It's no secret that hospitals are insanely overwhelmed and running on empty right now.
I just heard about a hospital in Tucson that has a 200 hour wait time for the emergency room. That's 8 days! Could you imagine having to wait 8 days to be seen for a medical emergency?! And maybe you don't have to imagine it. Maybe you've experienced it.
You might be wondering why I'm writing about this. What does this have to do with home design and preventive health care?
It's because your house plays a big role in your physical and mental health. A typical (unhealthy) home can have a lot of negative impact on your health.
The more well-known ones are the toxins from mold, chemicals, and gasses that can lead to short and long term illnesses and safety issues that lead to household accidents. These are pretty well known to create emergency situations.
But the less obvious ones are things like poor kitchen layouts that lead to unhealthy eating habits. Unhealthy eating habits affect your health and can make you sick. Poor lighting and nighttime distractions can lead to lack of sleep which affects judgement and may lead to accidents during the day. Houses play a big role in mental health as well. A dark, cold, uncomfortable house with no connection to the outdoors can negatively impact your mood. And strained mental health will affect physical health.
All of this is to say that the affect your house has on your health can determine how often you need to visit the hospital. And right now, if you and or child has to visit the ER because of sickness due to mold exposure or a trip and fall accident in the home, you may be waiting a very long time to see a doctor. And that's horrible.
Preventive Measures You can take now:
Turn your range hood on whenever you're cooking in the kitchen:
Cooking creates a lot of toxins and moisture. You need to get those out of the house ASAP. Here's an article going more in-depth about cooking and your health.
If you have a recirculating range hood, and you're a homeowner or have the option to talk to your landlord about upgrades, switch out the recirculating hood with a hood that vents to the outdoors. A recirculating range hood doesn't help get toxins out of the house.
It's not exactly cheap to install a new range hood and get it vented to the outdoors, but it's a lot cheaper than facing a medical illness later in life because of the toxin exposure from years of cooking without an effective range hood.
And remember, it doesn't just affect the person cooking. Toxins quickly travel all over the house, so it's affecting your children too.
Test For Mold:
Box stores sell mold testing kits so you can do it yourself. After you conduct the test, you send it to a lab for analysis.
Mold leads to short term and long term illnesses, especially in children. If mold is present, call a specialist to remove it and create a plan to keep the mold out once it's been removed. If you're renting, let your landlord know. The sooner they know there's a problem, the sooner they can help you fix the problem.
Test For Radon:
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that comes naturally from the earth. It often lurks in people's basements. Radon exposure is a known carcinogen.
Testing for radon is just as easy as testing for mold. Buy a kit from a hardware store, set it out in your basement (or first floor if you don't have a basement), send it to the lab in the pre-addressed envelope, and wait for the results.
If the results come back with a high level of radon, it is relatively easy to mitigate the problem. The radon testing lab will help you find a professional to lower the radon levels in your house.
Test your water:
To test your drinking and bathing water, visit your state's Department of Environmental Services website. They'll have instructions on how to get it tested. It usually involves contacting a recommended lab so they can send you a test kit.
Water can have all sorts of unhealthy things in them. We all know about the dangers of lead in water supply. But there are other things to test for as well, including things you may not think would ever be a problem. For example, we live in a house with well water, and we have really high levels of fluoride in the water. I didn't even know that it was possible to have fluoride in ground water! But luckily we know because our kids can't be drinking that much fluoride every day.
Switch out toxic chemical cleaners and personal care products for natural products:
This is an easy one! It's an annoying upfront cost to buy all new cleaning and personal care products, but it's worth it a million times over. The Environmental Working Group is a very good resource for finding healthy cleaning and body care products.
Stop using air fresheners and scented candles:
This one is easy and free! There are so many terrible chemicals in air fresheners. I cringe when I see them still being used because I know about the hazards. But so many people don't know!
So if you can, help spread the word about air fresheners and scented candles, especially at your child's school or daycare center! Children are always the hardest hit when it comes to toxins. Their bodies are so small that they're absorbing toxins at a much higher ratio than adults. Not to mention that all the systems in their bodies are still developing, which makes them even more vulnerable to the toxins.
Fix dangerous situations:
Household accidents lead to 21 million medical visits are year in the US. Isn't that nuts?! So many household accidents are preventable.
- Get rid of any poisonous products that you don't need in your home (which should be most of them.) Keep the rest far out of reach of children. We keep our Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent in the cabinet above the refrigerator.
- Check around for easy tripping hazards like loose rugs, and then fix them.
- Make sure the handrail on your stairs are secure. And if you don't have handrails, install them!
- If your stairs are slippery, add anti-slip strips to the treads. If your stairs are carpeted and slippery, focus on swapping that carpet out when you are able.
- Add nighttime safety lighting around the house. There's no need to trip and fall when you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Install nightlights (that have a warm, orangey glow!) in all the areas you might visit in the middle of the night.
- Clean up the clutter. A pile-up of clutter can lead to trips and other injuries.
Change the light levels in your home:
Now we're getting into the less known affects of a healthy home. Bright white light in the evenings can mess with your ability to get a good night's sleep. Over time, poor sleep will affect your cognitive function, your diet, and your mood.
Swap out bright lighting with a warm orangey light where ever you spend your evenings. At my house, I turn off all the bright overhead lights in the living room, and turn on a lamp with a warm, orangey glow. In the bedroom, the night stand lights have Bedtime Bulbs in them. These lights are designed to promote healthy, happy sleep.
Create a calm environment:
Lowering your stress levels will improve your overall health and reduce your risk of needing to visit the ER. This article provides a lot of free and easy ideas to make your home a calmer environment.
What to do if you're building a new house or renovating your house:
If you're renovating or building new, you have the PERFECT opportunity to create the optimal living environment that'll enhance your health and well-being. The first thing you should do is join the Healthy Home Design Community!
Join the community to hear from me (Kate) and other community members about how we're designing healthy environments. There are also a ton of free resources inside the community platform to kick start your new healthy home design.
The world is in the middle of an unprecedented crisis that is the cause of the strain in our hospitals. But while this may be the first that most of us have seen in our lifetime, there's evidence that it won't be the last.
The better you take care of yourself and your loved ones, the less likely you are to need to take a trip to the ER or be in long term care in a hospital. So the next time a crisis of this magnitude hits us, you hopefully won't be the one waiting for 8 days at the ER because you've taken the necessary precautions to keep your body and mind healthy.
Preventive health isn't just about eating well, exercising, and not smoking. It's about living in a home that promotes good health and that doesn't expose you to negative health risks. And by taking the small steps I mentioned above, you'll be taking part in a very inexpensive preventive health care routine.
***Looking for more guidance?***
The healthy home design toolkit is an online program filled with video lessons, spreadsheets, checklists, and guides designed to take you from feeling overwhelmed, unprepared, and lost...
to empowered, educated, excited, and prepared so you can create the perfect healthy home that meets your family’s goals and values.
With the Toolkit, You'll Have The Tools You Need To...
- Make educated decisions about the home planning process
- Create a functional and comfortable home layout
- Select healthy and sustainable material options
- Decide what building methods to choose
- Confidently share your decisions with your contractor and/or design team!