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Designing for the Air We Breathe

True or false - how we feel in our homes is just as important as how we feel about them?

I’m a firm believer pride in your home’s aesthetic is an important aspect of everyone’s self worth but there could be other things causing you to feel less than optimal in your space.

Indoor air quality is a huge problem that most people aren’t overly aware of. In fact, some people’s air quality is up to ten times worse indoors than it is standing on a busy urban street.

There are many causes of poor indoor air quality and luckily most of them are things we unknowingly bring into our homes.

Here are a few major causes and what you can do to immediately improve your home’s air quality:

Paint Products

Did you know paint products off gas up to 5 years after you paint? Just because you can’t smell the fumes doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Many companies like Benjamin Moore have developed low VOC (volatile organic compound) products like their Natura line but I have another product I highly recommend to my clients.

Farrow & Ball paint is a bit more expensive but each can also extends further to help minimize the price difference. What’s great about F&B paint, their wallpaper etc. is that it’s all water and clay based which means it doesn’t smell or off gas. No smell means little to no VOC’s, making it a much better option for your health.

I’m currently working on improving the look and functionality of a 512 square foot condo for a couple in Leslieville and we’re going to use F&B paint. It’s depth and finish is unparalleled with the added benefit of minimizing health risks - especially important in an already small space.

Cleaning Products are another huge cause of poor indoor air quality. Anything with a strong scent – think Pine Sol, Bleach etc. – is especially bad for your health. So are aerosol products like Fabreez. A lot of these companies have developed more natural cleaning products – others will tell you natural cleaning products don’t work. Nonetheless it’s definitely worth reading the labels and trying a few different options until you find something you like. Using common kitchen ingredients like olive oil, vinegar, lemon water and baking soda are another great alternative. They worked for centuries before so why not give them a try again? Google options on how to make your own cleaning agents at home and you’ll not only save money, you’ll also improve your health.

Perfumes & Beauty Products

Not unlike the cleaning products above, most beauty products contain chemicals that aren’t good for us. It’s important to read labels and use the smell test. If it’s incredibly aromatic or contains tons of products you don’t’ recognize chances are it’s full of chemicals that aren’t good for your health. Like the food we eat, the shorter the list and the more recognizable the ingredients the better! You may not be able to give up everything but even a few changes can significantly improve your overall health.

Synthetic Fibers and Petroleum Based Products

The fabric in your sofa, the fibers in your area rug, the backing on your blackout curtains – most of these products contain plastic which is a petroleum based by product that breaks down and off gases over time.

With the creation of LEED and other environmentally conscious certifications a lot of building supply and décor companies are being smarter about manufacturing their products because of how they impact the environment and also consumers. Personally, I have a bit of a problem with the word “sustainable”. Just because something can last forever doesn’t mean it should and, in my opinion, doesn’t make it more environmentally friendly. Why - because trends are powerful and just because a Corian counter top can last a lifetime rarely means you or your homes next owner will keep it until it wears out.

When you’re working with a designer ask them about the origin of the products they’re suggesting and how they’ve been rated or certified. Part of the reason I prefer timeless design isn’t just for resale, it’s also in the hopes you and the next homeowner won’t drastically change everything multiple times. I realize people’s preferences differ and styles change considerably over time but if you can think about how a product is made, the impact it has on your health and how it will be disposed, reused or recycled, you’re significantly ahead of the game.

A lot of the products above are so ingrained in our society parting with them entirely is asking a lot. Another way to improve your indoor air quality is by incorporating more plants into your design. I’m a huge fan of big leafy ferns, palms, fig trees – you name it. Every plant helps add colour, texture and life while it improves the air we breathe indoors. By simply adding a few plants you’ll do yourself, your family and your guests a huge favor.

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