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10 Things to Consider When Apartment Hunting

make this move your best and healthiest one yet

We know apartment hunting can be confusing. Here's a list of 10 things to consider that will make your next apartment a healthier place to live.


1. Lead Paint

You have probably heard about this one- lead is bad for you, and many research studies have shown it negatively affects brains and so many more things. But, what you really need to know is lead paint is only a big deal in older buildings because lead paint was banned in the US in 1978. The manager of the building should disclose if there is lead paint, and it can be dealt with easily by making sure it is properly painted over, so it doesn't chip off and get spread around your apartment, which is the only real way it can get into your body. Lead paint is always dangerous, but it is a bigger deal if you have small kids or pets who like to lick things - generally adults don't do that. Read more about reducing your exposure to lead here. The EPA also has some great resources.

2. Mold

You wouldn't eat moldy food (except for delicious cheese), so why live in a moldy apartment. But really, mold can cause allergy symptoms or respiratory problems, making it dangerous to live with. You can't always see mold just by looking, so pay attention for a funky smell, black dust, or signs of water damage throughout the apartment. These could be signs of mold hiding in the walls or ceiling. Laws vary about if a landlord must treat mold, but if you suspect mold, talk to them about it and try to make a deal to have it treated before you move in.

3. Carpet and vinyl flooring

This one should be more obvious as you walk through an apartment. If you aren't sure if the floor is vinyl or not or want to know how old the carpet is, ask the landlord, they should know. While this isn't as easily fixed as some of the others on the list, if you are deciding between apartments and one has old carpet or vinyl flooring and the other doesn't, opt for the carpet free and vinyl free place. Chemicals in vinyl called phthalates have been linked to a variety of health concerns including cancer, and old carpets trap dust and particles that will continue to pollute the air in your home. Even newer carpets have some health hazards in the carpet padding from recycled foam that contains toxics like flame retardants.

4. Ventilation

When we say ventilation, we are talking about how to get air flowing through the space. This could be about actually having a fan or vent in your kitchen and/or bathroom, but it could also be as simple as being able to open multiple windows and create a cross breeze that would clear stale air (or smoke if you are prone to burning toast like I am) from your apartment and getting clean air in quickly. Clean air helps remove dust, smoke, and smells from the apartment. It is also just good for you.

5. Asbestos

Similar to lead paint, asbestos is common in older buildings. Its use dramatically decreased in the late 1970s, due to findings showing it causes mesothelioma, a type of cancer. It is still common in many buildings (and assumed to be in all buildings built before 1981). The landlord must disclose if there is asbestos in the buildings, but the laws beyond that vary from state to state. Asbestos is most risky if it is disturbed (like during remodeling or construction) when it can splinter off and get into the air. There are ways to remove it or cover it safely (often called abatement, which should be done by a professional) to ensure that you are not at risk. Learn more from the EPA.

6. Noise

While this may seem only like an annoyance, noise, especially at night, has actually been linked to various negative health outcomes, especially cardiovascular disease. (1) This is because our bodies have been evolutionarily trained to respond to noise, so we would know if someone were going to steal our food in the middle of the night, or something like that. Even if you don't completely wake up from the noise, your body may still be on high alert. Before committing to an apartment, go check out the neighborhood at night, ask the neighbors, and try to get a feel for how loud the unit will be throughout the day and when you would be home. If you have options, the unit with less noise is the better choice for your health.

7. Light

Just like noise, light matters. In this case, we are talking about both natural light during the day, and as little artificial light as possible at night. During the day, you want as much natural light as possible. This is better both in terms of energy use and is crucial to getting adequate Vitamin D. At night, you want as little artificial light as possible because artificial light can mess up your circadian rhythm. Besides making you tired, messing up your circadian rhythm has been linked with developing breast cancer and obesity. (2) So, bottom line, look for a place with lots of natural daylight and one that doesn't get a lot of artificial light at night. If you do have lights outside that may affect how dark the apartment gets, consider adding blackout curtains.

8. Pests

For many reasons, you should try to avoid apartments with signs of mice, cockroaches, or other pests. Besides causing you to jump up on a chair and call for help, many of these pests have been shown to cause different diseases. Dust mites and cockroaches are known to be bad for asthma. (3) If you notice this before you sign a lease or officially move in, you can ask the landlord to have this addressed before you arrive.

