Less than one week into 2019 in a quiet neighborhood in Tampa, a couple pulled their Mercedes SUV into the garage of their townhome and went upstairs. Unfortunately, the keyless ignition was left on and the vehicle’s engine ran all night long. This simple mistake cost the husband, Thomas Martino, his life. When paramedics arrived the following morning, he was pronounced dead on arrival and his wife was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. The cause was accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
Over the coming year, we are going to discuss some best practices to make your home a sanctuary of health and happiness. We will explore the basics of a healthy home - like air and water quality - and even get into some deeper topics such as building physics and electromagnetic pollution. Before we get there, we’ve got to start with something very foundational: safety and maintenance.
Oh, not the glamorous topic you were hoping for? Sorry, but here’s the harsh truth: Your home can have all of the sustainably-harvested hardwood floors and flame retardant-free furniture you’d like, but if your smoke detectors are out of batteries or your water filter hasn’t been changed in four years, it doesn’t really matter.
So I promise to try to make this admittedly less-than-exciting topic as interesting as I can, but I’m begging you not to overlook this article because, “Yeah, yeah, yeah...of course safety is important.” You simply cannot have a health-focused home without regularly addressing safety and maintenance issues.
Top 5 Household Hazards
There are hundreds of potential safety risks that exist in a home, so discussing them all would be a difficult task (not to mention a boring read)! So we will focus on avoiding the five leading causes of unintentional death in the home (according to the Home Safety Council): falls, poisonings, fires/burns, choking/suffocation, and drowning/submersions.
Outside walkways should be well-lit and free of toys and other items; add a glow-in-the-dark anti-slip tape to steps for extra protection
Keep floors free of tripping hazards including toys, cords, and shoes
Install non-slip adhesives to bathtub and shower flooring; add support rails if needed
Staircases should be well-lit, with securely attached railing and flooring, and be free of toys and other items; additionally, if young children are in the home, safety gates should be installed at the top and bottom of the staircase
Use appropriate stools and stepladders when needed; never use a chair to reach high items
Use window guards on low-level windows to prevent children from falling
Avoiding shoes in the home is a great way to reduce exposure to toxins, bacteria, and other uninvited guests, but socks can present a major slipping hazard; bare feet, socks with grips, and house shoes are recommended instead
Trampolines should have a proper enclosure and should be checked for tearing and deterioration seasonally
Save the number for Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) in your cell phone and display it prominently near home phones
Install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home and test it regularly
Fluorescent and CFL light bulbs (the curly kind) contain mercury; if one breaks in your home, the room should be evacuated immediately and a window or door opened to ventilate the space
As much as possible, reduce the number of commercial cleaning products, yard care products, and beauty products you bring into your home, or at least replace them with non-toxic alternatives
Always properly close medication bottles and store out of reach of young children, preferably in a locked medicine cabinet
Store household chemicals and cleaners on a high shelf, preferably in a garage or outside of common areas; purchase products in child-proof containers
Do not store household products in the kitchen or near food items
When using cleaning products, use gloves to protect your skin and open a window to improve ventilation
Do not mix cleaning products together, as they can cause noxious fumes (never mix ammonia and bleach products)
If your house was built before 1978, you may have lead-based paint on your walls - any chipping, peeling, or other damage should be addressed by a lead-safe certified contractor
Keep button batteries (watch batteries) out of reach of children, and consider avoiding toys and devices that use them
#3 FIRES AND BURNS
Install photoelectric smoke detectors on each floor of your home and near each bedroom; test units monthly and change batteries each year
Have an ABC-rated fire extinguisher in your kitchen and ideally on each floor of your home
Store matches, lighters, and candles out of reach of children
Avoid smoking in the home, especially in the bedroom (smoking in bed is the #1 cause of home fire deaths)
Unplug appliances when not in use and replace items with frayed or damaged cords
Install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in kitchens and bathrooms
Do not overload outlets, extension cords, or power strips
Keep space heaters and radiators at least 3 feet from furniture, curtains, and other flammable items
Clean your dryer’s lint trap (ideally outdoors - dryer lint contains chemicals you don’t want in your indoor air) after each use and clean the dryer exhaust seasonally
Have your chimney professionally cleaned annually
Keep in mind that, in addition to other health and safety concerns, there is evidence that smart utility meters may pose a fire risk
