out a funny color, things like that. If you are feeling very curious, you could also take a sip of water and see how it tastes. After all, you might be drinking and cooking with this water every day! You also want to be sure there aren't lead pipes, and that they are properly insulated.
  2. Signs of water damage - Look for discoloration on the walls, ceiling, in the attic, or around window frames, which could be signs of previous or current leaks. Also, pay attention for musty smells which could mean there is mold hiding in the walls, also usually from unwanted water. The seller should disclose any known mold or water-related problems.
  3. The Windows - First off, make sure there are a good number of windows and they face in desirable directions. Are there windows that allow for natural light throughout the day? South and west facing windows tend to get the best light. What about a way to create a cross breeze? Do any of the windows directly face a street that may have lots of light at night or people looking directly in them? While you are at it, look at the quality of the windows. Are they well insulated or double paned to hold in your heat or air conditioning? Windows can be relatively easy to change or replace, but it's more difficult to add them or take them away.
  4. Age - While an older home can add character and charm, it also means you have to ask a few more questions. Especially about things like asbestos and lead. Although there are still some limited acceptable uses of asbestos, regulations regarding asbestos started in the 1970s. It's important to ask if the seller knows anything about asbestos in the home and what has been done to deal with it. Many homes built in the before the 1980's have asbestos in the insulation and drywall, so if you are thinking about doing any renovations, the asbestos will need to be properly handled. Regulations on lead paint are a little stronger, considering it was actually banned in 1978. But if the home was built before the 1970's, there is a likely chance there is lead paint around that you need to be careful with, especially if you are planning on doing any renovations. While you are talking about lead, don't forget to check about the pipes, too.
  5. The Floors - As you walk through the house, look down. In terms of your health down the line, avoiding carpeting and vinyl flooring are the best options. Carpeting, or the carpet padding, is often treated with flame retardants that can easily escape into household dust. If you can, peek under a corner of the carpeting and see what's underneath, you might get lucky and find some beautiful hardwood floors. Not only a bonus in terms of what's trending right now, but they are a much healthier option. Vinyl flooring, while it may look like wood, doesn't act like wood. Phthalates, a chemical that can mess with your hormone levels, are generally added to vinyl flooring. There are new types of vinyl flooring available without these bad chemicals, but if it's older flooring, it's definitely something you might want to consider. Hardwood or tile are your best options when it comes to staying safe from health concerns coming from your floors.
  6. Pests and Pesticides - Look for signs of different invaders. Are there ants crawling around, do you notice droppings or gnawing marks that are signs of mice or rats. A home pest inspection is not required in every state, but depending on the market you can ask for one. You also want to ask the seller about pesticide use. Did they regularly apply them, and if so, where, and why? Is this because there was a problem in the past or just because they are trying to prevent one. Pesticides can be pretty hazardous, so you may want to learn about why they are being used to see if there are other options for controlling the issue.
  7. Smell the house - This may sound weird, but you can tell a lot about the house by the way it smells. Does it smell like smoke, pets, dirty socks? Walking around the property, do you smell sewage or gas? These are all signs to at least ask a few more questions. If it smells like smoke or pets, you might want to ask the seller or agent about the history of who lived in the house. If they smoked, there can be third-hand smoke that lingers in the house, especially in things like carpet, drapes, and even the paint. Science is showing that third-hand smoke can cause similar health effects to secondhand smoke, so you want to be sure the house is fully cleaned before you move in. The smell of gas could also be a sign of industry in the area, or a gas leak, or sulfur deposits. All of which are things you should dig deeper into.
  8. Noise - Pay attention to what you hear when you walk around the house. Is it in the line of a flight path, do the neighbors have a dog that barks a lot, or a baby who might cry throughout the night? Pay attention to the street noise as well. Is there a bar or restaurant next door that might have noisy patrons late into the night? Even if it's not constant, noise can add to your stress levels and end up affecting your overall health.
  9. The Basement - If the home you are looking at has one, it's a good idea to test for radon, which is a source of radiation that naturally occurs in various regions throughout the country.
  10. The neighborhood - This can have a big impact on how much you like living in your new home. Sure, people talk about schools and parks in the area, they also talk about night life and how easy it is to get groceries. But, what about things that may impact your health due to the neighborhood. Think about factors like how close the house is to a highway (further is better in terms of pollution), farmland and nuclear plants (again further is better for limiting exposure to pesticides, radiation, and other chemicals). More recently, how close your home is to fracking sites, or proposed fracking sites is also important. Fracking brings in a lot of trucks which bring with them pollution, in addition to the chemicals used in the process, and the potential for earthquakes.

Remembering to look at all of these things can be tough, and there are some you probably can't do alone. We recommend you get a home inspection. A lot about these things can be revealed by a home inspection when it is done well. If you have specific concerns, talk to the inspector and ask if they can pay special attention to those as well. They are trained professionals who know exactly what to look for in the home, and might find something you weren't aware of. This doesn't have to be a deal breaker, but it might mean you do some negotiating before you sign the final paperwork.