9. Neighborhood layout (aka the built environment)

What is in the neighborhood is just as important to your health as the apartment itself. Can you walk to places like a grocery store, go for a run, or hang out in a nearby park? Are there safe bike paths? How will you get to work? Think about these things because they all affect how you will live in your new home. If it is difficult to get to stores with fresh fruits and veggies, chances are you won't be eating as well. If you don't have safe sidewalks, you probably won't walk as often. Think about all of these things and determine which are most important to you when finding your new home.

10. Outdoor space

Similar to the neighborhood you live in, access to outdoor space shapes how you will go about your life. If you're looking for an apartment, you might not have your own backyard, but is there shared outdoor space you can spend time in? If not, is there a nearby park or coffee shop with a patio where you can get some fresh air and spend some time outside. These things promote healthier lifestyles and help clear your head too.

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Why You Should Make the Switch to LED Light Bulbs

Better for the environment and your wallet

No one likes home maintenance and high electricity bills. Lucky for you, replacing your light bulbs with light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs can shorten your to-do list and save you money on your next energy bill!

Technology has advanced a lot since Thomas Edison created the first light bulb in 1878. The latest and greatest is called the LED bulb. The light emitting diode in the bulb are small (about the size of a fleck of pepper), don't need reflectors or diffusers, and emit very little heat (1). Here are a couple reasons why you should make the switch to LEDs.

1. Traditional Light Bulbs Contain Dangerous Chemicals

Traditional light bulbs like compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use mercury and other nobles gases such as argon to create light (3). These chemicals are a hazard if the bulb breaks and can be detrimental to your health. LEDs on the other hand do not contain any mercury. Making the switch to LED bulbs is a good option to reduce your exposure to these harmful chemicals.

2. LED Bulbs Last Longer Than Traditional Light Bulbs

One LED bulb can last for years. It is estimated that LEDs last between 20,000 to 50,000 hours (2). That means that LEDs last 3 to 25 times as long as old-school incandescent bulbs and 10 times as long as CFLs. Imagine only having to buy one light bulb when you would otherwise have to buy 25. That's a significant cost saving and a large reduction in waste!

3. LED Bulbs Are More Energy Efficient

LEDs use 25-80% less energy compared to similarly bright incandescent and CFL bulbs (1). This is because they more efficiently transfer energy into light, whereas traditional bulbs lose a lot of energy in the form of heat. That's why traditional bulbs get so hot while LED bulbs remain cool to the touch. Replacing old holiday lights with LED lights can actually reduce the risk of combustion, burns, or Christmas tree fires.

Being more energy efficient means a lower energy bill! It is estimated that replacing one incandescent bulb with an LED bulb will save you $5 per year (4). This is a large reduction in your bill if you replace all the bulbs in your home!

4. LED Bulbs are Better for the Environment

When you switch to LED bulbs, you not only save money, but you also help improve the environment. How? Since LEDs last longer, you reduce the amount of waste you produce. If you're using fewer light bulbs, you have less to throw away! Other light bulbs contain hazardous chemicals, which can also create a challenge for safe waste disposal. LEDs are also an easy way to combat climate change because they use less energy, which means that you aren't using as much fossil fuel. It's a win-win situation!

Getting Started

If we have convinced you to make the switch to LEDs, make sure you purchase bulbs that are marked "Energy Star" on the box. This means that the bulb is approved by ENERGY STAR, a program run by the EPA and Department of Energy that promotes energy efficiency. While the cost of LED bulbs are slightly higher than incandescent and CFL bulbs, they do not contain any harmful chemicals and will save you money in the long run. Think of it as a small upfront investment in your family's (and the planet's) health and long-term savings!


References

  1. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/how-energy-efficient-light
  2. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/the-light-bulb-showdown-leds-vs-cfls-vs-incandescent-bulbs-whats-the-best-deal-now-and-in-the-future/
  3. https://www.chemistryworld.com/news/q-and-a-mercury-in-energy-saving-light-bulbs/3003352.article
  4. https://ledlightguides.com/how-much-do-led-lights-save/
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Alison Mountford from Ends and Stems Shares Her Meal Planning Tips

Plus, a 25% Discount for Because Health Readers!