Use the back stove burners when possible or turn pot and pan handles toward the back of the stove so that children cannot grab them
Set water heater temperature at 120°F and always check the water temperature before bathing children
#4 CHOKING AND SUFFOCATIONS
Avoid toys that are smaller than 2” long x 1” wide for children under 3 years old; regularly inspect toys for loose parts
Regularly get down on your hands and knees to inspect the floor for small items that may have fallen
Keep all plastic bags, including shopping bags and dry-cleaning bags, out of reach of children
Avoid window blinds that have looped cords or install a cord guard
Be sure that crib mattresses fit snugly within the crib and that bedding fits snugly around the mattress
Put child-resistant locks on all air-tight appliances including the washing machine
#5 DROWNING AND SUBMERSIONS
Do not leave children alone near water including buckets, bathtubs, pools, or the ocean; be especially mindful to keep the bathroom door closed if you fill your bathtub prior to storms
Install and maintain child-proof fencing around pools and hot tubs; fences should be four-sided and at least 5 feet high with a self-closing and self-locking gate
Have all non-swimmers and weak swimmers wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket; arm “floaties” and foam noodles are toys, not acceptable safety devices
Designate one person to provide close and constant monitoring for children (many drownings happen at family gatherings when adults think someone else is watching the kids)
Have a rescue pole with life hook and life preserver in the pool area
Take a CPR-training course and remain familiar with these life-saving skills
Remove toys from the pool when you get out to prevent kids from trying to retrieve them
Avoid the use of prescription drugs or alcohol when in a pool or hot t
Home safety and maintenance is an essential part of creating a healthy home. Nothing is more important than keeping your family safe. Again, this is not an exhaustive safety list, but is a great start toward having a safer and healthier home. Start with some of the items on this list, and then expand into other areas of concern.
Remember not to let perfect be the enemy of better; any positive change is a step in the right direction.
Run A Fire Drill
March 2019 Healthy Home Challenge
Drill. Even the word sounds exhausting. But as the Greek poet Archilochus said, “We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”
So while we may think that everything will come together in the event of an emergency, it would be a terrible time to find out that you are wrong. It was a fire drill spurred by the writing of this article that made me realize that even though we own a fire escape ladder, I had no clue how to use it. Maybe I figured I’d have time to read the instruction manual by the light of a blazing inferno behind me? Not smart.
If you have kids, this is even more critical. Parents, I know you can think of more than a few examples of times that telling did nothing, but showing did everything. We need to show our children how we expect them to handle an emergency, and work out the kinks in our plan while the stakes are low.
Here are some tips for running a fire dril
Discuss how your family would react in several different scenarios. These may include what to do if your clothing caught fire, the door handle felt hot, or the pet were on the other side of the house.
Practice each aspect of the plan. Have family members actually leave the house and gather at the designated meeting area. This is the best way to identify challenges and improve outcomes in an actual emergency.
Catch them off guard. What if a heavy sleeper snoozes through the smoke detector alarm or your kids panic and freeze? Running an unexpected practice drill - with a real alarm - is a good idea.
Overlooked Maintenance Tasks
April 2019 Healthy Home Challenge
With spring cleaning just around the corner, home cleaning and maintenance tasks are already top of mind. Here are a few of the most commonly overlooked home maintenance tasks that are important in creating a healthy home. This month, your challenge is to take your deep cleaning even deeper with these maintenance jobs:
Cleaning and sanitizing washing machine. Yes, you should clean the cleaner! Many new models have self-cleaning cycles but for those that don’t, running an empty load with 2-3 cups of vinegar can work great at descaling and disinfecting your machine.
Cleaning refrigerator drip pan. A refrigerator drip what? See your owner’s manual to find the precise location, but this pan catches the condensation - and often food particles - from your fridge. Once discovered, it’s often a bona fide science experiment. Clean it thoroughly, then add kosher salt to prevent future microbial growth.
Flushing your water heater. Your water heater can collect mineral deposits and other sediment that contaminates the system and the hot water that comes out of your faucets. Flushing the system regularly will make your water heater last longer and run more efficiently.
Cleaning gutters. Out of sight, out of mind, right? They are hard to access and no fun to clean, but clogged gutters can lead to water damage and mold and can also provide a prime nesting ground for pests to end up in your home.
Having AC unit serviced regularly. Annual HVAC cleaning will save on your power bills and extend the life of your system, but more importantly, it will keep the air you breath clean by reducing microbial build-up and contamination.