Roundups

Non-Toxic Aftershaves

Cause who wants questionable chemicals on a freshly shaven face?

Whether aftershave is part of your shaving routine for the manly (and fabulous!) scents or to help your skin recover, you probably don't want an aftershave with questionable ingredients or preservatives. This is especially true because the main purpose of aftershave is to calm down any skin irritation and disinfect any small nicks (oops!) you accidentally gave yourself. We also included two options for witch hazel toners that are an all natural, affordable option that calms inflammation and disinfects. We found 7 non-toxic aftershaves and witch hazel toners that have good ingredients, good reviews, and are easy to buy at major retailers. So pick up one up and incorporate it into your morning routine and your skin will thank you!

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Family

5 Easy Changes to Protect Your Sperm from Harmful Chemicals

Keep your swimmers safe with these science-based tips

Hey, guys, yeah all you sperm producing humans out there. Hate to break it to you, but when it comes to different chemicals in our world, your little swimmers might not be as safe as you think. While it's true that you continually are creating new sperm, if you are exposed to some of these nasty things on a regular basis, chances are high that they are affecting both the quality and quantity of your sperm. Even if you aren't planning to have a kid right now, these things could make it harder for you to conceive a kid in the future and research has linked sperm health to overall health. But, hang tight. We have some super simple suggestions for ways to change up your routine that can protect your sperm for years to come.

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Home

What to Know Before Your Next Big DIY Project

Protect your health without sacrificing creativity!

Whether you're inspired by a recent Etsy binge or are a Weekend Warrior who practically lives at Home Depot, DIY projects can be super fun and fulfilling. Before you get started on your next project, we have some tips on what chemicals to avoid, the safety hazards they pose, and ways to keep yourself safe.




Avoid Methylene chloride

It's always fun to spruce up furniture with a new coat of paint but methylene chloride, a seriously dangerous chemical, is found in paint stripping products. In the body methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide (1), and too much carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, confusion, and asphyxia. Methylene chloride fumes quickly accumulate and are heavier than air, which means workers bending down over projects in poorly ventilated areas are easily susceptible to the dangers of this chemical (2). There have been many accidental deaths from Methylene chloride, so you should completely avoid paint strippers that use it. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has created a great reference on safer alternative for paint strippers.

Paint

Before you pick up your paint brush to tackle that dresser revamp, make sure the paint you're using is low VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are emitted as gasses from products like paint and can cause headaches, eye irritation, and nausea (3). VOCs are part of the reason paint can be so smelly when it's drying! Look for a paint that says low or no VOCs on the packaging and make sure to keep the windows open while the paint is drying!

Wood Stains

Updating your wood table or decking? Reach for a water-based wood stain or finish! Traditional wood stains can contain harsh chemicals and emit a ton of VOCs. Luckily a lot of brands have a VOC rating on their label, which makes choosing a product a lot easier. We recommend choosing a stain with low VOCs (under 250 g/l) that is also Green Seal 11 (GS-11) certified (4).

Always Have Proper Ventilation

This is key for any DIY project. Chances are, you'll probably use some chemicals that are not great for you during your project. The best place to work on your project is outside but if you have to work indoor, make sure to open windows and doors, and use a fan to ventilate the area.

Wear a Protective Mask

DIY projects can expose you to a TON of dust, which is why it's a good idea to always wear a protective mask. Dust is bad for you in general, and can also contain particles containing toxic chemicals, which is why we recommend using an N95 mask while working. Normal masks can help protect you, but they don't protect you from all dust. N95 masks filter even the tiniest particles (0.3 microns) (5), which can keep you safe during those extremely messy projects.




  1. https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/methylene-chloride/
  2. https://prheucsf.blog/2017/11/14/risky-paint-stripper-will-continue-to-kill-while-epa-delays/
  3. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality#Levels
  4. https://www.ewg.org/healthyhomeguide/wood-stains-a...
  5. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/masks-and-n95-respirators

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



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Roundups

6 Non-Toxic and Plastic-Free Shampoos

We found 5 shampoo bars and 1 refillable option

We've had a lot of asks for products with sustainable packaging. We heard you! Sustainable, non-toxic, well-reviewed products are actually harder to find than you think. Who knew? But we did a ton of research and found some great options! We searched high and wide and found these 5 non-toxic shampoo bars and one refillable shampoo that comes in an aluminum bottle. These shampoo products are a great way to reduce your plastic consumption without compromising on safe ingredients. A win-win in our book for the planet and your health!

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Life

Banish Bugs With Our Recommended Insect Repellent Ingredients

Don't be an all-you-can-eat-buffet for annoying critters again!