Have you ever had an ingredient go bad because you didn't know what to cook with it? Or end up making so much pasta that your meal for one could now serve fifty? We've all been there. After spending years in the food industry, Alison Mountford saw firsthand how much perfectly good food gets thrown out during meal preparation. This lead her to create Ends and Stems, a meal planning service that curates recipes and shopping lists to make mealtime easier for you while reducing the environmental impact of food waste. Read on for a Q&A with the founder.

PS: Because Health readers can receive 25% off a monthly or annual subscription using the code Because

BH: Why is food waste an important issue for you?

AM: I've been a professional chef for 15 years. My first business was a meal delivery and catering service. As the owner of a small food establishment, it was just good business sense to use everything up and not waste edible food. I sold that business in 2015, but I wasn't sure what my next step was, honestly I was a little bit lost. Right around that time, the NRDC released it's landmark report measuring how much food is wasted in America, much of it in our own homes, and detailed the dramatic effect this waste has on the planet.

Everything clicked for me when I read this. My entire cooking career had been dedicated to helping busy people and families reduce stress around dinner time and encourage them to cook more, eat better, and shop better. And for my entire life, I have been an outdoors person. Following the health of our planet and taking action to improve it has always been a core value and it was only strengthened by the birth of my daughter, also in 2015. Reducing food waste at home is something small that we can all do everyday and it can add up to something big. Often, I feel helpless at some of the major issues our country and planet are facing, but helping busy people reduce food waste doesn't cost them time or money - it saves both - and that makes it super fun to educate about and promote.



BH: What inspired you to start a meal planning business?

AM: Once I knew that as a chef I had to talk about cooking to reduce food waste, I needed a business model. I had been in business long enough to know that creating an idea in my own head, alone at my desk was not a recipe for success. So, I took the internet and starting interviewing people. I used a free survey tool and put out a questionnaire. Within 48 hours, I had just shy of 1000 responses! I asked people if they cared about climate change (yes), food waste (also yes), and how they were struggling at dinner time. 83% of those surveyed named "Deciding what to buy and cook" as a top concern! I expected the answer would be grocery shopping or actually doing the cooking, but it turns out that the emotional labor of choosing a recipe and making sure you have the ingredients was driving people nuts.

From there, I refined the idea to include impact reporting and tested ways to change the convention of recipe writing so that the meals are faster, easier, and use everything up.



BH: Is food waste an issue that you see other professional chefs embracing? Can you tell us more about food waste in the food service industry?

AM: Yes, I feel very excited about the role of chefs in food waste and the greater movement to combat climate change.

In my experience, chefs are the least likely group of people to let food go to waste. In the breakdown of where food is wasted, restaurants rank high, but do you know more specifically where the food is wasted? On the consumer side. Any thriving restaurant manages food cost tightly, meaning there's not that much food wasted in preparation. Diners however, are conditioned to look for large portions, free bread/chips, we over order, and we don't follow through to take home and eat leftovers.

Chefs also have the advantage of knowing how to use a product in multiple ways and can minimize waste and reinvent leftovers.

I was recently at a conference with some of the best chefs in the world and the focus of the entire day was how chefs can use our position and influence to reduce food waste and act on multiple other initiatives to combat climate change - reduce plastic waste, support bee habits, reject monocropping, buy from farms doing carbon capture, reduce portion sizes, educate diners, and so many others.


BH: What are your top 3 tips for people who want to start meal planning but have never done it before?

AM: 1) Get in the habit of writing ideas down when they pop in your head. Thinking of dinner ideas on demand feels akin to writers block. I know I had some ideas...why can't I remember them? For me, this means keeping a running list on my phone or emailing recipes to myself when I see them. When it comes time to choosing a few recipes for the week, I have some help getting the ideas flowing.

2) Ask family members for input. This helps kids especially, buy into meal time and complain less. My 4 year old will ask for a specific fruit or vegetable, burritos, or noodles. I can factor these into the plan and she feels accounted for.

3) Be realistic about your week and willingness to commit. When I polled those thousand families, most were willing to cook just 2-3 times per week. Don't write a meal plan for 5 nights on your first attempt. Start small with just 2 recipes. Perhaps, choose one meal that you know will make excellent leftovers and double it. On super busy nights, plan for takeout or leftovers! My family always orders in on Wednesdays because my husband works later and brings the kids home later. We simply aren't starting from scratch that night of the week.



BH: What are some ways that people can make cooking fun?

AM: I think the single most important thing to do is cook when you have more time. That means, if you arrive home from work close to dinner time, prep your meals the day before or do most of it on Sundays. As a personal chef, I have prepared hundreds of thousands of meals 3-4 days before anyone will eat them. There's almost nothing that can't be stored overnight or longer and then reheated for dinner time. When you cook hangry (or with a hangry family nearby), it's never going to be fun.

My second tip to make cooking more fun is to rid yourself of any guilt stemming from a lack of variety. I see so many people, parents especially, lamenting that they don't cook enough variety and it's coming from comparing their own lives to an influencers feed on instagram. The real truth is that variety in foods is healthy, but you don't need to reinvent the wheel every night or week. Add variety when it truly feels fun but for busy weeknights, a simple home cooked meal is already a huge win, it does not have to be Pinterest worthy.

Food

5 ways to eat LESS meat without eating NO meat

Here's what to do if you can't give up the flavor of meat but still want to be healthier

Interested in eating less meat, but can't commit to being a full on vegetarian, because... bacon? We feel you! But regardless of how you feel, eating less meat is actually great for you and the environment! Wondering why? Meat is extremely energy intensive to produce, all the way from how much food is needed to feed animals, to the energy required to process and ship the meat to you (3). This makes livestock a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and therefore climate change (3). In fact, scientists have found that eating a more plant rich diet is the 4th most effective thing we can be doing to help stop climate change (4).
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Fashion Week is right around the corner, and one trend we don't want to see on the runway is PVC. In recent years, PVC has made its way into the fashion world through trendy see-through bags or rain coats.

What is PVC

Polyvinyl chloride (AKA PVC or vinyl) is a solid plastic made from vinyl chloride gas. PVC can be hard and rigid, or it can be extremely flexible. It's flexibility depends whether or not phthalates are added during production. Because it's water resistant and durable, PVC is used in a lot of different products, including flooring, wall decals, pipes, medical equipment, and of course clothing.

The Problem

Although PVC is used in a lot of things, it's actually pretty bad for health. You can be exposed by touching a PVC product, inhaling fumes from a PVC manufacturing plant or landfill, or accidentally swallowing PVC from food packaging or contaminated water (1). Vinyl chloride, the main component of PVC, is a known carcinogen. Exposure to vinyl chloride gas is associated with an increased risk of liver, brain, lung, and blood cancers, as well as lymphoma. (2)

If you're exposed to PVC, you're also being exposed to phthalates and chlorine as well. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which change the way hormones are made and disturbed throughout the body. Plus, PVC isn't good for the environment because it's extremely difficult to recycle.

How to Avoid PVC in Fashion

Steer clear of anything see-through! A clear bag is almost always made from PVC, so it's better to just avoid this trend all together. Plus, everyone can see what you carry around in your bag. Does the entire world need to see half dozen chapsticks and a phone charger floating around our purses?! Probably not. Instead of buying a plastic bag, look for one made from natural materials like cotton or leather. Natural materials are also extremely durable and will hold up well over time. The great thing about fashion is that trends come and go and in a year people will probably be onto the next big thing.


References

  1. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/polyvinyl-chloride-pvc
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/vinyl-chloride
Roundups

11 Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents

We searched and found all the safer options for doing your laundry

Updated for 2019!

After lots of research, we collected an assortment of safe, non-toxic detergents to keep your clothes smelling and looking new. Some specifically say they are for baby, others have versions for baby along with the original and both are safe, so choose what you like, and know they really are all safe for any age. You don't necessarily need a baby specific detergent. Choose what you think works best for you. And, while you're at it, check out our roundup of fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Yay for clean clothes!

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Procrast-cleaning, spring-cleaning or regular ole-cleaning. Whatever it is, you're determined to clean every nook and cranny and you might just do so by scouring the grocery aisle for the strongest cleaners you can find. If you're on a roll, you might not stop until your house smells spick and span. And safe...right? When it comes to household cleaners, this is a case of stronger isn't necessarily better. The "clean" smell often associated with traditional cleaners are the result of A LOT chemicals that haven't been proven to actually clean any better. Plus, they come with their own set of health risks.
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The Best 5 Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2019!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 5 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 5 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

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