Summer is here! But that means so are the biting insects…. Ugh. Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, and biting flies seem impossible to avoid when the weather heats up. They're really annoying and they can post a pretty big health risk. Mosquitoes and ticks alone can transmit some scary diseases like Zika, Lyme, malaria, encephalitis, and dengue fever. And to make matters worse, a new CDC report shows the number of mosquito and tick-borne diseases are on the rise (1). To help protect yourself against these pesky insects, we're discussing the most effective insect repellent ingredients that are EPA registered (AKA safe and effective) and CDC recommended: DEET, picardian, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

We know what you're thinking- synthetic chemicals are recommended?! In this case, the risk of disease is a bigger environmental health threat than using these two specific synthetic chemicals. Additionally, there have also been no scientific studies that show essential oils are effective in protecting against insect bites so we can't include them in our recommendations. You can try them and maybe they'll work for you, but there's no guarantee. If you really want our one DEET alternative, non-synthetic repellent recommendation, that has a transparent list of ingredients, and is scientifically proven to keep bugs away, stay tuned!

DEET

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered to be the "gold standard" of insect repellent. It's a good choice if you're outside all day in a high-insect are because it repels the most insects, including both mosquitoes and ticks, and lasts the longest amount of time (2). When applied correctly (make sure to read the label!), there are very few negative reactions from DEET. A product with a concentration of DEET between 20-30% can provide protection from insects for most of the day (3). DEET can be used while pregnant and on children older than two months and has not been found to be carcinogenic. Although some may see dermatitis or an allergic reaction from long-term exposure to high levels of DEET (2) and oral ingestion has been shown to have neurotoxic effects like seizures (4).

Picaridin

Picaridin (icardian) is another repellent ingredient that repels ticks and mosquitoes. It's been widely used in Europe and Australia for years with positive results. A product containing at least 20% picaridin has similar short-term results as DEET, although picaridin does not provide long-lasting protection as well as DEET and has to be reapplied more often (2). Picaridin has not been studied as thoroughly as DEET, but it does not seem to have any major negative health impacts. Although uncommon it can cause skin or eye irritation, so make sure to read the directions when using a product containing picaridin (5).

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane-3,8-diol) is a natural oil extracted from the lemon-scented eucalyptus plant (6). It can be an appealing ingredient to people because it's an alternative to synthetic chemicals like DEET or picaridin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is great at repelling mosquitoes, flies and gnats, but not so great against ticks (2). Products containing at least 30% of oil of lemon eucalyptus have shown to be almost as effective as repelling mosquitoes as DEET, but it has to be applied much more frequently (6). While it is natural, it can irritate the eyes or skin and is not recommended for children under 3 (7). Just a quick note: lemon essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil are NOT the same thing as oil of lemon eucalyptus though, so make sure to look for that exact phrasing in any ingredient lists.

Since oil of lemon eucalyptus is EPA registered and a natural ingredient, we think it's a great synthetic-ingredient alternative! We love Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray. It uses 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus as a way to repel those annoying bugs and lists all of the ingredients (ethanol and water). It's super super hard to find a complete list of ingredients in insect repellent products, so we think this is a huge plus.

So which ingredient should I choose?

It depends! Are you in an area with a high amount of mosquitoes and ticks? Are you outdoors for the entire day or maybe just an hour? Do you want to avoid synthetic chemicals or are you okay with it? Are you traveling to a place that has a high rate of diseases like malaria or yellow fever? The EPA has a quiz you can take in order to find the best insect repellent for your needs.

We recommend to always read and completely follow the directions listed on any repellent product you use, and wash your hands after applying a repellent. Generally you want to apply repellent when you're outside while holding the product at least 6 inches away as you spray. While spraying repellent on your clothes is okay (although DEET shouldn't be sprayed on synthetic fabric), it's not a good idea to spray it under your clothes (8). Long sleeved shirts, pants, long socks, and closed toe shoes can reduce the risk of a bite because less skin is exposed.

Now that you're fully up-to-date on the best insect repellent ingredients you can go back to focusing on what really matters: barbecuing, swimming, beach trips, and all of fun activities that come with summer!


References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm?s_cid=mm6717e1

2. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/prevention-of-arthropod-and-insect-bites-repellents-and-other-measures

3. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents/ewg-repellent-guide

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=2506420

5. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PicaridinGen.html

6. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/oillemoneucalyptus.pdf

7. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html

8. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods

Life

Why Summer-Time Pests Can be Dangerous for Your Health and How to Avoid Them

The worst thing these little guys do is not just make us itchy

Nearly everyone has been bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea, and can agree these pests are a damper on otherwise fun-filled summer activities. What most don't know is that these pests are vectors: carriers of many harmful diseases. These diseases are on the rise in the US, and are expected to become an even larger problem as climate change intensifies. Keep yourself and family informed and safe this summer with the following information on vector-borne diseases and how to avoid annoying and dangerous bug bites.

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